THE WORD ON THE .NET

Writer T. James' Exploration of Words, on the Internet.

Children’s Book Review: The World According To August, One Good Friend.

Book Information: 40 pages, Age 6+. Written by Sandra L. Westendorf, illustrations by Tracy Rand. Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The story is based on a real boy, who has autism, and the trials and tribulations he faces at school, and particularly when he is asked to present a science project to his class. Like all of us he faces obstacles, craves friendship, and seeks to find acceptance from those around him. His story is told here, in a way that is accessible to children.

When I trained as a therapist several *cough* years ago autism was part of the course, but even I found my preconceptions of what it means to be autistic challenged by this children’s book, and therein lies one of its main strengths:

“Sometimes he cries when he is sad or angry, sometimes he giggles too much or laughs too loud when he is happy. He walks with a bounce, and he flaps his hands like a bird trying to fly.

August is special. He sees and hears things a little different from how you or I see and hear things. August is autistic.”

Throughout August is treated as a boy first, and someone who has autism second. There are enough pointers within the book to give a child reader the sense that August isn’t altogether the same as they are, but neither is he that different. I felt the balance was about right here, there is enough there for the book to be a useful springboard for a discussion in a classroom or home context, but the reader is not overwhelmed by information about autism as a condition.

For conservative parents who are concerned about some of the more ‘modern’ trends in kid’s books, you will have no worries here. The topics of friendship, courage, encouragement, and valuing the differences in individuals are all dealt with clearly, openly and honestly with a light, easy style to the prose. There may be no monsters, guns, or space-slime here but the writing has a simple charm that will engage most children, and any adult reading to them. As the book goes on you do root for August, and hope he succeeds, and that he gets his one main wish: that he is able to find one true friend.

The illustrations by Tracy Rand complement the style of the prose well, being clean, colourful, traditional, and engaging. The book is well put together; a professional job.

 

 ’”All of a sudden August hears loud cheering and clapping. When he looks around at his classmates, he sees all of them standing up and cheering him on, saying, “Way to go August—you did it!”’

Autism is a complex condition, affecting individuals and families in a myriad of profound and subtle ways, but here is book that relates some of these truths in a way that a child will understand, while enjoying an engaging story about someone they can relate to. It’s the focus on August as a boy, and his adventures at school that means the book can also be enjoyed as simple children’s story, and not just by those with a special interest in autism. Recommended.

 

NOTE: All images and quotations were included with the kind permission of the author, Sandra Westendorf, and remain © Copyright of Purple Birch Publishing, 2010.

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16 Comments

  1. I think it’s wonderful that authors are getting some of the real issues out there…diversity is what makes life interesting. We need to embrace everyone we encounter no matter how they come to us.

    • That open hearted approach would be welcome by so many people, and make our lives richer too. I’m not sure about actually “embracing everyone“, it depends when they last showered…

  2. It’s great that Sandra put August first, autism second. So many people end up defined and limited by their labels. It’s time to stop labelling kids, and just let them be themselves.

  3. A lovely review for a great sounding book. My Mum teaches (even though retired) at a disabled school so I’m more than aware of the problems as well as challenges presented. Its rewarding and when you help them find the “magic” that’s out there, its one of the best feelings.

    Great to hear about this book.

  4. I love the message of understanding and diversity in Sandra’s story about August. So important for kids (and adults) to see that we are all different, with strenghts in different areas. The earlier in life we get that, the better. Love the pictures and quotes.

    • Thanks Marianne. It’s a cliché but the world really would be a boring place if we were all the same.

      The book is nicely put together, so it was easy to find something to use for the review.

  5. I love the way the author handled this story by putting the child (August) first and autism second. I like that you’re reviewing these books and I get the impression that you read a variety of books to your children (not sure how many you have). You sound like an amazing an caring parent, trying to teach your children that the world is a diverse and wonderful place and everyone is accepted for who they are.
    Great stuff TJ…love these blogs and book reviews! :)

    • Thanks Pat, I’ll keep doing them as they come my way.

      My son loves his story time, but this week more for the opportunity to jump up and down on me while I attempt to read to him, than for the story we are now sharing. He is a lovely lad, and full of surprises. I hope I can do him proud…

  6. Love that you brought a story like this forward to promote it. Knowledge is power and books like this are great resources for parents and teachers and well…everyone. The illustrations are lovely. Thanks for posting this TJ. :)

  7. I know two young girls who have autism. They are so completely different in both their personalities and levels of autism. Both amaze me with their determination and talents.

    One of these lovely young ladies graduated from high school at the head of her class this past June. She is an inpiration.

    I will forward your review to her mom (my dear friend) who has made it her mission to fight for the rights of children with Autism in our province.

    Thank you for this review TJ!

    • Thanks Lisa. There are people out there who achieve so much, and face such struggles everyday it is really humbling, and inspiring as you say.

      The world would be a better place if everyone was as willing to learn from them as you are.

  8. This is a great review, TJ. Thanks. One of my good friends has a 10-year old son who is Autistic. It’s a complex thing to deal with, but they do their best to treat him as normal as possible. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    • Thanks Danni. Your friends sound as though they have it right… treating him normally means just accepting him as an individual, with his own strengths and limitations. It’s just what we all want…

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