Autism Kit Cover Voting

Back in May, I entered a contest to illustrate the cover of Ontario’s Children and Youth Ministry’s Autism Resource Guide.  The picture depicts a young girl sitting on the sidewalk, not wanting to leave because she is too busy watching the ants and small butterflies in front of her.  This simple drawing is very different from my usual, realistic artwork, capturing the innocence of early childhood.  My picture is one of the top three chosen by a judging panel.  The winner will be picked out by popular vote.  You can vote on the entries until August 22nd, 2014.  Voting can be done here: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/specialneeds/autism/aprk/design-vote.aspx

Remembering Farley Mowat

Earlier this month, the world lost Farley Mowat, great writer and animal activist.  Farley Mowat changed the world’s perspective on wolves with his groundbreaking memior Never Cry Wolf.  His unconventional research method of living (and eating) like a wolf while observing an Arctic wolf pack gave Farley Mowat a unique perspective.  Ootek, an Inuit man who befriended Farley Mowat, introduced him to a culture that respects and reveres wolves.  Never Cry Wolf was one of my favourite wolf books as a child, and it still holds up today.  (It is quite possible that Never Cry Wolf in part influenced Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves trilogy.)

Farley Mowat’s love of wildlife began in childhood, documented in his funny memoir Owls in the Family.  His concerns on animal welfare, first spoken in Never Cry Wolf, were passionately described in his anti-whaling books A Whale for the Killing, and Sea of Slaughter.  He was opposed to the exploitation of wildlife, either through commercial hunting, or the keeping of animals in roadside zoos and amusement parks.  Even in his later years, he spoke out animal welfare and environmental issues.

Just before Farley Mowat’s death, I e-mailed his assistant Alexandra at Furby House Books, thanking Farley Mowat for writing Never Cry Wolf.  She e-mailed back, saying that she printed out the e-mail and gave it to him.  I like to wonder about the smile it probably brought to his face as he read it.  May Farley Mowat’s legacy live on in the next generation who is now discovering his books.

Happy World Autism Day, and Children’s Book Day!

The White BicycleToday is both World Autism Day, and Children’s Book Day. In honour of these two events, I would like to profile books that star autistic children or youth.

The Wild Orchid Trilogy, by Beverly Branna, is narrated by Taylor, a young woman with Aspergers Syndrome (Autism Level 1 under DSM V).

In the first book, Wild Orchid (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005), Taylor is visiting Prince Albert National Park (in Wakesiu, Saskatchewan) with her mother. There, she learns about wild orchids from Paul, a botanist who is going through a rough time.

In Waiting for No One (2010), Taylor is attending university, and befriends Luke, a young man who understands special needs.

In The White Bicycle (2012), Taylor, her mother, and Luke’s family are visiting France. Taylor reflects on her past, and in doing that, is able to move forward. She also learns something special about friendship. These three books portray Aspergers accurately, and focus on Taylor’s coming of age, as opposed to her differences. The White Bicycle cover is beautifully illustrated by Taylor Crowe, an animator who has autism. His website, http://www.taylorcrowe.com, gives a first hand account as an adult with autism.

Speaking of book illustrations, there are very few picture books about autism. However, there are a few gems out there. Ian’s Walk (written by Laurie Lears, illustrated by Karen Ritz, published in 1998 by Albert Whitman and Company) is a beautifully illustrated story about Ian, a boy with autism, and his sitter. As they take a walk through their neighbourhood, Ian’s sister tries to see the world through Ian’s unique insight. Ian’s Walk is a simple, beautiful story about siblings, enjoying life, and walking in the shoes of our fellow human beings.

One of my favourite autism picture books is All Cats Have Aspergers Syndrome, and its companion book, All Dogs Have ADHD (written by Kathy Hoopman, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers). Those books contain adorable cat and dog photos, with funny captions. The text uses cat and dog personalities to explain autism and ADHD in a funny, sensitive, and easy to understand way. Kathy Hoopman has also written a great YA mystery story for teenagers called Haze, and the fun Asperger Adventure series for 9-12 year olds (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

Happy World Disability Day

In honour of World Disability Day, I would like to mention two Christmas books starring a young adult with autism (formally PDD-NOS), by author Greg Kincaid and their prequel.  A Dog Named Christmas (Doubleday, 2008) focus on George McCray, a his wife Mary Ann, and their 20 year old son, Todd.  Narrated by George, the story describes how the jovial animal expert Todd encourages his grumpy father to get over his 40 year reluctance to have a dog, after a traumatic experience during the Vietnam War.  Their hometown of Crossing Trails, Kansas, is holding a foster-for-Christmas program.  Todd drags his reluctant dad to the local Animal Services shelter, and selects a big black Lab he names Christmas.  Through Christmas, Todd develops a real mature sense of responsibility.  George also heals, allowing himself to let go of his past.  (While George perhaps as a reflection of his age unfortunately uses the “R” word once to describe Todd on page 24, there really is no other language or objectionable content.  (Even a mildly-perilous encounter with a cougar ends well for every, both wild and tame.)  A Dog Named Christmas doesn’t just tell a heartwarming story.  This book describes the lifesaving yet underfunded and understaffed job animal shelters play.  The book focuses on a large black dog, because these dogs, like black cats, are often overlooked due to stereotypes.  (This detail was unfortunately left out in the film adaptation, and forgotten in the prologue in the prequel book Christmas with Tucker.)  Nevertheless, the film adaptation is quite good, serving as a nice companion to the book.  Animal lovers will enjoy both the boo land it’s film counterpart.

Christmas with Tucker (Doubleday, 2010) follows George McCray as a 12 year old boy.  Taking place in 1962, George must face not only his father’s death, but also a terrible blizzard that threatens his grandparent’s dairy farm.  His sisters and mother head to Minnesota, leaving George to help his grandparents out on the farm.  An Irish Setter named Tucker helps George through this difficult time.  George finds healing through his mutual relationship with Tucker and his life on the dairy farm.  Though the laws of nature occur sometimes, there is really nothing animal loving readers would object to.  Animal lovers, old and young, will enjoy this book.

A Christmas Home (Doubleday, 2012) follows Todd and George four years after A Dog Named Christmas.  The recession has hit, and many people are dropping animals off at the shelter.  Trouble is, not many people are adopting or donating.  To make matters worse, the local mayor wants to close down Animal Services!  Todd is obviously upset, and is trying desparately to save the animals, the shelter, and his employment at the shelter.  But Todd also has another goal.  After training the dog pictured on the cover as a service dog for a co-worker, Todd has fallen for her.  While his co-worker has a physical disability, she is neurotypical, a fact that doesn’t phase Todd.  Through his experiences, Todd has really matured nicely.  The focus ion Todd is what makes A Christmas Home the strongest of tall three books.  Told in third person narrative, this book alternates between points of view.  A Christmas Home describes everything, including the shelter in more depth.  A Christmas Home ends in a way that works out for everyone.  All three books are engaging stories for animal lovers of all ages.  They make great Christmas presents that will be enjoyed year after year.

‘Melting the Myths’ regarding wolves in movies and fairy tales

Title: Lone Wolf - Medium: Coloured Pencil - Size: 5 1/2" x 10" - Year: 2010

Title: Lone Wolf – Medium: Coloured Pencil – Size: 5 1/2″ x 10″ – Year: 2010

Wolves have not been treated kindly in movies.  Movies usually depict wolves as a dangerous foe to be defeated.  Even family oriented films are not immune to the classic big-bad world stereotype.

I have always been bothered by the dangerous wolf stereotype, and for this reason, I am reluctant to see Frozen, after seeing the wolf chase in the trailer.  Wolves, in reality, pose little threat to humans.

Wolves are naturally shy creatures who prefer to avoid humans.  Despite this fact, wolf stereotypes still abound in movies and some books.  While there is no room for stereotypes in entertainment, children will enviably encounter them during their life.  A movie like Frozen can be used as an opportunity to discuss stereotypes with children, allowing them to recognize stereotypes when they encounter them.  Visiting the non-fiction section at the library, and checking out educational websites are great way to learn more about wolves.  Last month, I had written a list of recommended children’s books on wolves, which can be found here.

Stereotypes unfortunately, don’t stop with animals.  Stereotypes regarding groups of people exist even more frequently.  Discussing stereotypes will foster kindness and acceptance, creating a friendlier world.

Remembering the dogs of WWII: Two recommended books for Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day.  As someone fascinated with animals, I would like to recommend two books that I have recently read.

The first, Duke (Kirby Larson, Scholastic Press, 2013, http://www.scholastic.com Jacket art by Blake Morrow), tells the story of one boy’s difficult decision to enrol his dog in Dogs for Defence.  Hobie Hanson loves his dog, Duke.  He hears about Dogs for Defence, but doesn’t want to give his dog away to the army.  But Hobie’s father is in the army, and Hobie feels pressured to enlist Duke, if it means brining his dad home sooner.  Hobie misses both dearly, and keeps writing letters inquiring about their safety.  Duke is a very believable story that introduces young and young at heart readers to the often forgotten role that family pets played in WWII.  Duke is a sweet yet realistic tale that animal lovers from children to seniors will enjoy.

A Man of His Own (Susan Wilson, St. Martin’s Press, 2013) features WWII’s K9 defence from both an adult and a dog perspective.  Rick Stanton, a young adult baseball player, has it good.  He recently married the lovely Francesca, and lives with Pax, their dog.  Rick and Francesca plan on expanding their family through children.  But WWII begins and Rick is drafted.  Pax is enlisted into the army too.  Pax is paired with a young soldier named Keller, who falls in love with the dog.

When Rick returns home he is injured.  Both Rick and Keller love Pax, so Francesca, atelier, and Rick come up with a compromise.  Keller will be Rick’s aid.  But this live-in arrangement causes a possible love triangle between Keller, Francesca, and Rick.  Rick, meanwhile, aid dangerously depressed, and Pax may be the only one who can save both Rick’s marriage and even his life.

One thing I liked about A Man of His Own is how it alternates between viewpoints, including Pax’s viewpoint and thoughts.  Pax, as well as the human character, is very believable.

Due to the themes of life-threatening depression, as well as mild brief language, A Man of His Own is intended for adult readers.  However, this book is refreshingly clean, making it suitable for an audience (Like myself) that doesn’t want objectionable content.

For Remembrance Day, I thank all the human, dog, horse, and other animal soldiers and veterans for their loyal service.  I also thank all the service animals that help veterans heal from physical and/or mental injuries.