But here, I'm participating in the blogosphere! Don't you want to win a copy of Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts? Well, if you want to win, you should check out Between These Pages and leave a comment there to enter the giveaway! This is a great blog in general if you are responsible for or even acquainted with any young readers. She gives a clear picture of which books are stand-outs, which deal best with interesting or popular subject, and which might have iffy content (depending on your idea of iffy--is your kid easily scared? Squicked out? Confused? Don't worry--it's all spelled out). Honestly, I get a lot of good recommendations for middle grade books that I want to read for my own purposes, as well as the best picture books and gifts for older kids.
I've always meant to read this book, and that was before I found out that it's a story about a family dealing with autism in the '30s, before there was such a diagnosis. Some folks know I've worked in early childhood autism education, so it's a subject that really interests me, and I've read a million memoirs about parenting an autistic child. I thought I'd give you a quick guide to my favorites, in honor of National Autism Awareness Month.
The Siege, by Clara Claiborne Park. My favorite, by a million miles. I read this book in college, before I ever met an autistic child, and I thought it was beautifully written, honest, and incredibly touching. Then, after I had spent a few years teaching autistic kids, I read it again, and I was blown away by how note perfect the account is. Every layer--every behavior, every interpretation of the behavior, and then every re-evaluation of those interpretations--captures the experience of watching these children and trying to imagine their inner worlds. Even if you have no interest in autism whatsoever, I truly recommend this book; I consider it to be beautiful.
Let Me Hear Your Voice, by Catherine Maurice. This book gets some justified flak for its perfect-world happy ending. With an autistic child, even the best outcome is almost never a complete disappearance of all autistic symptoms, as this mother describes. The strength of this story, though, is that it's a specific and detailed account of an intervention using Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is the style of therapy I practiced, and one with the best documented outcomes. There are a lot of stories about "rescuing" children from autism, and quite a few of them are sketchy, to say the least. This one seems somewhat exaggerated to me, but it's not sketchy; I've seen this in action.
Exiting Nirvana, by Clara Claiborne Park. This is actually a follow-up to The Siege, from the perspective of the parent of an adult child with fairly severe autism. It's interesting to see that the further Jessy comes, the further she has to go--the more independence she's able to have and the more she's able to figure out the "normal" world, the more complicated situations and expectations she encounters. A "real" job requires dealing with customers; traveling independently means dealing with the unexpected. I wish Clara Park had written more books, because she's such a gifted writer.
The Ride Together, by Paul and Judy Karasik. This is an interesting story told in both essays and comics. What I think was most interesting was the perspective; the brother and sister of an autistic man relate both what it was like to grow up with him, and what it is like now, in middle age, to be his sibling, to worry about him and love him. It's a perspective that I enjoyed very much.
George and Sam, by Charlotte Moore. As the parent of one child, I think about how hard it would be to parent two, or to parent an autistic child. I'm in awe of Charlotte Moore, who brings such a clear head and a keen eye to the seemingly insurmountable job of parenting multiple autistic kids. It's actually quite common to have multiple siblings with autism; I believe that the chances of having a second autistic child are something like ten times greater than the first. What I loved about this book was the pure mundanity, and how much it was about parenting.
Those are my stand-outs. Whether you find the subject interesting or not, I highly recommend that you read The Siege, really. Clara Park passed away recently, and I can't tell you how sorry I was to hear that. I had the privilege to meet her when I was in college, and I know she is greatly missed.