Author: Lori DeMonia
Illustrator: Monique Turchan
Publisher: Halo Publishing
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
A few months ago I wrote a review for a book called My Brother is Different: A parents' guide to help children cope with an Autistic sibling. Although the book had good intentions, I did not give it a glowing review because I didn't think it was very successful as a children's book. Despite the title, it was written and illustrated like a book to be read to--or read by--children (rather than just as a resource for parents or educators) and I didn't feel it held up well as a story book. I've been both a writer and a daycare teacher for many years (including several years as a Special Needs teacher) and I appreciate those children's books that try to tackle difficult subjects, but ultimately they still need to be good children's literature. Lori DeMonia clearly agrees.
Her book, Leah's Voice, isn't just a "difficult subject" book. It isn't just about Autism. And her goal isn't just to help kids "cope with" an Autistic sibling. She knows first hand that there are many challenges that the sibling of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder faces--their sibling's behavior may sometimes be confusing or frustrating, their friends may not be as understanding about why their sibling is different--but she also knows that having a sibling with ASD isn't some constant burden that kids need to "deal with." Siblings love each other! And siblings fight. And they misunderstand and get frustrated. Just like...well...SIBLINGS.
In the book, a little girl named Logan is excited for a play date with her new friend Abby. But when Abby doesn't want to play with Logan's older sister, Leah, because she talks differently and plays differently, Logan gets mad. Why can't Abby understand that Leah is different, but that they can all play together? The book then explores other ways in which Logan and Leah are different (Leah didn't like the movie theatre and started crying, Leah is a great artist and helps Logan paint pictures). Logan understands that her sister has Autism, but she doesn't know how to explain it to her friend. Eventually Abby comes around and realizes that she should be patient and take the time to get to know Leah.
What I like most about this book is that it is, first and foremost, a good children's book. The story is well-told, the characters' feelings are revealed through their actions not just stated by the author (a hallmark of good writing, in my opinion, and one that is overlooked by many seasoned authors of adult literature) and the illustrations are beautiful. I read this book with my three-year-old daughter, Magda, and even though she is considerably younger than the target audience she found the book engaging and asked to read it over and over again. It also prompted a lot of discussion after.
At one point in the book, Leah is overwhelmed by a trip to the movie theatre and starts crying and trying to run away. Her mother and sister do not understand what is wrong, but they have to leave and go home without seeing the movie because Leah is so upset. When we read that page, Magda said that there were times that kids get frustrated with their siblings, like when her cousin wants to stay at the park but his mom says they have to go home to feed his baby sister, or when another cousin had to miss a party because her dad and brother were sick. Then she said that maybe next time, the family in the book could make sure that both parents take the little girls to the movies so that if Leah had to go home, one of the parents could take her and the other could stay with Logan and watch the movie. I love that she took the story as an opportunity to find solutions to relatable problems.
We then talked about ways in which children are different, how some kids may not be able to express themselves as well as others and how some children are upset by things that others are not. Magda asked if Leah in the book was upset by the movie theatre because it was loud and I said I wasn't sure, but maybe. Then she asked me what sorts of things upset me when I was a little girl. I told her I hated getting up early to go places when I was little, which Magda thought was funny because she loves being the first one up in the morning.
I'm rambling, but the point is this book prompted a lot of discussion about differences and being patient with others, even for my child who is three and (currently) does not have siblings. It's a book that I could see children relating to if they do have a friend or sibling with Autism, but it's also a book that I would recommend as an addition to any family or classroom bookshelf.
To learn more about the author, the book and the real-life Leah, you can visit her website: www.leahsvoicethebook.com.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author for review purposes, but I was in no way required or expected to write a favourable review, just an honest one. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own (and also, where stated, those of my daughter, with whom I read and discussed this book).
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My Brother is Different, by Barbara J. Morvay
Best of 2012: Children's Picture Book Roundup
My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius, by Harriet Ziefert
Differentiating Instruction with Menus for the Inclusive Classroom: Language Arts Grades 6-8, by Laurie E. Wes