Book Review - My Brother Charlie

In this series of book reviews celebrating National Inclusive Schools Week, today I am focusing on a story that looks at the subject from a sibling's perspective.  

Author: Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Scholastic (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: 4 to 8 years old
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Description from GoodReads:
Callie is very proud of her brother Charlie. He’s good at so many things  --  swimming, playing the piano, running fast. And Charlie has a special way with animals, especially their dog, Harriett.

But sometimes Charlie gets very quiet.

His words get locked inside him, and he seems far away.

Then, when Callie and Charlie start to play, Charlie is back to laughing, holding hands, having fun.
Charlie is like any other boy – and he has autism.

In this story, told from a sister’s point of view, we meet a family whose oldest son teaches them important lessons about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.   

Holly Robinson Peete, bestselling author, actress, and national autism spokesperson, has paired with her daughter, Ryan, to co-author this uplifting book based on their own personal experiences with Holly’s son and Ryan’s brother, RJ, who has autism.

I had a chance to hear Holly Robinson Peete speak about My Brother Charlie at the SCIBA dinner this past February.  She was so honest and straight-forward and compassionate about the topic of autism and what it was like being a parent of a child with autism.  Also, it was interesting to hear her speak about her daughter's experiences.  

When I finally had a chance to read the story, I was pleased to see that the book reflected that same honest, straight-forward compassion.  Additionally, I loved that it was from a sibling perspective.  In My Brother Charlie, Callie is the twin to Charlie who has autism.  Her voice rings true and when I hit the page that talks about how Charlie doesn't let anything stop him when he wants something - even if it is dangerous, I found myself shaking my head in full understanding.  But when Callie says that sometimes Charlie can ruin a playdate, I wanted to clap and give Callie (Ryan) a hug.  

There needs to be more books and more honest portrayals of what it is like for a sibling of a child with autism.  Sometimes I think they are the forgotten ones in the whole journey called "autism".  This book provides a parent or a teacher a chance to talk in a raw and real manner with a child about both the joys and the pitfalls of being a sibling of a child with special needs.  Over the years, as a teacher of children with autism, I have watched the impact the world of autism has had on the child(ren) without autism in a family.  It is more than time to celebrate the way it can shape siblings into warm, caring, and understanding people.  

The mixed media illustrations by Shane W. Evans are engaging and I loved the facial expressions - particularly the eyes of the characters.  Evans captured the spirit of the book.  

At the end of the book, there is a page with recommendations and suggestions for understanding individuals with autism.  I was particularly in awww of the ideas and thoughts presented by Ryan.  She is certainly one awesome and amazing young person.  Her suggestions about an Autism 101 class for her classmates was spectacular.  

Thank you Holly, and Ryan for finding a way to share about your life with RJ through the relationship of Callie and Charlie.  I am proud to be able to feature this book as part of our Inclusive Schools Week activities.  Continue to share your story so that others may be touched as well.

Book Review - The Junkyard Wonders

As part of this week's focus on positive portrayals of children with special needs in literature, I am taking a minute to discuss author/illustrator, Patricia Polacco's newest book - The Junkyard Wonders.

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel (July 8, 2010)
Reading Level: 3rd to 6th grade
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as “The Junkyard,” she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn't be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them.
Based on a real-life event in Patricia Polacco's childhood, this ode to teachers will inspire all readers to find their inner genius.

About a month ago, I had a rare experience of seeing author/illustrator, Patricia Polacco at a Literacy Tea held in Carlsbad, California.  I didn't care that I had to drive 2 hours to get to the event.  Polacco lives in Michigan and does not fly.  Since she managed to come out by train, I could tolerate 2 hours both ways in a car.  As I listened to her speak about her life and her stories, I realized that I was experiencing a piece of literary history.  

Polacco has written many of her books from a deeply personal place and The Junkyard Wonders is no exception.  In some ways the sequel to Thank You, Mr. Falker, this books looks at Trish who has left California for Michigan to hopefully be someone different.  However, when she arrives at Room 206 and learns that the other students in the school refer to her class as the "junkyard".  Through the loving and wise, Mrs. Peterson, Trish and her classmates learn that just as a real junkyard is a place of wonderful possibilities so are they.  With the use of "tribes", Mrs. Peterson divides the class into small learning communities that must explore the junkyard and create something special.  Trish and her group settle on creating a plane.

Of course, the book wouldn't be complete without some kind of conflict.  The school bully is determined to foil the Wonders attempt to fly their plane.  Yet the children in Mrs. Peterson's class do not allow this to become an obstacle but instead pull together to do what they have said they would.  In honor of one of their classmates who has recently passed away, the students of Room 206 learn an important life lesson.

Be prepared to whip out a tissue when reading The Junkyard Wonders.  It is a tender, and moving story about what a group of children can do under the guidance and support of a loving, and wise teacher.  Every teacher new and old should read any of Polacco's tributes to teachers (Thank You, Mr. Falker; Mr. Lincoln's Way; or The Junkyard Wonders) and be reminded what is truly important in teaching.  As I think back to the children that I have instructed, I hope that I was that kind of support and tender heart when they needed. 

To celebrate this and several other wonderful books, I am hosting a give away.  One lucky reader will get a chance to win a copy of either -   Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper or The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon or The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. 

Rules of the Giveaway
1.  All participants must be 13 or older.
2.  Contest ends on Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 11:59 P.M. PST.
3.  This contest is open to international participants.
4.  Please remember to comment on the post but do not leave personal information.  Any comments including personal information will be deleted.
5. Only one entry per person.

Good luck with the contest.

Book Review - The Pirate of Kindergarten

As part of National Inclusive Schools Week, all reviews this week will features stories about characters with special learning needs. Today's book:  The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon.

Author: George Ella Lyon
Illustrator:  Lynne Avril
Publisher:  Atheneum (June 22, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Ginny was not born a pirate. But since her birth she was headed in that direction.
This book tells the story of Ginny's voyage towards earning herself an eye patch - a voyage made mostly at school.  No other kid there had the honor.  Words and pictures offer up a double helping of surprise on the subject of seeing.

When I opened this book and started to read it, I was planning on being a little skeptical.  However, I found myself quickly loving this book.   The author did a remarkable job dealing with the main character's vision issues and explaining it in a way that young children will be able to understand it.  Ginny is a child who loves school and wants to enjoy but is finding that some things are just hard. 

Through the illustrations, the reader is provided a visual on what Ginny is seeing (particularly the blurred/double-vision).  As to be expected, Ginny doesn't realize that how she is seeing the world isn't how everyone else sees the world until an eye test at school reveals that there is a concern.  Lyon nails it with this point.  There are so many parents that think their preschooler or kindergartner is seeing fine because they aren't complaining but this is in part due to the fact that children in this age range would have nothing to really compare it with.

Once her vision concern is identified, Ginny must wear a corrective patch.  The idea of the patch being similar to the pirate can be a fun way to help a child accept the eye-patch which can be uncomfortable to wear and make the child feel self-conscious.  

Overall, this is book is an excellent addition to any classroom or school library and a great book to read to celebrate National Inclusive Schools Week.  

Check in tomorrow for a review of The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco and a chance to win either The Pirate of Kindergarten or The Junkyard Wonders.  

National Inclusive Schools Week

Celebrate the 10th Annual Inclusive Schools Week December 6-10, 2010

“Awareness to Action: 10 Years of Celebrating Inclusive Schools”

Inclusive Schools Week highlights the accomplishments of families, schools, and communities who promote inclusive education for all children across the world. The Week celebrates the progress that schools have made in implementing inclusive practices to ensure a quality education for an increasingly diverse student population, including students with disabilities, those from culturally, linguistically diverse backgrounds and those who are economically disadvantaged. The Week is also a wonderful opportunity for educators, students, and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children. Go to to learn more about how your school and community can celebrate this exciting event and to take action throughout the year!

As a former Special Education Teacher who worked as an inclusion teacher, and as a current principal of a school that has had an extensive inclusion program for nearly 20 years, I couldn't let this week pass and not mention it on the blog.  Though we should be living lives that are welcoming to all children and adults despite their individual needs, it is important to constantly raise awareness of the issues and concerns related to individuals with disabilities. 

In anticipation of National Inclusive Schools Week, I began reading Sharon M. Draper's OUT OF MY MIND with my fourth graders about a month ago.  This is a class that has several students fully included full-time.  The students have been familiar with making adjustments for children with autism who might have some quirky behaviors or for a student with Down Syndrome, who requires more support to keep up.  However, they have had limited contact with children with severe physical disabilities.  When I come across this book back in July, I knew it had to be a read aloud.

Sure enough, this has been a very powerful book and the students have been asking some really tough questions as they seek to understand Melody and her disability.  As a result, we are progressing slowly through the story. 

By the way, if there are any awards committees out there listening - there are several staff and 34 children who would vote "two-thumbs up" for this book.  If you are interested, I reviewed Out of My Mind over on Young Adult Literature Review back in July (click here for my review).

Over the course of this week, my teachers and students will be engaging in disability awareness discussions, reading stories which positively feature characters with disabilities, and engaging in activities to better understand what life might be like for a child with a disability.  I do have to say that I am very proud of my students.  Since the school has had such a prominent focus on inclusion, most of our students just see this as a regular part of life.  Yet, it is still good to have these discussions.

On the blog this week, I will be reviewing a variety of books which feature characters with disabilities.  Remember to check daily because I will be giving readers a chance to win one of the books I feature this week.

In the comment section, please share what is your favorite book that features a character with a disability?