“No Man is an Island,” John Dunne’s poem is about humankind being better when working together, but what does that mean? That we’re all social beings and need to interact? But how about the person suffering from severe autism. Still, even an autistic person does need some kind of human interaction. And I expect we all feel isolated, whether we’re really alone on a deserted island or just new to a situation. I hope the three books I’ve selected for this post confer that notion.
The first one has to do with feeling unloved because of a perceived physical flaw. We all feel that way at some point, don’t we?
A Different Me
Allie Johnston is obsessed with the bump on her nose, which makes her feel ugly and hence unlovable. She is smart and has some friends in school, but envies, Amber, the prettiest girl in the school, who seems to have the perfect life. Allie sneers at camera-freak David Craig, who wears heavy eyeliner to school and she laughs about nerdy Florence. She meets two girls on a plastic surgery website. They live close to Manhattan and begin to spend time together, acting as a support group for planning their nose jobs. Allie is required to mentor students in her English class and discovers that perfect Amber’s mother is suicidal and her father stays on the road for business because he can’t deal with his wife’s problems—so much for having the perfect life. Allie and Amber become friends, but then Amber goes to stay with her older sister when her mother is hospitalized, so Allie mentors David. He, of course, has a very poignant reason for his eyeliner and paparazzi-like intrusions into other people’s lives. Allie learns more and more about other people, discovering along the way that people admire her for the things she does and aren’t as bothered by the bump on her nose as she is. She spends less and less time with her close friend, Jen, and in the end rather rudely tells her off. This is a good read with quite a powerful message about believing in oneself. There are lots of points in this book for classroom discussion.
BIBLIO: 2014, Albert Whitman & Company, Ages 13 +, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
The second book is about learning to accept not just yourself, but those around you. Life would be boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it? The thing is to accept other people’s differences.
First Day at Zoo School
Illustrated by Sarah Dillard
Amanda, the panda, is very excited about starting school, but Alfred, the alligator, is not. Unfortunately, Amanda changes her tune when she gets to the school yard. Except for her, everyone has a best friend. She’s sad until she sees Alfred standing by himself. Ah ha! A best friend for the panda. Alfred is not quite as happy about the whole thing, in part because Amanda calls him Gator, instead of Alfred, and in part because Amanda is very bossy. She loves to sit up front, but the alligator is sure he’s going to be called on by the teacher. At lunch he tries to hide, but Amanda finds him. The panda bosses Alfred all day long, but when she announces at the end of the school day that best friends always walk home together, the alligator yells at her. He tells her he’s not walking from school with her and he’s not her best friend and his name is Alfred. Amanda is crushed and Alfred feels awful. The next day our panda friend is downhearted. Amanda tells the teacher she’s lost her spark. She and Alfred don’t speak all day long, until the alligator worries about the panda hurting herself while hanging upside down from a tree. He tells her to come down because they can’t be best friends if her head bursts. And the two are best friends again, but good ones. The illustrations are funny in the right parts, especially when Amanda’s question while she’s hanging from the tree is written upside down. A good story to encourage children to be polite, caring and not bossy which children will want to read or hear over and over.
BIBLIO: 2014, Sleeping Bear Press, Ages 4 to 6, $14.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
This third book may be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me to about accepting oneself, but also accepting those around you.
Whatever After: Fairest of All
Eleven-year-old Abby and her seven-year-old brother, Jonah, are living in a new neighborhood and going to a new school which is fine with Jonah. Abby, on the other hand, is not happy about the changes. For starters, the kids in her class don’t play tag the way she does. They play “Freeze Tag” instead. Shortly after their move, Jonah wakes Abby up to tell her about the strange mirror in their basement. In the hopes of getting Jonah to quit talking about the mirror, Abby follows him into the basement only to discover he’s right. The mirror sucks them, some furniture and lots of law books into a different world. Snow White’s world; where they stop her from eating the poisoned apple. Ooops, realizes Abby, now Snow won’t be rescued by Prince Charming and won’t live “happily ever after.” So Abby and Jonah set about to correct their blunder, but Snow, of course, is confused and not of much help to begin with. The tension ratchets up when Abby catches on that time in Fairy Book Land is faster than real time. They have only so much time to fix Snow’s story and get home before their parents discover they’re missing. Naturally, every plan they try goes awry, but eventually the siblings straighten out the story and connect Snow White and Prince Charming. Best yet, they get back to their house before Mom and Dad notice they’ve been missing. Abby also learns that life does have a way of changing, whether you want it to or not. She decides that Freeze Tag might not be that bad. Fun read, full of lots of humor.
BIBLIO: 2012, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $14.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
Please let me know what you think. Much as I like having time to myself, I most decidedly don’t want to live on a deserted island.