The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide

The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide
Siena Castellon, illustrated by Rebecca Burgess
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Sienna Castellon, the seventeen-year-old author is an award winning anti-bullying campaigner and autism advocate; she is on the autism spectrum, and is also dyspraxic and dyslexic, and has ADHD. She is also gifted in physics and maths.

As we learn, her journey thus far has been anything but easy, so who better to write this book subtitled ‘How to grow up Awesome and Autistic’ than she, especially, as she writes in the first chapter, ‘I view my autism as a strength and as an advantage, a modern day superpower.”

Essentially Siena has compiled a comprehensive and detailed manual for readers of twelve plus about living the best life a young female with autism possibly can in a predominantly neurotypical world.

She covers such diverse topics as embracing who you are then deciding with whom to share your autism and how, to clothes and fashion ,

dating, sex and sexuality.

Other sections focus on bullying: face to face

and cyberbullying are covered in separate chapters and strategies for coping with both are discussed.

Self-esteem is key throughout: people with autism do not need pitying, they need understanding is another key message. The neurotypical brain is wired to socialise; in contrast most autistic brains need a fair amount of time alone for the mind to settle and the senses to be soothed.

On the topic of senses, Siena devotes a whole chapter to ‘Managing your sensory sensitivities and sensory overload.’  Siena mentions the relatively simple steps that some supermarkets, cinemas, airports and the like have taken to create a more inclusive environment for people with autism.

Throughout the authorial voice remains both earnest and compassionate; and in between her narrative are some comic style pages drawn by Rebecca Burgess that encapsulate what has been said in a particular section.

Yes, this book has a specific target audience in mind; however the insights it offers need to be shared with everyone. I’m a primary/foundation stage teacher and over the years have taught dozens of children with autism (mainly boys) and have some degree of understanding of neurodiversity. Nonetheless I welcomed the insights I gained from this guide and thoroughly recommend that all educators, parents, indeed anyone who hopes to ensure that all females on the autism spectrum have the very best possible chance to flourish, should read it and carefully consider this enormously wise young woman’s words. Surely that is every one of us, isn’t it?

It’s a Great Big Colourful World

It’s a Great Big Colourful World
Tom Schamp
Prestel

Otto the cat wakes one morning wondering why everything is so grey. His chameleon friend, Leon is on hand to show him the delights of the various shades of grey and the multitude of beautiful grey things around.

Thereafter Leon takes him on a journey through the wonderful world of colour starting with grey’s components, the complementary black and white.

Moving on from those it’s a veritable riot of colours each represented by a plethora of characters and objects large and small. Yellow includes a yellow submarine, a big yellow taxi, a variety of cheeses, a butterfly and banana peel.

One orange spread is dominated by a magnificent tiger that’s found its way to Orange County and as yet, hasn’t consumed the tomato soup, clementines or orange juice on the previous spread.

There’s a wealth of transport on the red pages that also include Red Square and tulips – no not from Amsterdam but Turkey.
Flamingos strut their way across the pink spreads maintaining their colour courtesy of the pink algae and shrimps they dine upon.

Rather more restful on the eye the blues have a whale that swims through all four pages at once and the greens with dinosaurs, crocodiles, plants aplenty and the occasional caterpillar,

not forgetting Greenland.

Beer, cupcakes, tanned sunbathers, brownstone houses, a toffee even, are part of the brown spreads; and both the colour tourists Otto and Leon are hiding in plain sight on every spread, each  cleverly adapted to their surroundings. In the final pages the friends are thrilled by the coming together of all the colours for a glorious final journey through the four seasons.

However many times you look at this ingenious, intricately detailed offering from Tom Schamp, you’ll always find something new.

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, with his playful linguistic imagination and references, Schamp guarantees that this book will have a wide age appeal. No matter what you bring to it, you’ll emerge richer and wanting to dive straight back in, hungry for more.

 

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Time to Eat, Time to Tidy Up, Time to Share, Time to make Friends

Time to Eat, Time to Tidy Up, Time to Share, Time to make Friends
Penny Tassoni and Mel Four
Bloomsbury Education

Written by education consultant Penny Tassoni whose roots are in early years teaching, is the Time to series of which these are the first titles.

Aimed at pre-schoolers, the language is simple and engaging, encouraging little ones to interact by for example in Time to Eat, focussing on the different shapes and sizes of the fruit and vegetables shown …

This book also looks at colours of foods and their textures; and talks about why we need food. It also introduces the idea of likes and dislikes.
There’s a wordless spread of different foods that should encourage plenty of food-related talk and a final spread of notes for parents and carers. These include guidance on what to observe, how to assess what is seen and ideas for supporting a child’s next steps. (all good early years practice)

Time to Tidy Up explains why tidying up is important, looks at storage places and to encourage little ones to get involved, suggests ways of making it fun by singing, dancing, or taking on a particular role – even superheroes tidy up!

We all need to share and it’s never too soon to learn how is beautifully demonstrated by the small children using the dough in this spread of Time to Share

Sharing is caring, a means to make friends, and makes things more fun. That might be in the playground, at the swimming pool, or at nursery where you might need to share sand, toys and other resources. There too you’ll need to take turns – a form of sharing but some negotiation might be needed.
As important as sharing is, there are certain things that are not for sharing: this too is covered.

Of course, sharing is very much part and parcel of making friends the theme of Time to Make Friends which looks at the ups and downs of friendship and introduces the concept of kindness as well as togetherness.

Mel Four’s bold, bright illustrations of the young children are appealing and work really well with the text making for a handy and helpful resource for early years practitioners, parents and carers.

The Sleepy Pebble and other stories

The Sleepy Pebble and other stories
Doctor Alice Gregory, Christy Kirkpatrick and Eleanor Hardiman
Flying Eye Books

Alice Gregory, sleep researcher and writer Christy Kirkpatrick have collaborated on this book of stories to share at bedtime.

Adults, parents in particular, know how hard it can be to get little ones off to sleep and this collection of calming tales, together with the activities suggested, is specially designed to help children wind down and relax, allowing them to drift off into the land of nod.

There are five stories, each one soothing and an ideal length for bedtime. They feature in turn the sleepy pebble; a willow tree that wants to stay up late;

a giraffe that enjoys a long bath to relax her at night, a kind and careful snail and finally, a pig that loves to cook.

The same muscle relaxation routine is used during each one except that the child is asked to imagine holding and squeezing in the first, Pebble, in the second some soil, in the third big heavy clouds, in the fourth the listener becomes the snail curling into its shell and soft warm dough is the final item to squeeze.

The guided visualisation intended to engage all the senses uses imagery appropriate to each story and the mindfulness – the focus on body awareness – is repeated for concluding every story session.

Eleanor Hardiman’s exquisitely detailed illustrations executed in calming colours (different hues for each story) add to the book’s dreamy quality.
Also included are an explanatory introduction, tips for ‘relaxing bedtime and better sleep’ plus ten questions and answers.

Wearing my yoga teacher’s hat I fully endorse the techniques included in this beautifully produced storybook. It should prove invaluable to parents who struggle with getting their children to nod off and to sleep through so they wake next morning restored and full of energy.

Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?

Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?
Nadine Neckles, illustrated by Vikas Upadhyay
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I’ve only ever taught one child who had Nystagamus (due to his albinism). Now having read this excellent little book – the latest in the ‘Can I Tell You About series’, I feel ashamed about how little I really understood of the condition.

Herein a girl named Amber talks in a user-friendly manner about nystagamus -her ‘dancing eyes’, what this means for her in particular and about how she and other children with the condition will experience it differently, although they may share certain similarities such as taking longer to learn things. (This doesn’t mean they are any less clever than others however.)

We hear about Amber’s diagnosis (her eyes jiggle from side-to-side);

how she has to have regular eye check-ups; how she has to carefully adjust the way she sits to watch TV, preferably sitting right close to the screen; the need for her to wear glasses to prevent her ‘seeing double’ as she also has a mild squint.

Starting school presented a challenge for Amber especially the frenetic-seeming playtimes. Amber’s school has made accommodations for her condition such as adding yellow tape to the stair edges, doorframes and potential places of danger; and her mum explained nystagmus to Amber’s classmates.

When in the classroom she has a special place to sit, is never asked to share a book or computer screen and has work printed on coloured paper.

Reading itself brings its own set of challenges but again there are aids to make things less tricky for her. Depth perception is a particular challenge, so ball games, (and other things requiring rapid hand-eye co-ordination), gymnastics and running are ‘tricky’.

Of course frustrations occur but Amber’s friends are understanding and Amber herself is bold, intelligent and resilient, refusing to let nystagamus define her.

The book concludes with some information for adults, an outline of associated conditions, an important checklist for professionals, a glossary and a list of recommended resources.

Easy to understand, this book, (written by a special needs life coach and mother of a child like Amber, with nystagmus and Chromosome 18q) encompasses all the important aspects of nystagmus making it an ideal introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the condition be they children, parents, carers, teachers, and other professionals. Line drawings by Vikas Upadhyay show Amber as the sparky individual the author presented.

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®


Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®
Raelene Dundon, illustrated by Chloe-Amber Scott
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I know from my teaching experience that children on the autism spectrum often become obsessively passionate about and often developing an enormous competence in a particular thing such as  Lego building, drumming, a certain cartoon series or drawing specific items.

The strength of the motivation towards their chosen passion tends to result in a lack of social skills: participating in Minecraft® (which is frequently called digital Lego) offers a wonderful setting to enable neurodiverse children to develop both social and communication skills. Clearly the author of this large format book, Raelene Dundon appreciates this and to that end, has created a superb resource.

Having outlined in the opening chapters the importance of social skills and how these are impaired in children with ASD, she puts the case for using group programmes, in particular Minecraft® to develop those crucial social skills.

The second part of the book comprises information on how to set up a social Minecraft® group; how to use the game for supporting such skills as holding a conversation, being interested in other people and understanding the viewpoint of another person.
Each skill, for instance problem solving,

‘being creative’ or co-operation

is succinctly presented and related to what has just happened during the specific session – this is a great tool for developing awareness in the learner.

In all there are thirty sessions (around 150 pages of photocopiable material) with smashing illustrations by Chloe-Amber Scott, making this an absolutely invaluable and comprehensive resource – a veritable goldmine – for any professional working with primary children or older students, who have ASD.