A Is for “All Aboard!” An Alphabet Book for Autism Awareness Month

  • Kavan, Stefan and Barbara. Illustrated by Michaelin Otis. Trainman: Gaining Acceptance…and Friends…through Special Interests.  Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing, 2011.
  • Kluth, Paula and Victoria Kluth. Illustrated by Brad Littlejohn. A Is for “All Aboard!” Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 2010.

I wanted to share these two books in recognition of Autism Awareness month.  About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)¹. Autism is diagnosed on a triad of issues: Social Skills, Communication, and Unusual Interest and Behaviors². These two books give perspective on the unusual interest and behaviors legs of this disorders.  Sometimes these unusual interests can keep children with autism apart from other children, who don’t share them.

Trainman is Stefan’s story.  He is a boy with autism. His interests are maps, roads, and trains!  His mom and his teacher both worry about him.  He sits alone at lunch, partly because the cafeteria is too noisy and partly because his interests aren’t shared by the other children. One of the goals on his individualized education plan (IEP) is self-advocacy.  To address this goal, his mother suggests that he might like to make a presentation to his teacher and classmates about his autism and his special interests.  He agrees.  Stefan is good at PowerPoint. Armed with information from his mother, he creates a presentation for his class.  He shows this to all his peers, his teacher, and his principal.  This presentation helps them understand that Stefan is much like them.  They are impressed with his knowledge of trains.  This disclosure helps Stefan with his classmates, teacher, and even the principal (who Stefan only sees when he is in trouble). The children in his class have much more patience, when he talks about trains or roads.  Stefan, also tries to remember to ask them about their special interests.

Stefan and his mom wrote this book for other students with autism.  It is her hope that this book will encourage classroom discussions around relationships.  All children, including those with autism, need acceptance and understanding from peers.  They all need friends.

Kari Dunn Buron, a noted autism education specialist, has contributed ideas for using this book as a teaching tool. She also contributed information on special interests and students with ASD in the back of the book.

The second book I offer is a delightful alphabet book written by Paula Kluth and her sister, Victoria Kluth.  Paula is also a noted specialist on autism, literacy, and inclusive education.  When she was researching for her book on literacy and autism, she discovered that there were no train ABC books. Paula drafted her sister, Victoria, to help her write this alphabet. From “A Is for All Aboard” to “Z Is for Zephyr,” all the letters have a special significance to train lovers including these two authors.  Their father worked on the railroad and they spent some quality time in the railyard.

When I was reading this book, I thought about my own Grandpa worked on the railroad.  I wonder how he would have liked this book.  He never talked much about his work and I was too young to collect his thoughts.

Paula and Victoria created an alphabet book for any train enthusiast. Like Trainman, this book can also be used as a teaching tool.  Paula has included a section on using alphabet books to teach.

Here are some great autism resources.

¹CDC Autism Spectrum Disorder: Statistics and Data – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
²CDC Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs and Symptoms – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

Read an Old Favorite: Clifford the Big Red Dog

Book coverBridwell, Norman.  Clifford the Big Red Dog. New York: Scholastic, 1963.

Do you know this book?  While it is an older book, I think Clifford is still a terrific character.  Yes, Clifford is big and red.  He is a good friend to a small girl named Emily Elizabeth.  Emily Elizabeth says that he is the biggest, reddest dog on her street.  I don’t know about the reddest, but he is the biggest dog on any street and perhaps in the world.  How big is he?  He is as big as Emily Elizabeth’s house!  Where does he get a bath, in the swimming pool!! Clifford loves to play games with Emily Elizabeth!  In Hide and Seek she is an excellent hider, while Clifford is always found.  I wonder why? When Clifford begs, Emily Elizabeth must climb to the attic and use a window there to give him his reward.  Chasing cars for Clifford is problematical, as sometimes he catches them.  It makes the driver, very angry!  I wonder why?  He also runs after cats.  Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo, can you imagine why?  Clifford is a very special dog and Emily Elizabeth wouldn’t trade him!

My girls loved reading about Clifford. It was wonderful to give them this reading experience.  Children with disabilities need reading experiences as well.  Here is a link to an article on bringing literacy to life with story boxes: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/bringing-literacy-life-through-storyboxes. Story boxes are a great way to bring stories alive for children with visual impairments.  This article provides an example of how to make another Clifford story, Clifford’s Bedtime, accessible for children with disabilities.

Norman Bridwell

Norman decided to keep it all in the family.  Clifford was names after his wife’s childhood imaginary friend and Clifford’s friend and companion was named after Bridwell’s daughter, Emily Elizabeth.

Norman was born in Kokomo, Indiana!  I lived there for a year and never realized it was his birthplace.  At that time, I didn’t have any children and wasn’t familiar with this wonderful big, red dog.

He had a vivid imagination as a child and enjoyed making up imaginary kingdoms as a backdrop for his tin soldiers and other toys.  As with many other author/illustrators, he majored in art and spent some time working to get a job as a book illustrator.  A chance remark by a rejecting publisher set him on his path.  It was suggested that he make up stories about the big red dog and little girl who appeared in his portfolio.  Clifford the Big Red Dog’s career was launched. Scholastic can be congratulated for recognizing Bridwell’s brilliance!

Dick Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic had this to say about Norman Bridwell and the Clifford books.

Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children – kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude – through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than fifty years. The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally.¹

Watch some video interviews with this author.

Read about more about Norman Bridwell on these websites.

¹http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/65076-obituary-norman-bridwell.html