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

With a Good Book – Happy Anniversary!

Frontpiece of Wildflowers of Texas BookAjilvsgi, Geyata. Wildflowers of Texas.  Bryan, TX: Shearer Publishing, 1984.

This blog, “With a Good Book” is a year old.  Happy Birthday!   I started this blog writing about the books I bought for my niece’s baby shower.  Her son, Elijah is nearly one.  I don’t know about you, but I have been vastly entertained remembering books I have shared with my family over the years. I reveled in the new books I have discovered this year. My random ramblings have delighted me!

Today, I want to reflect on home and family.  My family has been supportive and helpful throughout this year.  They encouraged me to start writing and sharing.  I value their loving support.  How could I continue without it?  We have lively discussions over the dinner table about our current reads.  We also reminisce about things we read in the past and how much they made us think or feel. As you may have guessed, we all love to read.

I was at home today and I took a walk in our back forty.  It was full of wildflowers.  TheDedication to Alexis' Dad for his birthday. sight that greeted me was a field of yellow spotted with purple.  I had to pull out my favorite wildflower reference, Wildflowers of Texas to identify these new flowers.  We have had this book so long that the dust cover is gone.  I took this picture of the inside front cover to show when we acquired it. Alexis and I bought for Jim for his birthday in 1985.  She was a very precocious two.  This book sees regular use every spring and summer.  The wildflowers in our yard, in our neighborhood, and around our state have always intrigued us.  We love walking in our yard and seeing how the flower change during the seasons.

Here’s some photos from this afternoon’s walk.  Here is the field of yellow dotted with purple near the large oak tree.  There are so many types of yellow flowers, it is hard to say what these sunny, yellow flowers are.  I think they are Sleepy-Daisies.  They bloom in the back forty from April through the first good freeze.

field of small yellow flowers
Back Forty in Bloom

The new purple flowers are called American Germander.  They have blossomed since the last good rain. They join the other blue and purple flowers in the yard: bluebonnets, dotted blue-eyed grass, and prairie verbena.

Sleepy Daisies and American Germander
American Germander and Sleepy Daisies

The dewberries bloomed and the blooms have given way to berries.  Our berries get too much sun so they are small.  I did pick a couple small ripe ones and they popped with sweet flavor in my mouth. If you want the big, fat, ripe ones, you must dig into the thicket.  I don’t want to discover a snake (we’ve seen rattlesnakes around here)! What are dewberries you ask?  They are a variety of blackberry.

Ripening Dewberries
Ripening Dewberries

I walked down by our rill to look at the barrel cacti.  Unfortunately, they had finished blooming.  I walked down that way last week so I didn’t miss their bright, fuchsia flowers.  The prickly pear, on the other hand, are blooming in profusion!  Their bright yellow blooms attract all types of insects.  I rambled back to the house.  It was a wonderful afternoon.

Prickly Pear in Bloom
Prickly Pear in Bloom

As I enjoyed my ramble through the yard, I have spent this year rambling through some very good books. Thanks to all of you who have followed my blog over this year.  It has been my pleasure to share my love of books and other random ramblings with you.

Here’s one of my favorite quote on books from Groucho Marx.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.
Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

Go and share a good book with your best friend!

Island Boy

Cooney, Barbara. Island Boy. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1988.

This lovely little book was a gift to Alexis for Christmas 1991.  I don’t remember how I happened to acquire this signed copy, but I am glad I did.  This is a stunning book.

It is a full circle story from youth to death. It is a story of determination and a life well lived. It is a story of leaving and homecoming. This is the story of a boy of Tibbets Island, Matthais. He is kind, loving, and determined.

Matthais’ Pa began the process of taming the island.  He called it Tibbets Island.  He cleared the land, dug a well and built a house.  When he was ready, he moved his family to the island.  At that time Matthais’ family had Ma, Pa, and three children.  By the time Matthais came there were six boys and six girls.  Matthais was the youngest.  When he was small he helped where he could.  When he wasn’t helping, he was sitting under the shade of the red astrakhan apple tree, his Ma had planted. He was watching his island and dreaming of the big, wide world.

In time, he joined his siblings in the steamy winter kitchen and learned to read and write.  He helped plough the fields and chop the woods.  As his brothers and sisters grew up, they left the island for jobs or to marry. His brothers told him he was too young to leave home.  Matthais didn’t pay attention to them.  He longed to see what was beyond his island.  His Uncle Albion was a ship builder.  Uncle Albion built a handsome schooner, the Six Brothers. When it made its maiden voyage, Matthais served as a cabin boy.  For fifteen years, he sailed on the Six Brothers.  He sailed with her here and there, up and down the coast in all kinds of weather.  He eventually became the master of this grand vessel.  Despite the work and joy from sailing, he remembered his island and he longed to return.  He decided one day to return and he did.  He was determined.

He returned to the island and repaired his boyhood home.  He married and lived a full life.  He was clever and knew how to make a good life for himself and his family.  The book ends with his death.  It would be sad, but he lived a life that spoke to so many people.  Many people came to pay their respects to him.  His grandson, Matthais saw all those people, who came to pay their respects and he heard comments like this,

“A good man…” “A good life.”

What more can we ask?  This is a wonderful book to read.  It could be maudlin, but it isn’t.  Matthias lived a full, useful life and it was laid before us in all its quiet glory.  With this book, a meaningful discussion can be had with children about life and how we live it.

This book is worth picking up just for its luminous illustrations.  It reminds me of the primitive folk art style that I have seen at Colonial Williamsburg and other museums.

Barbara Cooney

The book Island Boy is a story about beginnings and endings.  Barbara began her life in Room 1127 of the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn on August 6, 1917.  Her family was prosperous and they lived in the suburbs. She began summering in Maine at the age of two¹.  It seems to call her back, just as it did, Matthias.  She returned to Maine to a little house overlooking the sea.  She died in Damariscotto, Maine in March of 2000².

It is said that these books are her most autobiographical, Miss Rumptious, Hattie and the Wild Waves, and Island Boy.  Like Matthias in Island Boy, she traveled widely, but was called back to the wilds of Maine. In Miss Rumptious, a book I haven’t read, Miss Rumptious is encouraged to do something to make world more beautiful². Barbara took this to heart and her books are beautiful.  She earned the Caldecott award in 1959 for Chanticleer and the Fox and again in 1980 for Ox-Cart Man.  Her illustrations are detailed and sumptuous. Illustrating books may have been a way to earn a living, but it gave her the opportunity to make the world more beautiful.

You can read more about this author on these websites.

¹http://www.carolhurst.com/authors/bcooney.html

²http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/barbara-cooney-1917-2000-she-created-many-popular-books-for-children-139578164/116646.html

Guest Post: Why Science Fiction as a Genre Is Important

Photo M81
M81 in Ursa Major / Astrophotgraph by James Reimund / San Gabriel Observatory

Back in November, when I wrote about The Paper Bag Princess,  I mentioned a post from Reading Rainbow titled “Raising Science Fiction Readers.” According to that post,

For young kids (and for many adults!) there is something irresistible about the combination of smart ideas, exploring new worlds, and escaping the boredom of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy books are exciting! But the appeal of these books goes beyond mere excitement. Science fiction and fantasy stories make us feel strong and adventurous, and for many kids, these are some of the only worlds where they feel they fit in.

I find I like the out of the world experiences and thought-provoking ideas I have when I read science fiction.  For those reasons and others, I find science fiction to be an important genre.  My husband, Jim has his own ideas about why this genre is important.  He has detailed his ideas in this guest post.

Science fiction isn’t always considered high prose.  At least not in the sense of other types of literature such as poetry, satire, and morality stories.  These types of literature have been around for centuries and people know of their potential value and beauty.  They provide an elegant means of instruction.  Some literature tells instructional tales and provides warnings to people who might behave poorly or need life perspective.  I think of “Gulliver’s Travels” for the former and “Ozymandias” for the latter.  Anyway, literature can be a means of communicating about life and the human condition.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, no less a player on this stage.  In fact, I would argue that because of the fast pace of technological development, it is essential.  We now have capabilities that were unimaginable even 50 years ago.  The accrual of wisdom to use these new capabilities is usually a much slower proposition.  In order to have time to think about new possibilities and how they should be used requires thinking about them ahead of time.  Science fiction provides a means of attempting this.  Even if the technical details are fuzzy, the ramifications of new technologies can be thought about and discussed.  At the very least, a better set of questions can be thought up to help figure out the possible ramifications of new technologies.

Example:  “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This novel predominately explores the effects of society when human reproduction is entirely controlled in such a way as to support the state.  Sex is dissociated from reproduction and reproduction is controlled in factories to provide the “correct” population mix of talents.  Consequences of this society are explored, including the necessity to have a “wild population” of humans in order to maintain a genetic mix so that all of humanity can’t be wiped out by disease because of limited genetic diversity in the “civilized” population.  How is this relevant now?

Today, genetics is very much more advanced than in 1931 when the book was written.  It is now possible to tinker with the genetics of the unborn (determine the sex, fix genetic issues, and clone).  No longer is it a stretch to think that humans could someday be “produced” ex-utero. So, for 85 years (book was actually published in 1932) we have had time to think about such reproductive issues and how power over this process could be used or misused.  Has advantage been taken of this time to examine and think about where our current genetic technology is taking us?  Possibly.  Today there is much ethical discussion around most technologies having to do with human reproduction.  Human cloning is no doubt possible (certainly other mammals have been cloned), yet there are prohibitions on this in most countries.

Other examples can be found for time travel, space exploration, and robots/artificial intelligence to name a few more.  As humanity is able to control ever more powerful forces such as energy and genetics, more and more thought must be applied to the wisdom of usage.  This is why the futuristic thoughts and themes of science fiction are important.

March 2017: Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas

March2017Greetings!

March was a very busy month!  The weather was mild and we spent extra time outside.  The whole of central Texas turned green.  It is always amazing to see the springtime transformation.  We had rain so the roadways are abundantly decorated with wildflowers.  You see Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and a variety of yellow blooms almost everywhere you look.  In my yard, I have Anemones, Prairie Verbena, False Garlic and Yellow Evening Primrose.  It is a beautiful time of the year.  I spent much of my time working in my gardens to spruce them up for the coming year.  I was tired at the end of the day so my before bed reading time was diminished.  Despite the extra yard work, I was able to finish a good book or two.

Green Trees Texas
My backyard this afternoon.  Look at how green it is.

Robin

One of my favorites this month, was Newt’s Emerald.  It was written by Garth Nix.  Some of you may know him from his Old Kingdom Trilogy: Sabriel, Arbhorsen, and Lirael. Newt’s Emerald is a charming Regency romance, think Georgette Heyer.  How can you fail to love a character named Lady Truthful Newington, Newt to her family. It was fun to read.

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Cho, Zen.  Sorcerer to the Crown.  New York: Ace Books, 2015.
  • Bujold, Lois McMaster. Pendric’s Mission.  New York: Spectrum Literary Agency, 2016 [eBook].
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York, Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1992.
  • Cline, Ernest.  Armada.  New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

Jim

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley.  2312. New York: Orbit, 2012
  • McDevitt, Jack.  Hercules Text. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Jim invested several months in the book 2312. He wrote a guest post for this blog earlier this month [https://withagoodbook.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/guest-post-2312/] on this book.

Alexis

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Knight, Jim.  Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring and Connected.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2016.
  • Connoly, Tina.  Seriously Wicked. New York: Tom Doherty & Associates Books, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.

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

Welcome Spring: The Legend of the Bluebonnet

bluebonnet_legendDe Paola, Tomie.  The Legend of the Bluebonnet. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983.

Today is the first official day of spring.  From here the days get longer and the nights get shorter until we reach the summer solstice. In my patch of Northern, Central Texas, it has felt like spring for at least a month. We have had warm days into the 70s and 80s and cool evenings down into the 50s.  It is one of my favorite seasons.  As I write, I am sitting in my backyard with a glass of iced tea and a gentle breeze blowing across me.  It is a practically, perfect day.

In Texas, a herald of spring is the Texas Bluebonnet.  As soon as the weather starts to warm up in late February or early March, they begin to bloom.  If you drive through our state during this time, you will see swaths of highway medians and roadsides covered with their bright blue flowers.  We can thank Lady Bird Johnson for their generous displays, but that is another story. As I was shuffling through my books looking for a book about spring, I found this one.  It combines my favorite time of year, with one of my favorite flowers in a book by one of my favorite authors/illustrators. Like the day, it is practically, perfect in every way.

In this version of the legend, there had been a great drought and the Comanche people were dying.  For three days, they prayed and danced and drummed begging the Great Spirits to send them healing rains.  At last their shaman spoke words from the Great Spirits.  The Comanche people had become selfish.  The people had taken and they had not given back.  Only a burnt offering of a valued possession with its ashes scattered to the winds would save the people.  The Comanche people retired to their tipis to consider the best sacrifice, each one thinking that the Great Spirits would not want their treasured items.  Only a child, She-Who-Is-Alone was wise, generous, and brave enough to find a sacrifice.  What does she have that will serve?  Through the drought and the famine, she lost all her family, the only thing she had left was a warrior doll, made by her mother with bright blue feathers from a Jay brought to her by her father.  It is precious to her.  As deep night settled and everyone slumbered, she left the village and went to the hill, where the shaman received the words from the Great Spirits.  She lit a small fire, prayed to the Spirits, and thrust her precious doll into the fire.  When the ashes cooled, she scooped them up and scattered them to the four winds.  Was her sacrifice enough?  She laid down on the hillside and fell asleep.  She woke with the morning light and to her surprise the hillside was covered in blue flowers, the same blue as the feathers on her warrior doll.  The Great Spirits had forgiven the people and sent them the healing rains.  Every year the hillsides of Texas bloom with these bright blue flowers, our Texas Bluebonnets, to remind us of the sacrifice of a brave and faithful girl.

This book is a glorious retelling of this story.  See if you can find a copy to read to someone special on a bright spring day.

Here are some pictures of bluebonnets and other wild flowers growing in or near my yard.  Happy Spring!!!

Bluebonnets from my neighbor’s yard!  Alas we have none in our yard this year.

bluebonnets2

Here is a picture of our back 40.  It is dotted with Anemones in white and purple.  They are usually the first wildflowers to bloom in our yard.  It also is sprinkled with the tiny pick flowers of the False Garlic plant. Jim waits as long as possible in the spring to mow back here.  We love the sea of small wildflowers we have.

back40

Here is one of the hardier Texas perennials.  It is Prairie Verbena.  It blooms all summer long.  It is a bright beacon on the green landscape.

verbena

And last, but not least, one of my personal favorites the Dotted Blue-Eyed Grass.  It is from the Iris family.  They have little blue heads springing up from grassy leaves and stems.

DottedBlueEyedGrass

If you don’t live in Texas, please enjoy all the blossoms.  If you do live in Texas, I hope you get a chance to get out and see our spectacular wildflower displays.