Search This Blog

Friday, May 25, 2012

More Books With Autistic Characters

As public awareness of autism increases, so does the number of books that include autistic characters. Here are a few with my accompanying opinions.

Rules by Cynthia Lord
RulesI love this book so much.  It is the winner of a Newbery Honor Award among other awards. Catherine is a twelve-year-old girl with a brother, David, who has autism. Catherine has tried teaching David some rules so he doesn't embarrass her quite so much. They are also rules you have to follow when dealing with David or you'll have a breakdown on your hands. When Catherine meets a disabled boy her own age, the rules she's always followed may need to change. In the end, Catherine ends up making great choices for her brother and herself. This is a great look at the stress siblings of special-needs children have as well as the isolation many kids with disabilities face everyday.  Of all the books in this post, I feel this book as the most authentic autistic character.  That may be a difficult statement to back since the symptoms of autism are so variable, but that's my opinion.  This really hit home for me because of my children's experiences and especially how important Frog & Toad are to David, and my kids as well. Young or old, you need to read this book. It is so good.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko  
Al Capone Does My ShirtsThis book is also a Newbery Honor Award winner. And, it, too, deals with the stresses placed on a sibling of a child with autism-like symptoms and needs. This book is unique because this all takes place at Alcatraz in the 1930s! I read this years ago, so I don't remember a lot of it. I don't have the intense feelings about it I have for Rules but I do remember that I really liked it. Choldenko recently penned a sequel to this book (unfortunately I haven't read it) called Al Capone Shines My Shoes.  (Cover has been redone.  New cover is pictured.)
The London Eye Mystery by Siobahn Dowd
The London Eye MysteryThis book takes place in London.  Ted has autism.  Ted tries to relate all of life to weather.  Even the part of his life when his cousin disappears while on the London Eye.  A seeming impossibility.  Ted and his sister Kat who is butting heads with everybody in her family end up working together (not Kat's idea) to find their cousin.  I thought this book was okay.  Many adults and kids I know you have read the book really liked it...unique characters, mystery, foreign setting, but it didn't really grab me.  I felt like maybe it just didn't have enough to make it a teen book so they put it in the juvie section.  Why not read it and let me know your thoughts.  I have mixed feelings on this one, but I seem to be alone in that.
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
The Lemonade WarThis was fun a book to read!  Evan is ending his school year, so you would think he'd be happy, but he's not.  His little sister, who's really smart but not so good with people, is going to be in the same class he's in next year.  The same class, same teacher, same classroom!  I think my boys would love this, they're used to it from home schooling, but Evan is dreading this.  Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to express this to his sister and she just doesn't get the subtle hints.  This and other misunderstandings lead to a contest between the two siblings to see who can sell the most lemonade.  It's war and it's on.  I really enjoyed the story but there's more to the book.  Each chapter has tips for running a business and there's even a bit of math in the book.  Besides some business help, I hope kids take away the idea that not sharing what you're feeling can really mess things up.  While Evan's sister, Jessie, is never referred to as autistic (and being smart but not good with people does not equal autism) I put this book in this post because many of her symptoms and problems the siblings face are similar to those with autism and/or autistic siblings.  I am so excited to read the two sequels: The Lemonade Crime and The Bell Bandit.  Book 2 deals with a theft that happens in the first book.  Each chapter gives the definition of a legal term.  Some say the second book isn't as good as the first, but if you read The Lemonade Wars you won't care what the critics say you'll want to read The Lemonade Crime.  The third book is about a Christmas visit the grandma's with a mystery to be solved.  There may be another character introduced who has autistic-like traits.
I haven't read this book yet, but I wanted to at least mention it in this post.  Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is a National Book Award winner about a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's syndrome.  Her brother has dies.  She's left confused without the person she normally turned to for guidance when the world wasn't black and white.
One more book, again unfortunately, I haven't read it, but I'll list it here as another opportunity to read about an autistic character.  Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin received a Schneider Family Book Award (like Rules) and is about a autistic boy who may have found someone online who understands him, unlike his neurotypical peers.
Not about autism, but about a child with special needs, Out of My Mind by prolific and award-winning author Sharon M. Draper, is about a girl with cerebral palsy.  Most people at her school don't realize her brilliance.  When she gets a chance to try to prove herself, she has to decide if it's worth the risk.  Another on my to-read list, but it sounds so good I didn't want to leave it out.
Out of My MindAnything But Typical
 too late at night to proof read, but I will fix any mistakes tomorrow

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Book to Inspire Us All

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews   illustrated by Philip Hurst

I wish I had blogged about this book earlier.  It would make a wonderful graduation present.

The Boy Who Changed the WorldThis beautiful picture books starts out about the young boy Norman Borlaug, who grew up and helped feed millions of people with improved seeds and agricultural methods.  And so, he changed the world... but the book then introduces us to Henry Wallace, the vice president who gave Borlaug the task and encouragement to do what he did, so maybe it was really Henry Wallace who changed the world...but we are introduced to George Washington Carver, who encouraged Wallace as a young boy to study nature and plants, so really it was probably Carver who changed the world...except that when he was a boy, he was saved from kidnappers by Moses Carver.  So maybe it was really Moses Carver.  The book ties is all together and suggest that the reader can be the child who changes the world.  This true tale is very inspiring.  My children and I were all moved by the book, both it's story and illustrations.  And if this is of interest to you, Borlaug and Wallace of from Iowa, and George Washington Carver, met Wallace while studying at Iowa State University.

Curiosity Killed the Cat?

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a really interesting book, especially if you know about autism.  Mark Haddon worked with people with autism and you can tell.  He is spot on with his main character and narrator, Christopher, an autistic 15-year-old.  Christopher is being raised by his father after his mother's death.  His teacher helps him navigate the world, but he is on his own when the killing of a neighbor's dog sets him on a search for the truth.  It's intended target is adults, but some teens may also be moved by the book.  It does contain rough language and hard realities that I wouldn't recommend for any of the teenagers I know, but perhaps others.

I think I mostly enjoyed this book because I deal with autism every day. I laughed and cried throughout the story. It is an interesting story, a short read, and definitely worth checking out.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Saints Alive

The Restless Flame:A Novel About St. Augustine by Louis de Wohl

The Restless Flame: A Novel about Saint AugustineThis novel is about the St. Augustine who is the son of St. Monica of Tabaste in Northern Africa.  I loved The Living Wood by de Wohl so much, I was excited to read another of his books.  Of the many saints he's written about, I chose St. Augustine because I knew a tiny bit of his life and was familiar with some of his famous quotes, but I wanted to know more.  I also admire St. Monica and her faith and persistence that led to her husband and son both converting. 

Again, de Wohl does a magnificent job.  I love his writing style.  This book was written similarly to The Living Wood.  Most of the book is about Augustine's life as a youth and young man.  This helps you understand and appreciate his conversion.  After his conversion, the rest of the book takes place many years later.  Then, most of St. Augustine's work and piety are told to the reader by Augustine's friends and those studying his works.  The ending is wonderfully told and leaves you with peace.

I learned a lot from the book (realizing it is historical fiction).  I hadn't known how thoughtful/philosophical Augustine was his whole life, even before his conversion to Catholicism.  I also didn't realize Augustine and his mother knew St. Ambrose.  It was neat to think of all three of these eventual-saints together in the same church.  I wish I knew what Ambrose thought of St. Augustine when he lived in his parish.  Reading this story has also made me very interested in reading some of St. Augustine's works.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book.  Knowing about the history of the time is helpful but don't let that stop you from reading the book.  de Wohl does a good job of explaining what really needs explaining, and you can gloss over the rest of the names and still get the substance of the story.  The biggest problem you'll probably have will be deciding which one of de Wohl's books to read next.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

History is Alive for Teens

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
First, do not confuse this book with the new overly publicized erotic book Fifty Shades of Grey.  I put a photo of the hardcover and paperback covers to help you identify Between Shades of Gray.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Grey is about a teen girl, Lina, and her family, citizens of Lithuania during the rule of Stalin.  Stalin and his regime killed millions of people among other atrocities.  As part of seizing the Baltics, Stalin had many of Lithuania's (and other countries') military officers and intellectuals and their families killed or deported to labor camps in Siberia.  This heart wrenching tale is based on true events and first-hand accounts, some from the authors relations.  The book is beautifully written.  I think it is a must-read for teens and adults, too.  As a science and math fanatic, I missed out and tuned out of a lot of history lessons.  I was ignorant of this chapter of history.  I'm glad I'm not anymore, and others shouldn't be ignorant either.

I knew this book would have sad moments at the least, and I was determined to keep a hard heart throughout the book and read it objectively without succumbing to emotion.  Impossible.  The characters and environment are so well-developed, the book is so well written, you can't help but become engrossed in Lina's story.  You are transported right along side of Lina.

This is a living history book that can get teens who are reluctant to study history motivated.  I was inspired to read Between Shades of Gray from a co-workers recommendation and because of the experience I had reading The Book Thief.  Lots of people at work were telling me I had to read The Book Thief over and over, so I finally did.  I didn't really want to because, as I said earlier, I wasn't interested in history.  I knew the gist of WWII and that was enough for me.  But after I read The Book Thief, I wanted to know more.  I wasn't content with the little knowledge I had.  It opened up the world of history and historical fiction for me!  Between Shades of Gray can do that just as well!  You HAVE to read Between Shades of Gray.

This Book is a Winner

The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt

The Loser LettersI can't believe I haven't blogged about this book yet.  I read it a few years ago and recently reread it.  This satire is a fast and entertaining read.  A. F. Christian (A Former) is writing letters to the leading atheists in order to help them better argue their cause.  In her letters, she points out the flaws and illogic of their current arguments in favor of an atheist worldview and way of life with the hopes that they can come up with something better in order to gain converts to their side.  It seems she is writing her letters from some type of institution, perhaps a rehab center.  While A. F. Christian points out the flaws in the atheist arguments, we learn how she became so invested in the atheist cause and where she is now.  Her past and present continue to become clearer until the final satisfying resolution at the end.  I enjoyed this book immensely.  A. F. Christian's voice is that of a young Generation Me woman.  At first her way of talking annoyed me until I realized she's talking as her character would talk and I just went with it and enjoyed it.  You truly cannot lose with this book!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If We All Agree on This...?

Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy on the Life Issues by Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, PhD

This is a short book (less than 200) pages to summarize the reasoning to end a long going debate.  This book allows you to argue the case for the sanctity of all life without relying on religion.  I'm glad to have finally found someone who can lay out this argument for me.  I can't debate about life issues with my family and friends who don't believe in God by relying on my religious convictions.  Fr. Spitzer lays out the case for the respect of all human life without mentioning God or religion.  He uses ten principles that philosophers have accepted throughout time regardless of their religious beliefs.

The book requires concentration, but I didn't think it was overly difficult to follow.  I felt the last chapter went into a little more detail than needed, though it was in no way useless.  I also enjoyed the book's appendix, where Fr. Spitzer discusses the proofs for the existence of God.

Which ever side you fall on with regard to life issues (or where on the spectrum you choose to be), this would be a very worthwhile book to read.  It may help you defend your position, clarify your position, or give you pause to think on how to justify your position.  Either way, it's an enlightening read.

You Can't Relax...and Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
This book as been on my to-read list for a long time.  I'm so glad I read it.  It's a fast read because of the way it's written and because you can't put it down.

This sci-fi teen novel is set in the future where, it seems, the problem of unwanted children has been solved.  From the time a child turns thirteen until the age of eighteen, it's parents can decide whether or not they want to keep the child.  If they don't, they can have the kid unwound.  All of the child's body parts are used to help other people in need.  Not just their organs, but their hands, legs,and even pieces of their brain.  The unwound child is then alive in a different way--through the people their body parts go to.  So, it's not murder, it's just unwinding. 

Unwind has action and suspense to carry you along as questions of life and death, right and wrong, the value of a human and human parts are turned around.  Even those who are not inclined to philosophy will enjoy this book and the discussion it can lead to.

I highly recommend this book.  Neal Susterman has written many other teen novels.  They seem to all have a strong plot with a creepy or eerie flavor surrounding deep questions worth asking.  I'm looking forward to reading more along with the sequel to Unwind.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sisters Grimm Make Me Grin

The Sisters Grimm Series by Michael Buckley
The Fairy Tale Detectives (Sisters Grimm Series #1)I absolutely love this series.  No one I have ever recommended it to has not liked it--kids and adults alike.  The ninth and final book of this series came out today, so those who haven't discovered this series yet, you won't have to deal with the suspense that plagued current readers.  There are some real cliffhangers.

The series is about two sisters who don't know they are related to the famous Brothers Grimm.  There parents are missing and they've been moving from one disastrous foster house to another, until their grandma (who they never knew existed) comes to bring the girls home with her to Ferryport.  The sisters (Sabrina and Daphne) learn that all the fairy tale creatures are real, and were trapped in Ferryport to prevent a war between them and the humans.  That is, they are trapped in Fairyport as long as a Grimm descendant lives...

Each book has it's own adventure and conclusion while there is an overall story arc of finding their missing parents.  It's fun to see the personalities and occupations Buckley gives to different fairy tale characters.  These books have exciting plots, humor, suspense, and surprises.  It has two strong girl characters, which makes this series unique, and all the better.  You've got to read this series.

(I actually put the first book down after the first chapter or so, but later picked it up and I'm so glad I did.  If you feel the same as I did, just keep reading!!)