“Are you sure you want us to come over?” Marly, my old friend from college, asked. “David sometimes has a hard time playing with other kids–everything has to be just so. It really bothers him if something’s messed up. And Jamie’s a jumper.”
“A jumper?” I asked.
“He climbs up on stuff and then he jumps off. His big thing right now is climbing up on top of my filing cabinet and jumping off onto the floor.”
“Wow,” I said, looking around my house at all of the six-foot-tall bookshelves and imagining two-year-old Jamie lying crushed and broken on my concrete floor.
“Tell you what, why don’t you come over here? It’ll be easier for David, and Jamie can jump of whatever he wants to. I’ve gotten hardened.”
Actually, what she had gotten was sick. She and her sons were battling the physical fallout of a nasty black mold infestation in their dream house. When you can no longer feel your face and your kids are suddenly falling prey to all sorts of chronic ailments letting your two-year-old jump off a filing cabinet can seem like not such a big thing. You drag a mattress next to the cabinet and wish him well. But I digress.
And that’s how The Boy and I found ourselves out in a fenced meadow between Gresham, Oregon and Mount Hood. The Boy, who was around five, was delighted. David and Jamie had a slide and a climbing structure (from the top of which Jamie naturally jumped) and, once Marly had explained a few ground rules (no touching David’s toys once he had them arranged, the slide could only be gone done in one position, etc), things went well.
The boys ran and played–or, rather, David and The Boy did; poor Jamie limped not because he had sprained something with all that jumping, but because he was wearing his red cowboy boots. Red cowboy boots that had originally be purchased for him as a much, much younger child.
“They hurt his feet,” Marly said. “His heels won’t even go all the way down inside them. But he won’t wear anything else. I’ve given up on that.”
I have to admit that as Marly and I lounged in lawn chairs in the sun on that spring day I wondered about her parenting skills. What kind of mother allows a two-year-old to leap from high places and wear shoes that clearly are painful? What kind of mother allows her four-year-old son to dictate that once his toys are set up they must remain exactly so until he decides to move them, which he never seems to do?
A mother, it turned out, who was parenting two sons who are not only battling a number of mold-related conditions, but also have Asberger’s Syndrome.
This was all years ago. Marly took the contractor who sealed up the walls of her dream house in the middle of a rainstorm to court and won–the first time such a thing had been done in a mold case in Oregon. She moved her family to a better climate for them. She educated herself about mold and Asberger’s, and then she saw to it that her sons got the support they needed to become healthy, happy, teenagers.
And that’s why, when I read Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food, written by Jodi Carmichael and illustrated by Sarah Ackerly, I found myself thinking of Marly, David, and Jamie the Jumper with new understanding and respect. Like David, Connor needs to have things just so not because he chooses to be difficult, but because he has strong, often physical responses to things that most of us take for granted. Order is important because without it there is chaos, and for children like David, Jamie, and Connor the chaos threshold is very low. A toy out of place is chaos. A girl sitting on a stool rather than on a chair is chaos. To a child with Asberger’s Syndrome, the world is a very different place. Everything matters. A lot.
Marly told me that years ago, but Spaghetti Is Not A Finger Food makes that experience real. Jodi Carmichael has given us the opportunity to experience the world as a child with Asberger’s Syndrome might, and it’s a moving and enlightening experience. Connor’s constant battle to get through his day in the midst of overwhelming distractions is by turns inspiring, hilarious, and heart-breaking. This is a book that will appeal not only to the young readers for whom it is written, but to parents as well.
So–story’s great–the book’s worth it for that alone. But I’m an illustrator and book designer, and I just can’t resist noting that Sarah Ackerley’s illustrations are absolutely pitch perfect–they’re fun and engaging without becoming caricatures. And hat’s off, too, to Little Pickle Press art director Leslie Iorillo. I know it’s not sexy to talk about font choices, but Iorillo’s design does a masterful job of keeping this story fun, approachable, and undeniably attractive. It instantly conveys the brightness and simplicity of the best elementary schools, and the handwritten subheads hint at the first-person elementary school-age speaker before a word is read. So–hat’s off to Leslie Iorillo, to Sarah Ackerley, and to Jodi Carmichael, who have created a book as fun as it is important. It’s available from Little Pickle Press, and on Amazon Kindle for a price that’s next thing to a steal. You should buy it now.
Bits and bobs: You will no doubt not be surprised, Gentle Readers, to learn that this is a stop on Little Pickle Press’ blog book tour. I’m proud to be part of spreading the word about some of the challenges children with Asberger’s Syndrome face–and how many of these children find clever, often brilliant, ways of coping with a world that in many cases doesn’t really understand how to cope with them. If you’d like to follow the tour, feel free to visit the links for past dates, and stop in at the host blogs on upcoming days.
- 1/7/13 – The Connor Chronicles
- 1/8/13 – Magic Dog Press, It’s Not All Gravy
- 1/9/13 – mom-ology
- 1/10/13 – Confessions of An Aspergers Mom
- 1/11/13 – Blood Red Pencil
- 1/12/13 – Leslea Tash
- 1/13/13- Inneraspie
About Little Pickle Press: Little Pickle Press is dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.
Translated, this means that Little Pickle books are the sorts of books that entertain, amuse, and challenge young readers and the adults in their lives. Take a few minutes and browse their website. I think you’ll be as impressed as I am.
If you enjoyed learning about Spaghetti Is Not A Finger Food, you might find the following posts about Little Pickle Press books enjoyable, too: