Book Review: Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs

Review submitted by Sara Loughlin Director, Monroe County (IN) Public Library

Follos, Alison M. G.  Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2013

“You can’t depend on the media or the publicity generated from trendy best sellers to routinely highlight special needs protagonists; such books may need your special delivery,” writes Follos, a middle school librarian with more than two decades of experience in finding books for young people and listening as they describe stories that made a difference in their lives. 

I enjoyed the introductory chapters, which reminded me that young people with special needs are just people, and they read for the same reasons all of us do – for escape, motivation, and empowerment. 

The second chapter, titled “Books Aren’t Shy – People Are,” was perhaps the most compelling for me. In it, we meet Elisa, one of the young people whose story Follos tells throughout the book. One of her daughter’s friends had a younger sister, who had difficulty speaking and whose steps were unbalanced and halting. For 15 years, Follos didn’t know what was wrong with her. It was only when working on the book that she approached Elisa’s mother. “I was cautious, sensitive about their privacy and worried that they would be offended by my curiosity,” she reports. “Their response was a surprise. They were excited to have Elisa included in the project.” Her mother said she had encouraged Elisa and said it would be an opportunity to advocate for other special needs individuals and speak up for them. Despite the extraordinary difficulty of reading for Elisa, she had very strong feelings about the books she read and they gave her an opportunity to talk and to reflect on her own situation in a positive and supportive way.

Follos has chosen the best, most beloved, to include in this book in five chapters addressing different sets of special needs, each with a brief introduction, followed by dozens of titles and descriptions, which made me want to go to the library right away and check them out:

Chapter 3, “Stories that Break the Stigma,” includes books about young people with learning disabilities and behavioral differences in the family and in the classroom. Chapter 4, “Stories that Tell Secrets,” books address emotional and psychological issues, including anorexia, self-medicating, alcoholism, cutting, suicide, and abuse. In Chapter 5, “Stories that Help Us Surmount the Challenges,” protagonists cope with physical and psychological illnesses and accidents. Chapter 6, “Stories of Disorders and Differences,” includes books with young people who have autism, Asperger’s or Tourette’s.  Chapter 7 deals with family needs of young people in “Stories of Support and Separation.”

Remarkable Books… can be read, as I did, as a compelling, heart-warming narrative of young people with special needs and their self-discovery through literature.  Or it can be used as a reference for good books for young readers and their parents, teachers, and supporters.  The chapters are well arranged to facilitate this, with introductory essays and then age recommendations and detailed summaries about each recommended title.  On both counts, it’s a great book.

 

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