I will save the backstory for another, more well-thought out post about why we now have these books in our house. It’s a story that I want to share more fully, just not right now.
But suffice it to say that M has had to expand her horizons about the world around us—and who lives within it—in a way that had me recently trying to find books to help her understand, much less accept and be comfortable with, individuals that may be physically or otherwise developmentally different from her. I wanted books that show that we are all different from each other, but also so similar in many, many ways. But more importantly, that we can still be, and should be, friends nonetheless. If you are looking for children’s books for young children that will help them befriend and understand children who might have physical differences, these are my favorite three.
Susan Laughs, written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross. The text of this book is remarkably simple from page to page. It tells the story about Susan and what she does (and, to the point, not what she cannot do, which is seemingly very little anyway!). Each page has a colored pencil sketch of Susan doing something, with relevant two-word prose underneath: “Susan laughs” (she’s watching TV) . . . “Susan dances” (she’s dancing with her grandpa on his feet) . . . “Susan trots” (she’s riding a horse), and on and on. You see Susan get mad, scared and silly doing various things throughout her day. She is just like any other active, young girl. And then, on the very last page, do you get an idea that something might be different. She’s in a wheelchair, and that’s the only time you ever know about it…after the story explains and shows all that she can do. I love that premise, and the text that goes with that page, “That is Susan through and through–just like me, just like you.”
My Friend Isabelle, written by Eliza Woloson and illustrated by Bryan Gough. Along the same lines as Susan Laughs above, this book tells the story of a young boy named Charlie and his friend, Isabelle. The book tells the story from Charlie’s first person perspective, noting differences between himself and Isabelle (who are the same age), such as that he is taller and that she likes to take her time to do stuff. He talks about they play and get along…and how sometimes they cry when one of them forgets to share (like all children do!). Adults will probably sense sooner than kids that there is something notable about Isabelle, and certainly by the last page which has a photograph of Isabelle and mentions that she has Down Syndrome. I like this one also because it shows these two children playing together, acting like all other kids do, showing that they both like to do things independently and that they are comfortable enough with each other for playful physical contact (in M’s circumstances, this was an important point I wanted to get across to her).
The First Day Speech, story by Isabelle Hadala and illustrated by Jose Pardo. First, I should mention that it was M’s gramma that picked this book out, months before the events leading up to us needing books like this in the first place. She picked it out because she saw the heartwarming story about the brave middleschooler/author who wrote it in the context of school bullying. I had actually put this one on the closet shelf when she gave it to us because it was a bit too old for M, saving it for a more relevant if not age-appropriate time. It was serendipity that we had this book already when we needed it recently.
The story is certainly longer and more verbose than the above two books, and probably a little ahead of the non-Kindergartener 5 year old (like M) since it takes place in a traditional school context. First day of school, in fact, for the story’s main character, Nathan who is nervous about starting school. He is nervous, it turns out, because he is uncertain about how other kids are going to perceive him. You actually don’t see his face until halfway through the book when he finally gets to school on his first day of class. He has a facial cleft, and the illustrator does a remarkable job of making it pronounced enough for young readers to see there is something different, but nothing to be afraid of. Nathan decides, bravely so, that he wants to give a speech on his first day of school to his new classmates that explains why he looks different, and give his new friends a chance to ask any questions they may have. He wants to essentially thwart any teasing or hurtful remarks that might come his way out of ignorance, fear or uncertainty by his classmates. The author—who was six when she went through something very similar, and in middleschool when she wrote this book, remarkable!—does a great job of capturing the kinds of silly, but understandable, outbursts that young classmates might have during this kind of circle time. What a great book. It fosters compassion, understanding, bravery and acceptance all at once, no matter what side of the equation you might be on, no matter what your abilities may be. At the end of the book, the author explains that Nathan is a fictional character, but that the story is relevant nonetheless. It also contains a page about the author, with a photograph of her. She does not have facial cleft, but instead ectodermal dysplasia, which has left her with undeveloped hands (which are shown in a photograph of her holding her soccer ball), but the story is hers all the same. Even though M was probably on the young side for this book, considering the circumstances going on in her own school life, it was entirely relevant and digestible.
Finally, I should mention that I also purchased a copy of Maria Shriver’s, What’s Wrong With Timmy, but it is also quite wordy and I have not read it yet (plus I didn’t want the book blitz to be overkill…sometimes you just have to live through these kinds of experiences to really work it out). I’ll post more on this one if it’s something worth sharing.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.