Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Books on the Spectrum

When I was a kid, I read Ann M. Martin's Inside Out (Scholastic, 1990), a novel about a boy who has a younger brother with autism.  It's been years since I've read it, but all I remember is that the younger brother screamed a lot and was totally locked inside his own world, a world into which his family could never enter.

With the Center for Disease Control estimating that an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, it's no wonder that there are a growing number of books on our shelves featuring narrators and characters with autism and Asperger's Syndrome.  Want to see what the world looks like from the perspective of a kid with an ASD or a sibling of a kid with autism?  Check out one of these books!

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Dial, 2006).  It's 1935 and Moose Flannagan has just moved to Alcatraz. No, he's not a prisoner, he's just a kid. His dad has gotten a job as an electrician on the island with the hopes that he will earn enough money to send Moose's sister Natalie to a special school. Natalie is... different. Sometimes she's off in her own little world. She's great with numbers, but not great at interacting with people. Moose's mother has tried everything to help her and, Moose finds out, she will stop at nothing to cure her little girl. But Moose isn't so sure that his mom knows what's best for Natalie. And he might be the only one who can really stick up for her... if he's brave enough. (Grades 5-8.) See also the sequel, Al Capone Shines My Shoes (Dial, 2009). 

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster's Children's Publishing, 2009).  Twelve-year-old Jason has autism, so the world looks different to him.  He doesn't really have any friends because most kids can't see past his disability.  They think that if they can't understand you, you must not have anything to say and if you don't express your feelings like they do, you must not have any feelings.  All that changes when he meets PhoenixBird on an online writing website.  Emails from her are the highlight of Jason's day, but when he gets the chance to meet her at a conference, he must decide if he's brave enough to show her who he really is.  (Grades 4-7.) 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Vintage, 2004).  Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057.   Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world.  Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. (Summary from Goodreads.) (Grades 9 and up.) 

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis (Dial, 2007).  Emma Jean sees the world a bit differently from most of the seventh graders at her school. She is a master of observation, though she doesn't always understand why people act the way they do. She remains detached and it's very hard to get under her skin, so even though she doesn't have any friends her age, she's not bothered by that fact. When she comes upon Colleen crying in the bathroom, Emma Jean discovers that she can use her problem-solving abilities to help her fellow students. And so she proceeds to "help" Colleen with a project that eventually backfires mightily. (Grades 4-7.) See also the sequel, Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love (Dial, 2009). 

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin (Hyperion, 2010).  Liana is an aspiring planetary scientist . . . and also a kissing addict. This summer, though, she plans to spend every kissworthy hour in the lab, studying stars. Hank has never been kissed. He’s smart and funny and very socially awkward, because he’s got Asperger’s syndrome. Hank’s plan for the summer is to work at a music store and save enough to buy the Fender Jazzmaster he craves. What neither Liana nor Hank plans for is their fateful meeting . . . in the women’s bathroom at the hospital. But their star-crossed encounter could be the very best kind. (Summary from Goodreads.) (Grades 8-12.) 

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (Henry Holt, 2010).  Sixteen-year-old, music- and sound design-obsessed Drea doesn’t have friends. She has, as she’s often reminded, issues. Drea’s mom and a rotating band of psychiatrists have settled on "a touch of Asperger’s.”  Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea meets two other outsiders.  The three of them form a band after an impromptu, Portishead-comparison-worthy jam after school. Justin swiftly challenges not only Drea’s preference for Poe over Black Lab but also her perceived inability to connect with another person. Justin, against all odds, may even like like Drea. (Summary from Goodreads.) (Grades 9-12.) 

Livvie Owen Lived Here by Sarah Dooley (Feiwel & Friends, 2010).  All Livvie wants is to go back to when things were good. Back when the whistle blew on the paper mill every day at 6 o'clock and they lived in the warm, yellow house and Orange Cat was still alive. But the paper mill's closed and if she can't keep her outbursts under control, her family's going to be evicted again. It's not easy for anyone to deal with change and for Livvie it's a particular struggle because she has autism. But Livvie can't go back, so she's going to have to find a way to move forward.  (Grades 6-9.) 

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling Books, 2007).  When Ted's cousin Salim disappears after riding the London Eye, everyone is frantic.  Ted comes up with several theories and sets about investigating them with the help of his older sister Kat.  When the adults can't find Salim, it just might take the efforts of a boy whose brain runs on a different operating system and his angsty older sister. (Grades 4-7.) 

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009).  17-year old Marcelo has his future planned out:  he'll work training horses this summer at his school, a special school for kids with disabilities. In the fall, he'll return to Paterson for his senior year and then go to college to study nursing.  Marcelo's dad has other plans for his summer, and the real world is more complicated, beautiful, and frightening than Marcelo could ever have imagined. (Grades 9-12.) 

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (Philomel, 2010).  Caitlin looks at the world a little differently because she has Asperger's Syndrome.  When she can't figure out something that comes naturally to most people, she's always been able to turn to her older brother Devon for help.  But after a tragic shooting rocks their small town, Devon is gone.  And Caitlin will have to figure out how to deal with her grief on her own. (Grades 4-7.) 

Piggy by Mireille Geus (Front Street, 2007).  Twelve-year-old Lizzy is autistic. She is taunted on the playground and around town, and the other kids call her Dizzy, after her tendency to daydream. One day the teasing is brought to an abrupt halt by another outsider—Peggy, called Piggy, an overweight, aggressive girl. The girls establish a fragile friendship that soon descends into something like manipulative abuse, and when they seek revenge on the playground bullies, things go too far. (Summary from Booklist review.) (Grades 6-10.) 

Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2006).  Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules - from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public" - in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal? (Summary from Goodreads.) (Grades 4-7.) 

Know more middle-grade or teen books about kids with autism?  What's missing from my list?  Leave 'em in the comments!