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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Temple Grandin, written by Sy Montgomery. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $20.99 ages 12 and up

"Temple's most important innovations in design were accomplished not in spite of but because of her autism. And she thinks that many great achievements of modern civilization were attained thanks to people who may have been on the autistic spectrum, too." 
 I had not heard of Temple Grandin until I saw the beautiful HBO movie that chronicled her life. I became very interested in what she was doing, and found much to admire in this remarkable woman.

Now, another accomplished and respected woman researcher takes on the task of bringing Temple Grandin to a younger audience. Sy Montgomery does what she does best in this lively and informed look at the woman who has written, consulted, advocated and made a name for herself in the world of animals. She walked with and talked with Temple as she worked to tell her amazing story.

The research is strong and clear. Not many middle grade children have any knowledge of Temple Grandin. This book changes that, and will provide some jaw dropping moments for them. It took doctors some time to realize that she was autistic, as not much was known about the spectrum when Temple was a young child. Her father wanted her institutionalized. Her mother would not agree. It was through persistence that she enrolled her daughter in a small private school that accommodated her way of learning and encouraged her strengths. Temple had those, in spades.

In her early school years she was accepted by her classmates with gentle encouragement from caring and informed teachers. While odd, she made new friends and caused a stir at times:

"Temple had no idea that her mind worked differently from everyone else's. She believed everyone thought in pictures - in fact, she believed this until she was in her forties. She also thought that surely the sound of the school bell hurt everyone's ears and that all kids suffered from scratchy clothes. And she didn't realize she was unusually brave about ordinary pain."

A new girls' middle school brought teasing, bullying and a great deal of pain for Temple. When she was expelled, her mother found the Hampshire Country School and Temple found a home where it was believed that she wasn't 'bad or stupid.'

"Instead they considered kids like her gifted - in ways that the rest of the world couldn't yet see."

Her innate understanding of animals and her innate engineering ability led her to create many of the systems that continue to be used in the humane treatment of animals today.
I admire the design of the book. It is chronological, and has occasional notebook type pages that inform readers about autism. This helps readers begin to understand what the autism spectrum truly is. Family photographs add interest and allow us to watch as Temple grows to be the strong and independent woman of today. I also love the design sketches she made that continue to impact the way in which animals are processed. Her work in feed lots and slaughterhouses was often difficult because of the way women were treated there. She did not give up!

This fascinating book opens windows for children; a window into the life of a remarkable woman, a window into the world of one autistic child and hopefully, a window to understanding that being different is a good thing and can lead to extraordinary accomplishments.  Bravo!

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