Tuesday, October 7, 2014

‘My Brother Sammy’: Sibling’s concern about autism

Book cover, My Brother Sammy by Becky Edwards and David Armitage. At right, a larger boy looks benevolently down at his younger brother as the two of them sit together in a flower-filled landscape.

One of the diverse perspectives highlighted in our course readings this week in The Joy of Children’s Literature is what author Denise Johnson refers to as “exceptionalities,” physical, mental or behavioral challenges or giftedness. As a woman who learned in adulthood that she was on the autism continuum, I have a vested interest in autistic characters’ experiences validated and communicated through fiction.

In the course of my reading upper-elementary, middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, I’ve encountered several chapter books that speak directly to the experience of people on the autism spectrum. Tasked for this assignment to locate a picture book that was culturally specific, I wondered what was available in my public library’s collection.

My Brother Sammy, written by Becky Edwards and illustrated by David Armitage (The Millbrook Press, 1999) turned up in my subject search for “autism” in the library’s online public access catalog. It was the only picture book among non-fiction and chapter-book fiction.

In a first-person narrative, the brother of a child with autism talks about how he feels when his brother doesn’t ride the bus with him to school, doesn’t play the same games that he and his friends like to play and, generally, doesn’t behave the way a typical brother would be expected to. The reason given is because Sammy is “special.” The book ends with Sammy’s brother joining Sammy in his activities and gaining a greater appreciation for being a “special brother.”

My Brother Sammy is from the perspective of a cultural outsider, the neurotypical sibling of a child with autism.

(It was problematic to me that I was unable to find a picture book in my public library that spoke directly to the autistic experience. This is clearly an area of collection development where I need to focus my attention.)

At the same time, being the sibling of a “special” brother or sister is an experience that many young readers share. So I would recommend it for children attempting to come to terms with a sibling’s “exceptionality.”

Composed for Cuesta College’s ECE 234, Children’s Literature

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