Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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BookRiot: Diversity Award Winning Children’s Books

And, it’s officially May!

The buds are out.  There are few things I love more than spring flowers, peepers, and buds on the trees.  Birds. Right now there’s a Canadian goose eyeing me from my yard as I catch up on blog posts.

Today we planted spring flowers.  I put one next to the she shed in a burst of optimism.  Our soil is sandy and it’s a little shady tucked back in the trees, but I made it a nice hole of potting soil.  Maybe there should be a picture for future posts.

BookRiot wanted me to read children’s/MG books that have won diversity awards. I took in two that have won Coretta Scott King awards, although there are other types of diversity awards out there too.  They reward books depicting nonviolent social change.

Interestingly,  both of these books have mothers who are breaking out of the mold for more social change. Not staying with partners, joining the revolution in their own ways. And they both feature girls in their own coming of age tales and how they fit in with a changing world.  And life changing summers, as they often are for kids.

A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009

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One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Three African American sisters are flown out to California to spend a month with their estranged mother, who left the family when the littlest one was still an infant.  The narrator, Delphine, has cared for her sisters ever since, and this trip across the country, away from their father and grandmother for the first time, is no different.  They find their mother with little maternal inclination and themselves at a day camp run by the Black Panthers while she is doing her thing for the revolution.  Mother and daughters come to a middle ground of respect during the few weeks that look doomed at the outset, helped by the common ground of being involved in the revolution.

Delphine, for her own coming of age, learns to loosen up some and grows up a little too, getting to know a mother who she barely remembers, who is trying to piece together memories.  More of Mom’s past also comes to light which helps us better understand choices that at the outset seemed difficult to empathize with.

This is a good one on so many levels:  kids in the MG group can relate to the characters while also learning about what that time in history was like for those it affected.  I mean, there is a reason that books earn these distinctions, and why they exist.  Empathy building.  I always say it and I don’t mind saying it some more.

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Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson

Stories from a little girl’s years growing up African American in both the South and the North are told in verse.  Don’t let the verse put you off this one, like it did to me for a long time. It’s more like snippets, vignettes, than it felt like verse to me.  It wasn’t like, Canterbury Tales or Beowulf or something.  It was accessible.

I liked how she got to show the contrast between the worlds of New York versus Alabama, her mother forging ahead as a single mom with them in the North while they lived with for a short time and then were able to visit grandparents in the South. The different kids and the attitudes.  And for the narrator’s personal story, how she came into herself as a writer, even if she was very different from her bookish older sister, more similar to her active older brother. How she talked about the African American experience changing in front of her young eyes.  Nope, it was beautiful, and I loved the audiobook, narrated by the author, so the poems were communicated in the intended tone.

Bonus book not mentioned in the opening!

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The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon

A pair of brothers from an intact family have their usual life upended when they meet Styx, a sixteen year old foster kid who engages them in a scheme to get a moped.  They are a few years younger and the narrating brother is dazzled by his smooth manner and his indisputable coolness, but learns the truth under Styx’s shiny veneer.

All right, so I wasn’t sure if this was an actual awardee or the author had gotten the award before.  And then downloading the picture for the post I’m seeing that this one was an honor book for the CSK award this year, so it does count, but I stopped reading this one to read Brown Girl Dreaming, and then went back to it to finish the story (all of these were offered on audio/ebook at my library, when often nonwhite books are not offered in electronic format from my library.  Interesting. Maybe because they are children’s books?)

But what I initially planned on was discussing the differences between the coming of age for boys and girls, like I have in the past with turn of the century novels (Cold Sassy Tree and Calpurnia Tate), and thankfully the boys and girls lives were not as different in modern times.  Of course, the themes were different, with Delphine wanting to be a caregiver and a parent figure to her sisters, whereas Caleb wants to stand out, see the world, and try new things, but the freedoms afforded them were much less disparate.  I would expect them to want somewhat different things.  Delphine’s younger sister Vonetta didn’t want to be ordinary, just like Caleb didn’t.

Also, this was less about social context, in my opinion, than the other two talked about here.  There is mention of how being black comes with more concerns about being safe in ways that white parents don’t need to thinks about to the same degree.  Caleb’s father makes sure that white people know who he is for safety reasons.  He doesn’t venture into places with his family where people are less likely to know them, and this strains his relationship with Caleb, the narrator, who wants to see the world.

Editing is coming at a decent clip on the novel.  I have one session with my writing teacher to decide how to manage a questionable plot element.  Then it could be time for *gulp* querying.  I haven’t even looked seriously at publishers, as I am afraid that will kill my confidence to get it out there and see what happens.

In another first world problem, Audible renews this month and I have two credits left, and I am so tempted to just get two audiobooks instead of waiting for sales, waiting for when they are needed for a reading theme, or waiting for one that’s at the library instead.  Getting crazy up in here.

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Next week:  Cozies!!

 

Special Post: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

If you’re not part of the frenzy of trick or treating tonight and you need a book to curl up with against the cold, this is the one.  If you got a hold of it on audio when Audible had it on special, even better!

This book is middle grade in that it features a tight band of ten year old boys who are looking to up the ante on their usual Halloween night.  This year turns out to be different for them: their ringleader, who Bradbury writes in one of the best descriptions I have ever read of a young boy, is home sick.

They meet up with a mysterious figure who takes them on a dark tour of Halloweens through place and time.  Each child is dressed as a Halloween figure whose place and time is visited over the course of the story.

Although this is middle grade, the tour through history done in the mysterious and dark way it is done appeals to all ages older. It was fascinating.  Through every iteration of Halloween they also have to save their ringleader friend who is home sick.  Not only do they have to save him, it is through giving pieces of themselves.  It’s not a chipper and cartoony history of Halloween, it is the true nature of the holiday and all the scary things that it comes from.

It took me a bit into the story to understand what they were doing, but I loved it and I can’t wait to share it with my son.  He wouldn’t have the context for it yet.  We have been reading Pete the Cat Halloween books, the one about the woman who swallowed the bat, etc.  He’s reading them to me. We wil get to the scary things together in due time and as much as I love scary and I think he will too, I am happy to hang onto his innocent a little longer.

He’s going around tonight dressed as Jack Skellington.   I couldn’t be more in love.

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Halloween Reads Week 2: Middle Grade Magic

Scary Reads Week 2!

And let me tell you, this is the least dark post of the four posts I have been reading for.  This is as bright and as shiny as it gets for scary/magic/dark/Halloween/entirely seasonal reads month here on the blog.

The two books today are both designated as middle grade, but they both dealt with being tossed out into the world to figure out their own competence.  And while competence is is a big part of the 8-12 years, it tends to be competence as compared to other children and themselves, not the adults in the larger world and where they fit in.  I think I would have enjoyed both of these when I was reading middle grade but there were ways I related to them as an adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.  I’m interested if any of my readers have read these and felt the same way.  I mean, maybe I’ve just been a middle schooler my entire life and I need someone to break me that terrible news.

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The Apprentice Witch, James Nichol

My brain was craving this listen after I listened to The Master and Margarita, which as I said I enjoyed, but could have used more context for to truly get more out of it.  I needed something that felt simpler to me, and this fit the bill.

A young girl, Arianwyn, graduates from witching school with dubious honors, getting a test score that the adults aren’t quite sure what it means other than she didn’t get the same mark as everyone who has considered to have passed in the generations before.  This felt what I imagine to be in the British tradition, where old established schools of good repute teach generations of children from the same families, except here they share the genetic treasure trove of being magical.  And being from a magical family is really important.  Anyway, so she feels half competent and then gets tossed into a far reaching land that is having some trouble with tears in the veil between the darker world and some creatures are getting through and causing a stir for her first job assignment.  She might not ever get to be considered as a full witch and this is a trial of sorts so she can retake the assessment.  Like when you walk across the stage to graduate high school but still have to pass Health or take that last state test again in August.  But I think altogether worse and more confidence altering.

This reminded me of how hard it was to become a therapist at 23 years old.  In grad school itself, even though I had all kinds of psychology knowledge and things to guide me, I wished I had just a little more life experience before I was sat down before clients on camera to try to help them figure things out. This is the anxiety that got stirred inside me, that old fear of in over my head I am supposed to be grown but I am so not, when Arianwyn went on her trials.  Thankfully she ended up being less clueless than the adults around her and leading the way, and finding out some satisfying things about her main school rival, and I was very interested in how it was all going to turn out, but it resonated with a 37 year old Mom with a husband and is ten years into a professional job.  All the trappings of stability that I spent a long time wishing for.

But I liked it. And there are dark things but like more gray than black.  Like the other books I have been reviewing there is a sequel that is tempting me to see how she continues to do in her world.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

This one was pulled into my awareness because it was made into a Studio Ghibli film, and everything made by them is a magical fantastic ride that I want every part of and I wonder who these people are who understand exactly the sort of thing that I have found entertaining for my entire life.  Like how do these people know  how to get into my imagination?   I know how I am predictable in other ways due to other parts of my identity but I feel like a smaller section of the world feels the same way I do about those movies.  Anyway.

Again I had the feeling with this one that the themes were more grown up than I would expect, but also again, it doesn’t mean a younger child couldn’t enjoy the story for different reasons.  I also felt a little vindicated by school library journal when they reviewed it also as being complex in parts.  I felt it was too, even though as I said, I definitely enjoyed it.

A girl, Sophie, trying to make her way in the world becomes cursed to become an old woman and can only break the curse by being part of Howl’s entourage and her deal with a fire demon.  Again, a young girl is tossed out into the world to figure things out, this time by a curse rather that something like finishing school.  There is some dark magic going on with the Witch of the Waste and Howl’s own curse he is trying to avoid, but nothing too dark, and her sisters are engaged in schemes to get themselves married in the world while their sister is trying to get out of her 90 year old body.  The other element that seemed very grown up to me was how Howl is entirely emotionally unavailable.  Yes, his immature tantrums can probably be related to by readers of all ages, but his quality where he doesn’t answer questions and commits to nothing makes me worry about Sophie or anyone with an interest in being close to him.

I also see that the movie is completely different, but I can’t get to it right now.  I do want to see it, even though it might not make things simpler.

So there it was.  The lightest post for the month.  Like I have in other years, four posts doesn’t seem to be enough to cover all the scary reads that I want to do.  I have books I have wanted to get to for scary reads other years that won’t make it this year.  Maybe I will have to do another scary series at a different point in the year too.  I only bought one book that I can think of recently in hopes of reviewing it for this round and it’s going to miss the bus.  The bus is too packed.  Or, I can sneak in a fifth post the first Sunday of November, as Halloween is in the middle of the week this year!

It will get darker, my friends.

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