My Sister, Alicia May

My Sister Alicia9780979203596_p0_v1_s260x420,jpgMy Sister, Alicia May

Nancy Tupper Ling, Author

Shennen Bersani, Illustrator

Pleasant St. Press, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Down Syndrome, Sisters, Bullying, Special Needs

Opening: BANG! Every morning Alicia May throws open my bedroom door. Crack! The “Stay Out!” sign falls to the floor.  “Here I am!” she crises “Rise and shine!”

Synopsis: In many ways, Rachel and Alicia are like any sisters. But Rachel knows her sister is very different, and very special. She has Down syndrome. Alicia May likes dogs and horses, is curious about ladybugs and dragonflies, talks to animals at the zoo and calls them funny names, loves to paint her nails, is friendly and gives good hugs. Sometimes Alicia May is annoying and embarrassing and Rachel doesn’t want to be around her. But, when boys on the bus tease Alicia May, Rachel is the first to stand up for her sister.

Why I like this story: This is a heartwarming story for siblings of children with Down’s syndrome. Nancy Tupper Ling based the story on the lives of two real sisters she’s close friends with.  It is a compassionate story that offers a peek into the daily life of a child with special needs and the complexities for the family. I like that the story is told from Rachel’s viewpoint.  Shennen Bersani’s illustrations are colorful pastels and almost photographic in their detail. Look at the pictures of the girls at the end of the book as she has really captured their features and personalities. Check out Nancy Tupper Ling’s website.

Resources: Contact the National Down Syndrome Society for more information on resources, success stories, transition tool kits, caring for your family and advocacy.

 

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

Elizabeth Verdick & Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.

Free Spirit Publishing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Mar. 22, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 8 -13 and Parents

Theme:  Autism, coping strategies, making friends, identifying feelings,  dealing with change and information to help families

Opening:  This book begins with a beautiful introduction to kids from the authors. “We don’t believe in can’t or never.” “If you have ASD, there are differences between you and other people.  But your life can be about can.   You can make friends, succeed to the best of your ability in school, be an awesome son, daughter, sister, brother, or friend, and learn, grow and connect with others.  Never say never.”  And there is a special introduction for parents that focuses on the uniqueness of the disorder.  “Each child is an individual.  They can’t be lumped together because of the vast differences in how they think, learn, feel, behave and communicate.” 

This survival guide is meant for a parent and child to read together so the material can be discussed and questions answered.  It is an informative and upbeat book for children who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum to learn about themselves and their disorder, and to find coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.  Beginning with a description of ASD and its many symptoms,  this guide includes information about relationships with family members, making friends at school, community involvement, changing schools, feelings, communications, body language,  bullying, playing, relaxation, sleep and personal hygiene.

What I like about this book:   Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D., are both parents of children with autism and offer a unique perspective.  The guide has a wonderful balance of text, examples, tips from famous people with autism, colorful and  lively illustrations, and stories from kids with ASD.  The book is a great resource packed with tools that kids can use to navigate new daily experiences, find a calm-down space,  talk about a new emotion (I am upset), organize schoolwork and schedules, and eat a balanced diet.  I don’t recommend parents read the book from beginning to end with a child.  It is a resource that can be used when they need help.   The chapters are well-marked and topics easily located.   You will find that this guide will be very handy as your child enters many new developmental stages.  

April is National Autism Awareness Month.   According to a report released March 29 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has skyrocketed by 78 percent since 2000.  Now, one in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures.  Among boys, it’s one in 54.  The big question is “why?”   One expert said, “better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50 percent of ‘We don’t know’.”   Another advocate said, “we have an epidemic of autism in the United States.”   For more information, visit Autism Speaks.

In Jesse’s Shoes – Perfect Picture Book

In Jesse’s Shoes: Appreciating Kids With Special Needs

Beverly Lewis, Author

Laura Nikiel, Illustrator

Bethany House Publishers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Appreciating a sibling with special needs,  embarrassment,  teasing, acceptance, friendship.

Opening/SynopsisEvery day I walk my brother to his bus at the corner.  It’s not far, but it takes a long time because Jesse gets distracted by things like rain puddles, honeysuckle blossoms, and even ladybugs — which bugs me a lot.”  Allie walks with her older brother, Jesse, to the school bus stop every morning and endures his distractions, and the teasing and giggling of the other kids waiting for the bus.  She wonders to herself “Why didn’t I get a regular brother?”  She loves Jesse, but is frustrated and tired of being embarrassed by him.  Allie feels terrible about her feelings.  One  day Jesse meets Allie and tells her to put on his large shoes and instructs her to “do what Jesse does.”  Allie follows Jessie  and discovers the wonders of his world that she has not noticed.  That day changes Alli forever.

Why I like this book:  Beverly Lewis has written a story with a powerful message about acceptance for children.  I like that she told the story from Allie’s viewpoint.  Laura Nikiel’s illustrations are bright, colorful and filled with expression.  There are many children who have a sibling with a special need.  Like Allie, siblings deal with  emotions ranging from love to embarrassment.  It’s important that they have a way to express how they feel to someone who will listen.  Beverly Lewis comes up with a very creative way of helping Allie see life as Jesse does.   This is a good book for home or at school.  Activity:  Have students discuss what it means to “walk in someone else’s shoes” before you read the book.  Encourage them think of examples of people to share.  After you read the book,  have each child write a letter to Jesse to tell him what they learned from his story.

For those who want more information about siblings and special needs families, please go to Sibshops. They have developed a flexible curriculum that provides much-needed peer support and a safe place for kids to talk about their feelings and experiences.  The workshops are always a good balance of fun, friendship and support and help build a network of friendship and resources.  The Sibshop curriculum is used throughout the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Guatemala, Turkey, and Argentina.  Thank you Cathy Mealey for the information about this site.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Rules — Autism Awareness Month

 In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord.   This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press.  The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009.   Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.  She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.

The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!”   It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his  world.  There are others too:  Flush!   A boy can’t  take off his pants in public.  This is Catherine’s room.  David must knock!  It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.  Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.

Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism.  For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David.  Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends.  She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share.   A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.

Yet for  Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act.   She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself.    A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own.  The  rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships.  You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself.   In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way.  And, that is okay.

This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional  discussion book for  teachers and students.

Transition into Adulthood – Autism Awareness Month

As many youth within the autism spectrum transition into adulthood, the next decade will be an especially important time.  I want to share one of my favorite young adult fiction novels, where the protagonist is faced with that very challenge.  

Marcelo in the Real World, a brilliant and authentic novel written by Francisco X. Stork, allows the reader to experience the life of a high-functioning  17-year-old boy, who has a unique form of autism commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome.  Stork has created an endearing  character in Marcelo Sandoval, who is raw and honest in the way he perceives the world.  The book is written in first person, although he highlights Marcel’s flat inflection of voice, his  use of third person in conversations,  and his obsessive interests.  He gives us a glimpse into his mind. 

Marcelo has led a fairly protective life attending private schools for kids with disabilities.  He is looking forward to a summer job as a stable man at the school, caring for the ponies.  As Marcelo ends his junior year, his father, Arturo, feels differently.   He wants Marcelo to experience the real world, and spend the summer working at his law firm interacting daily with workers.  Arturo strikes a bargain with Marcelo.   If he follows the rules of the real world and succeeds, he will be able to decide whether to return to his private school for his senior year, or attend a public high school.  

Marcelo works in the mailroom where he is supervised by Jasmine, a striking co-worker, who confronts Marcelo about his “cognitive disorder.”   Marcelo explains that the term implies that “there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. ”  “I perceive reality just fine.  Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.”  Jasmine is very accepting of Marcelo, and finds ways to use his strengths.    

Marcelo also will have to deal with Wendell, the conniving son of Arturo’s partner, Stephen Holmes.   Through his daily interactions with people at the firm,  it’s sink or swim for Marcelo as he learns to navigate  the real world.  Marcelo learns about  competition, anger, abuse of power, betrayal, envy, desire and compassion.  Marcelo is challenged to make very difficult decisions when he’s confronted with a situation of  injustice  in the law firm.  Will Marcelo be able to stand up to his father and Stephen, expose the truth and do what is right?   

Stork really took the time to create an engaging and educational experience for those wanting to journey into  Marcelo’s world.  An excellent book for teenagers and young adults.  It received the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2009, the School Library Journal Best Book for 2009, and the New York Times Children’s Book of 2009.

For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks  for their helpful  “Transition Tool Kit.”  Over one-half million children will make this transition, and they will want to have homes,  jobs and friends.   This is a societal issue.

Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism

What a fascinating month to share interesting stories of the heroes of autism and the daunting work that goes into helping each child transform his/her life.   Although I am not reviewing  a book in this blog, I want to share with you a remarkable story of a teenager.

According to the organization Autism Speaks, 1 in 110 children are diagnosed within the autism spectrum, making it the more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and HIV.  One in 70 children diagnosed are boys.  In the U.S. alone, there are 1.5 million people, and tens of millions worldwide.   Thus, the reason I am going to feature a remarkable teenaged girl who has autism — Carly Fleischmann.   Carly, a twin, was diagnosed with autism at age three.  She has never spoken and she spent her life feeling trapped in her body.   One day she surprised her family and typed out three simple words on the keyboard — help  hurt  tooth.   She was sick and asking for help.  Learning to type on the keyboard unlocked her world.  The rest is history.

Carly was featured on a segment about inspirational teens, on CBS The Talk, April 15, with Holly Robinson Peete.   She has been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, ABC and the Larry King Show.   I hope you enjoy this remarkable video.

She has a website, Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism at  and a Facebook following  with over 51,000 fans.  She is also wrote a novel of her life, which I found quite compelling.   She vividly describes in great detail what it is like to live in her body, which some times burns and feels like ants crawling on her skin.   “I am autistic, but it doesn’t define me,” says Carly.  “There are times when I wanted to give up, but I can’t give up hope.”

In the next decade, 500,000 children with autism will reach adulthood and it will become even more important that they are prepared for life, and society is there to embrace their transition.   Children within the autism spectrum are very intelligent and have unique talents in the fields of art, music, science, computers, and math.

On Friday, April 22,  at 2 p.m., The Talk will air the last of its series on autism.   They will focus on the autistic children transitioning to adulthood.  Autism Speaks has a special “Transition Tool Kit” on its website.

A Friend Like Henry — Austism Awareness Month

When I began reviewing books in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I never imagined how much I would grow in my understanding of the complexities of the autism spectrum, and the level of respect I have for those with autism and their families.   One of the things I have discovered is that no children are alike and their methods of learning may vary.  I found that in this wonderful story A Friend Like Henry, by Nuala Gardner.   An international bestseller by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Nuala  bravely invites us into her world sharing with great authenticity the pain, agony and despair  a  family with a severely autistic child copes with daily.   A nurse, Nuala recognized very early that her son Dale’s infant behavior didn’t seem right.  He was simply “the perfect baby.”    He was passive and rarely cried and slept through the night without a peep.  Everyone commented how good he was.  When she shared her concerns with her physician, she was dismissed.   As the months passed Nuala, began to see that Dale was addicted to motion.  When he was with other babies, he was unresponsive.  He learned to crawl quickly and when he discovered his legs he ran on his tiptoes.   One day at a play group, he sat next to a little girl, studied her and then wacked her in the face with a toy.   By the time he was two and three, severe tantrums began when something wasn’t on Dale’s terms.   And, his sleeping patterns changed — he would only sleep two hours at night.  Dale didn’t speak for a long time.  Nuala and her husband, Jamie, were exhausted.   Finally a friend recognized his behavior and recommended a doctor and he was diagnosed with severe autism.

After years of working with Dale, a small breakthrough occurred.   At a family outing, Dale met two dogs and began playing and laughing.   The Gardners had never seen their son so happy.  They took Dale to visit a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and one dog in particular chose Dale.   The bond between Dale and his new puppy, Henry, literally changed his world.   Within three weeks of having Henry, teachers were reporting significant changes in Dale.   Through his unconditional love, Henry helped unlock Dale’s world and him how to feel, communicate and care for himself.   Henry helped Dale navigate in the world.

Although this book was written from his mother’s perspective, we gain some insight into Dale’s life through his recollections at the end.   There are a number of videos on the web about Dale and Henry.  Just click on:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSu3G0U5SY