Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review - My Brother Charlie

In this series of book reviews celebrating National Inclusive Schools Week, today I am focusing on a story that looks at the subject from a sibling's perspective.  

Author: Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Scholastic (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: 4 to 8 years old
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Description from GoodReads:
Callie is very proud of her brother Charlie. He’s good at so many things  --  swimming, playing the piano, running fast. And Charlie has a special way with animals, especially their dog, Harriett.

But sometimes Charlie gets very quiet.

His words get locked inside him, and he seems far away.

Then, when Callie and Charlie start to play, Charlie is back to laughing, holding hands, having fun.
Charlie is like any other boy – and he has autism.

In this story, told from a sister’s point of view, we meet a family whose oldest son teaches them important lessons about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.   

Holly Robinson Peete, bestselling author, actress, and national autism spokesperson, has paired with her daughter, Ryan, to co-author this uplifting book based on their own personal experiences with Holly’s son and Ryan’s brother, RJ, who has autism.

I had a chance to hear Holly Robinson Peete speak about My Brother Charlie at the SCIBA dinner this past February.  She was so honest and straight-forward and compassionate about the topic of autism and what it was like being a parent of a child with autism.  Also, it was interesting to hear her speak about her daughter's experiences.  

When I finally had a chance to read the story, I was pleased to see that the book reflected that same honest, straight-forward compassion.  Additionally, I loved that it was from a sibling perspective.  In My Brother Charlie, Callie is the twin to Charlie who has autism.  Her voice rings true and when I hit the page that talks about how Charlie doesn't let anything stop him when he wants something - even if it is dangerous, I found myself shaking my head in full understanding.  But when Callie says that sometimes Charlie can ruin a playdate, I wanted to clap and give Callie (Ryan) a hug.  

There needs to be more books and more honest portrayals of what it is like for a sibling of a child with autism.  Sometimes I think they are the forgotten ones in the whole journey called "autism".  This book provides a parent or a teacher a chance to talk in a raw and real manner with a child about both the joys and the pitfalls of being a sibling of a child with special needs.  Over the years, as a teacher of children with autism, I have watched the impact the world of autism has had on the child(ren) without autism in a family.  It is more than time to celebrate the way it can shape siblings into warm, caring, and understanding people.  

The mixed media illustrations by Shane W. Evans are engaging and I loved the facial expressions - particularly the eyes of the characters.  Evans captured the spirit of the book.  

At the end of the book, there is a page with recommendations and suggestions for understanding individuals with autism.  I was particularly in awww of the ideas and thoughts presented by Ryan.  She is certainly one awesome and amazing young person.  Her suggestions about an Autism 101 class for her classmates was spectacular.  

Thank you Holly, and Ryan for finding a way to share about your life with RJ through the relationship of Callie and Charlie.  I am proud to be able to feature this book as part of our Inclusive Schools Week activities.  Continue to share your story so that others may be touched as well.