A Friend for Henry

A Friend for Henry
Jenn Bailey and Mika Song
Chronicle Books

Softly spoken though this story is, its impact is powerful. It tells of Henry’s search for a friend among his classmates. Henry has autism, something we’re never told although we’re shown it’s so through his behaviour and his thoughts.

To Henry, Vivianne is ‘a kaleidoscope, a tangle of colours; Samuel ‘a thunderstorm, booming and crashing.’ Later he’s unable to cope with Samuel’s flight of fancy when he grabs one of the tiles Henry has taken such care to arrange, (‘All the edges met and the corners fit perfectly’) describing it as ‘a magic … from a genie’s lamp: “It’s not! It’s from Rug World” the literal-minded Henry insists pointing out the identifying sticker. Now the little lad seems as though he’s getting close to a melt down.

Later on though, Katie joins him as he stands watching the class goldfish in her bowl. Henry considers her, they speak

and then the two go off to play together, first with the blocks …and then outside where Henry waits in eager anticipation for his new friend till she reaches the bottom of the Big Slide.

That Jenn Bailey writes with such sensitivity and understanding is due in no small way to the fact that, as we learn from the book’s cover, one of her son’s has autism. This narrative really does ring true as those of us who have taught differently abled children will appreciate; it feels as though she’s standing behind Henry’s head as she tells her story, while at the same time leaving space for readers’ own interpretations And I really like that there are no labels.

Mika Song’s ink and watercolours illustrations capture Henry and his classmates with grace and economy of line, imbuing each character with a real identity, different feelings and predilections.

An empathetic look at the emotions of finding a friend from a child’s viewpoint whether or not s/he has autism.

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