Ronna Mandel reviews a new picture book that allows parents to start a conversation about autism with their children.
With current statistics at 1 out of 88 children having autism, chances are that either you have a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or know one. Therefore it makes good sense that we should learn as much as we can to help educate our children.
There’s a saying in the autism community that if you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism because no two children are affected the same way. Keep this in mind when reading David’s World: A Picture Book About Living With Autism ($16.95, Sky Pony Press, ages 5-8) by Dagmar H. Mueller with illustrations by Verena Ballhaus and translated by Kim Gardner.
David’s World brings us into the home of a family with one autistic child, David, and told from the perspective of his brother. I was immediately touched by the economy of words in a book that manages to speak volumes about such a serious subject. Every word the author has chosen works, quite powerfully in parts, in this wonderful new 28 page picture book. That David speaks another language, the language of autism is carefully conveyed in page after page and will open not only your child’s eyes but yours as well.
“Sometimes I don’t like David. He’s so different.” This is often a major struggle for siblings of children on the spectrum and it is handled so sensitively and appropriately. “He doesn’t laugh when we laugh, and he doesn’t cry when he’s sad.” But David is his brother and our narrator is going to do everything possible with the help of his parents to understand his brother’s world.
Sometimes David gets angry, sometimes David is sad, and most of the time, according to the narrator, he and David don’t like the same things. And while David likes to play piano and can play amazingly well, by ear, David’s brother plays soccer. However, from time to time he’ll “plop down on the carpet and listen …” What I found particularly encouraging was that Mueller chose to focus on David’s strengths such as his musical gift and his innate ability to relate to animals such as a neighbor’s dog. This is extremely vital when explaining autism to children. Because it is a spectrum, there are varying degrees of how it impacts a child’s abilities. Children need to appreciate the whole person and what special qualities every individual has, autistic or not.
Ballhaus’s illustrations are a blend of surreal and spot on when she depicts David with a brick walled body; overwhelmed by assorted annoying noises such as a mixer and a vaccuum; soaring free like a bird at the keys of a piano. There’s also a Matisse-like feel to the colors selected making the illustrations feel positive and complementary to the text.
I highly recommend this original picture book for all that it says and all that it does not have to say.