Sam the Superhero and His Super Life (Kathryn F. Pearson & James T. Pearson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sam the Superhero and His Super Life, written by Kathryn F. Pearson and James T. Pearson, illus. by Lauren Jezierski, a look at the experience of a nuero-atypical child.

Sam is a happy, healthy boy who lives with his loving grandparents, Grandpa Dan and Grandma Lucy. In many ways, Sam is just like any other kid – he loves to learn, read, and play – but in others, Sam is different. He can feel overwhelmed that noises and bright lights, can be confused by social interactions with his classmates, and has trouble controlling his motor skills when holding a marker or hugging friends. These differences often make Sam feel angry, sad, or hurt, and when Sam is excluded by his peers for being different, these “big feelings” get even worse. After one such incident, Sam decides that he will never try to make friends again, and tells his Grandpa as much. Yet Grandpa Dan knows that Sam is much stronger and braver than even he knows – in fact, he’s a superhero, and it’s time he learned his origin story…

Earnest and sweet, if slightly uneven, this indie title looks at the challenges that children with developmental disabilities can face as they grow (Sam’s delays are broadly nuero-atypical, though his diagnosis is never explicitly stated; context within the story and backmatter suggest NAS and ASD). This core theme is well-explored, as is the affirming lesson that the things that make us “different” are often the same things that make us strong and special. Sam is an endearing and relatable character for readers of all abilities, assisted greatly by the simple yet tender pencil illustrations. As with many indies, there are some rougher edges: the text can be a little redundant, the pacing uneven, and the poor formatting of the dialogue makes reading it – especially aloud – a challenge. And while JJ was a bit wiggly through much of the text, she enjoyed the expressive illustrations and Sam’s interactions with his comfort toy, Hercules. So while rough around the edges, the charms of this title are definitely worth a look. Baby Bookworm approved!

(A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Clover Kitty Goes To Kittygarten (Laura Purdie Salas)

Hello, friends! In honor of JJ’s first day of kindergarten, our book today is Clover Kitty Goes To Kittygarten, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata.

Young Clover Kitty prefers calm things: knitting quietly, napping on a warm floor, slowly nibbling her kibble. Sometimes she wishes she had someone to share her calm activities with, but otherwise, she feels very safe and secure in her familiar routine. So when the time comes for Clover to head to Kittygarten, she’s very nervous – and after a disaster of a first day, it’s easy to see why. Between the bright lights, loud noises, crowded classrooms, strong scents, and general newness of everything and everyone around her, Clover is overwhelmed and has a meltdown. For the next three days, she asks to stay home, and her mother lets her. Mom even allows a quiet friend, Oliver, from school to try and visit; Clover hides the first two days, yet is disappointed when he doesn’t show up the third. Deciding that she wants to try school (and friends) one more time, Clover comes up with a plan…

Wonderful. Everyone knows that the first day of school can be scary – add in sensory issues like Clover’s, and it can feel like an impossible challenge. A fantastic use of descriptive language allows readers with and without sensory issues of their own to understand her discomfort with “glaring” lights and perfume that stinks “like licorice”. Clover’s toolkit for combatting sensory overload (sunglasses, earmuffs, special blanket, etc), is a nice introduction to the same items sensory-sensitive children use. Adorable artwork managed the tricky balance of setting both the calming and overwhelming tones without being visually overwhelming themselves. The length was good, and JJ adored this one, seeing a kindred spirit in Clover. This is a great story, especially for classrooms who must consider sensory issues: nuerotypical kids will better understand their impaired peers, and sensory-sensitive kids will feel seen. Definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Albie Newton (Josh Funk)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Albie Newton, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Ester Garay, the story of a boy genius and his classmates learning how to be friends.

Albie isn’t quite like other kids. When he learned his numbers, he cried because he couldn’t count to infinity. He likes to learn a new language every week: English, Spanish, Hindi – even Klingon! Still, Albie is a friendly and happy young man, and excited to start his first day at a new school. When he hears his new classmates sing their morning song about friendship, Albie decides that he will invent a special gift to ingratiate himself to the others. Unfortunately, while Albie is obviously quite brilliant, he lacks social skills, and his habit of taking things without asking and overshadowing others with his work begins to upset the other children. But classmate Shirley convinces other kids to be patient with Albie – he means well, he just thinks differently. And sure enough, by day’s end, Albie has built them a gift that is astoundingly one-of-a-kind.

I liked this a lot. Albie does indeed do things that are generally perceived as rude. But the thing is, as smart as Albie is, he doesn’t understand that what he’s doing is unacceptable – he’s just trying to make a nice gift for his new friends. To me, this reads as an allegory for children with ASD or social/developmental disorders, and an effective one at that. It’s a good way of encouraging children with these disorders to consider how others may perceive their actions, and encourages children without them to be patient with their friends who may think or act differently from them. The illustrations are adorable and charming, and filled with clever details. The length was great, JJ enjoyed it, and we’re definitely calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story Of Dr. Temple Grandin (Julia Finley Mosca)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story Of Dr. Temple Grandin, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, a biography of the incredible innovator and activist.

From the start, Temple was different. At three, she had yet to say her first word, didn’t like noises or crowds, and hated to be hugged. A doctor recommends that she be institutionalized, but Temple’s mother refuses, instead surrounding Temple with supportive people who work to help her adapt, and eventually find the right diagnosis: autism. Under the right care, Temple begins to speak, learn, and invent. Finding kinship with the animals at her aunt’s farm, she realizes that they think in the same way she does, using pictures. Her unique perspective allows Temple to devise methods and inventions to treat the animals more humanely and help farms run more efficiently. She becomes a world-renowned expert in animal behavior and earns three degrees. And now, the girl who was told she would never talk flies around the world to give speeches, all because Temple and the people who loved her knew she was “different, not less.”

LOVED this. We’re great admirers of Dr. Grandin and the feminist and ASD role model she is, and this story captured so much of what makes her story inspiring. Told in fun, bouncy, yet often quite powerful rhyme, it shows how the odds were stacked against Temple at many turns – an autistic woman working in the male-dominant STEM and livestock fields – but she refused be regarded as anything less than the genius that she was. The art is wonderful, using simple, adorable characters and plainly laying out complex ideas to connect with little ones, and a wealth of backmatter expands on the details of Temple’s life. The length is great, and JJ loved the animals, colors and engaging rhymes. A phenomenal biography to introduce a true icon, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!