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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Brother Sammy is Special, written by Becky Edwards and illustrated by David Armitage. Sky Pony Press, Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"My mom says it's because he is special and likes to play in a different way. That's why he lies by himself and doesn't play with us. But sometimes I wish, in an embarrassed sort of way, that he would just join in our games."

I often find myself apprehensive when a book appears to set out to 'teach' its readers something. My worry is that it will be seem didactic and lose its impact. When this book arrived in the mail, I will admit a concern. Luckily, I did not let that initial esponse deter me from reading it.

It is a lovely book that shows two brothers in an honest and heartfelt relationship. One is autistic, and one is not. The difficulties and delights are shared with poignancy and power. Sammy is 'special' and his brother shares their story. There is joy and sadness, understanding and embarrassment, loneliness and frustration, acceptance and pride. It is beautifully written with repetitive phrasing, well chosen
words to help readers understand and respect the feelings shared and a knowledge of autism itself:

"Sammy and I spent all afternoon building tall,
tall towers and knocking them down.
Perhaps towers are for knocking down as well
as building up, because it was fun, in a different sort of way."

Not living with an autistic child means that I am not totally in tune with some of the issues that are inherent in such a family, but my feeling is that this author has clear knowledge of it. She offers the empathy needed to give voice to some of the difficulties, while also focusing on the joys of just being a family. Acceptance of how special it is to have Sammy as part of that family brings the story to a gentle, and comforting conclusion.

David Armitage's glowing, light-infused watercolor paintings add a gentle feeling in double page spreads that are warm in color and shadowy enough that they don't bring significant attention to either boy or any of the actions. Rather, they allow feelings to be at the forefront. Lovely!

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