I first took The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken and Bee Willey out of the library in 2013 when we lived near Bury St Edmunds and it, or its Aberdeenshire counterpart, has been coming home with us regularly ever since.
The story is a lovely one, about discovering how to use your strengths to overcome your fears, and how, no matter what your abilities are, there’s scope to help others.
Set in the autumn, the illustrations are full of really rich textures, and earthy colours which match the tone of the prose perfectly. I really love how no surface is just one flat shade, but instead, is composed of layers of different colours. No one could ever say that the illustrations are ‘realistic’ – they’re heavily stylised – but they’re so lively and full of character that they feel very real.
This is a wonderful book in which the power of stories helps the protagonist overcome the difficulties in their narrative. I’m a sucker for this plot, which I guess makes sense, given how many times reading books has rescued me. 😉
The Gifts of Autism by Katherine Uher is a fairly rare thing – being one of only a handful of books I’ve come across so far which is both written specifically for children, and aims to highlight the positive aspects of autism.
Whilst other factual books exist about autism, they focus on parts of the condition which might result in a child feeling stigmatised or even inferior to their peers. This book, conversely, describes various autistic traits – as the title suggests – as gifts.
I always feel that you can tell the quality of an alphabet book by the choice of word for the letter Q and this didn’t disappoint – the word ‘Queen’ doesn’t make a tenuous appearance and the alternative word isn’t something entirely un-Q-related with the word ‘quite’ whacked in front. Whilst this might not seem like big praise, but you’d be amazed at how often the above happens, so full marks there!
The book also contains a section designed to encourage self-reflection with a focus on positive autistic traits – indeed, positive traits for anyone to possess. I really like this invitation to praise oneself in detail – whilst drawing in a book, or even drawing-at-all, might not be every child’s cup-of-tea, the art pages can still serve as cues to think about what makes us awesome. Autistic or not, self-praise is something that doesn’t happen nearly enough – particularly not in the UK, where we seem to be bound by some unwritten law to downplay our own achievements for fear of sounding like we’re boasting. I think we’d all feel a lot better if we took the time to acknowledge the things that make us great, whether we’re autistic or not.
I also feel like it’s important to add that this is an excellent book for any child. As I’ve said above, the vast majority books that I’ve found on autism focus on traits that are often perceived as negative, even if the book is trying to take a neutral, fact-based approach. If we want to live in a society which values everyone for the contributions they do make then we need to make sure we that we focus on this when we explain the world. By thinking about the gifts of autism, the condition becomes a lot less isolating and neurotypical children might begin to see their autistic peers in a more positive light. And a little understanding can go a very, very long way.
Do you know of any positive books on autism I might not have come across yet? I’d love to hear about them if you do!
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang is probably as old as I am, if not older. Whilst it could conceivably be argued that I’m reviewing it for nostalgic reasons, this isn’t one of the books that I (knowingly) enjoyed in childhood. For me, this was another golden charity shop find and has since been adored by both Son and Daughter for the past seven years.
First of all, I love the artwork – the book’s blurb describes it as having, ‘rich, bold colours’ and I couldn’t agree more. I also love the language used – in all the (many) books I’ve read to my daughter in the last seven-and-a-bit years, this is the only one which has referred to a girl as strong in the physical sense of the word. Later books – intended for older readers – have used the adjective to describe personality but bodily strength is not a characteristic that’s normally attached to female protagonists. Which is an issue, when you’re raising a girl who happens to have the beginnings of a six-pack.
I love the realism of the book – that there are seven shoes along the edge of the bed, one half of a pair temporarily misplaced. I love the detail in the illustrations – the cat that’s present in nearly all of the pictures seems to be up to something new in each one. I love that it’s Dad, tenderly putting his daughter to bed and that this isn’t a laboured point.
The poem that carries us through the countdown is simple and neat, but equally warm and affectionate. Whilst I can pretty much recite it from memory, I haven’t grown tired of it yet, which is always a good sign.
This is another older book that I really would urge you to go out of your way to find. As you can tell from the pictures above, our copy has been well-loved and though both children are, if I’m being honest, too old for it, I can’t imagine not having it in the house so I’m on the hunt for another copy.
Tell me I’m not the only person who can’t let go of books – which have you clung on to?
My Big Shouting Day! by Rebecca Patterson was gifted to us as part of Daughter’s Bookbug Bag three years ago. The idea is that children across Scotland are gifted books at key points in their infancy – within their first year, between one and two years old, at three years old and in their first year of school. There are ideas for songs to sing together, books to read and suggestions for activities to do at home with a view to improving literacy.
Whilst all of the books that we’ve received in my six years of parenting have been funny, or thought provoking, and well-written, this is the one which stands out most and which both of my children keep coming back to.
The story follows Bella, a girl of around three years old, who wakes up one morning on the wrong side of the bed. We follow her throughout the day during which she vocalises the things which are just too much for her.
At the end of the book, Bella’s (very tired and incredibly patient) mummy manages to make a connection with her as they read their bedtime story. Bella apologises for her behaviour and Mummy validates her feelings.
It’s a really simple, small story but it does so many things right. Firstly, you see that picture above? That’s me at just about every bedtime – and I doubt there’s a parent in the world who doesn’t feel like that
every some days. The characters – though largely only expressed through illustration – feel real and relatable and honest. There’s no sheen of perfection on anything. Yet at the same time, there’s a definite tone of fondness and humour throughout.
I love that Bella’s mummy doesn’t force an apology and let’s Bella come around in her own time. I love that she admits that everyone feels overwhelmed some days and doesn’t dismiss Bella’s feelings as her having been cross for no reason. I love that I can take my children to bed after a particularly rough day, read this book and have them in peals of giggles by the end of the story – all of us sated and validated by what we’ve read.
Which are your favourite books about feelings? Do you have any go-to stories for after a rough day? I’d love to hear them.