The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford

I am a fan of magical realism so it was a shoe-in that I would love this book. I did. On the one hand it is the story of an ordinary girl in an ordinary suburb. On the other, there is strange magic afoot.

Minty's life changes the day she discovers the secret tree in the woods by her house.
People put their secrets in its hole and the ghost that lives in it eats them and releases them to the winds.

Finding the tree marks the beginning of a tumultuous summer for Minty. Strange things are going on in her neighborhood. Her best friend is behaving oddly and keeps having strange ailments. A cat goes missing.
Minty and her new secret friend, Raymond, discover the messages in the tree and spy on their community to figure out who owns what secrets.
As Minty ponders the private yearnings and guilt of her neighbors, she begins to look more closely at them. Ultimately she also learns a lot more about herself. 

Natalie Standiford just might be one of my new favorite authors. 

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

It’s almost ordinary.

A day in the life of three high school girls. 

Divergent backgrounds.

Diverse interests, abilities  and perspectives.

Each one self-absorbed.

It’s almost ordinary 

except,

they are on a route to disaster at 2:45.

Celebrating Diversity 2


Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin is a delightful story showing a family of Chinese background celebrating the New Year.  The vibrant illustrations are glorious all by themselves! 


One of all time favorite Lunar New Year books is Ten Mice for Tet by  Not only is it a celebration of the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, it is also a delightful counting book. The embroidered illustrations are stunningly brilliant.


We have a few new picture books that celebrate our differences in other ways. 


Donovan's Big Day by Lesléa Newman is a sweet story about a boy getting all dressed up for a special occasion. You won't find out what it is all about til the end of the book. 



When I get Older: The story behind "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan gave me chills when I read it. In it Kn'naan tells the story of his journey from Somalia to Canada and how he came to write this famous song. 





While I love the power of picture books, I also have a few favorite novels on the topic of diversity.



A Group of One by Rachna Gilmore (who can do no wrong in my book), is the story of a girl born in Canada, but whose parents were originally from India. This is a story of coming to grips with who you are, irrespective of what others expect or think of you.





Finally, I love this book, Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan. It breaks my heart and makes me dream of of the possibility of a high school where everyone is accepted for who they really are. It is the way I want it to be. It is the way it will be some day soon. This book is fun, frivolous, and seriously intense all at the same time.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

If you are fascinated with venturing inside another person's head and discovering how they perceive the world, then this is your book.

It is narrated by Jason, a 12 year old autistic boy. Very few things go right for him. In fact, he starts out each day wondering when something will go wrong. It is always just a matter of time.

His only comfort and peace come when he is writing. He knows a lot about story telling and is good at it. Through an online writers' forum he meets a girl. She might just be his first real friend, never mind a girlfriend. When he is offered the opportunity to go to a conference where he might meet her, he is terrified. He knows that when she finds out more about him, she will have nothing to do with him. 

Jason's perspective reveals loving compassionate parents. He and Jeremy, his little brother, have the finest sibling relationship I have seen portrayed in children's literature. Because I am a parent, while reading the sections on Jason's interactions with his mother and father, I often wondered whose lot was more difficult, Jason's or his parents. 


I've read other books with autistic characters: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Rules by Cynthia Lord, Marcelo in the Real World by , Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis, and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko to name a few. They are great books, but none of them helped me realize, at such a deep level, what living inside an autistic brain and body could be like until this one. Not only is it profound in that it took me into the experience of being Jason, it also led me into a contemplation of the social interactions I have with other neurotypicals (NT's) like myself. He helped me understand that we have much more in common with Jason than expected. 

I am thankful to Jason for forcing me to examine what it means to be who I am, and to ask myself some hard questions.

Would I transform myself if given the opportunity?  

Why do we expect others to do this?

How can we make space in our world for everyone?

I recommend this book to teachers as a read aloud.  Not only will everyone learn a lot about autism, they are sure to pick up a few nuggets about writing as well.

Thank you Nora Raleigh Baskin.