Book Review: Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs by Alison M.G. Follos

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9781937589134Alison M.G. Follos is a librarian who cares deeply about her readers. You can hear it in her description of children and teens she’s met as a middle school librarian for 23 years. You can sense it from every book review found in this gem of a repository of stories, useful for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, teachers, librarians, school counsellors, social workers and any adult working with special needs children and teens.

Alison writes with passion, and gives it all she’s got: “Within one book, there is not enough room to cover the expansive range of learning disabilities, physical disabilities, medical illness, accident trauma, and emotional and psychological disorders that fall under the crowded umbrella of special needs –but I’m going to give it a shot!”

She knows each book and character intimately, and introduces them to the reader, explaining why they help someone with special needs. You hear Alison tell the story in her own voice. Through her interviews with authors, you hear their intent. As you read through her conversations with special needs children, you experience Alison’s empathy.

Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs promotes stories about the extraordinary daily effort of living in a “normal” peopled world. The trick is reaching deep and finding the inner resolve to try and thus triumph…

…Here are stories about seemingly impossible successes against seemingly insurmountable odds. Such stories can be influential -even pivotal- and make a difference between trying and withdrawing.

(Introduction, p xi-xii)

Oftentimes, a special needs child finds strength through connection with a character that overcomes a difficulty. But Alison also reminds that children be allowed to read simply for “relaxation, pleasure, and joy.” (Chapter One: The Value of Reading) And, there’s great worth in books that bring fresh perspective through humour.

Besides being a source of encouragement to children with special needs, these stories help foster understanding for children with special needs and their families within a larger community. Alison explains that many special needs individuals are isolated by their differences. Stories help bridge gaps, push back stigma and remove barriers.

Stories “incite compassion, tolerance and awareness” as well. For example, a child or teen who reads about a character with special needs; may be better able to understand and accept a classmate with a similar condition. Not surprisingly, Alison dedicates a chapter to understanding families with special needs children. She gives particular mention to the struggles faced by the children’s siblings.
Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs deserves its space on your bookshelf. This is especially for English teachers and school librarians. You may return to it for years to come when selecting titles for reading and procurement. It gives a resounding reminder to allow children the joy of reading or being read to (see Booktalking, p126, and Read Aloud Programmes, p129). Don’t be alarmed if a child or teen reads below his grade. Value the fact that he reads despite the challenges.

Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs features many titles found in Singapore’s Public Libraries.

About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.

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