Squidalicious Reviews

My Brother Charlie: An Autism Book Giveaway
April 14, 2010, 6:51 am
Filed under: autism, books

If you arrived here via my Squidalicious Holly Robinson Peete interview about My Brother Charlie, welcome! If not, please go read the interview. HRP is so wise and thoughtful and inspiring; I left the interview feeling re-energized about promoting autism acceptance for my son and his peers.

HRP is also very generous — she is offering one signed copy and two additional copies of My Brother Charlie to you lucky readers. If you’d like to win one of the three copies, please leave a comment below, and tell us why you’d like your own copy of this sweet, necessary children’s book. [Update 4.24: The contest is now closed; congratulation to the winners! -SR]

You may comment until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, April 21st. I will randomly select and announce the winners on this site on Thursday, April 22nd.

Here’s the official word on My Brother Charlie:

Holly Robinson Peete, bestselling author, actress, and national autism spokesperson, has paired with her daughter, Ryan, to co-author this uplifting book based on their own personal experiences with Holly’s son and Ryan’s brother, RJ, who has autism. In this story, told from a sister’s point of view, we meet a family whose oldest son teaches them important lessons about togetherness, hope, tolerance, and love.

Here is what Holly and her co-author daugther Ryan have to say about My Brother Charlie:

And here is Leelo’s little sister reading and reviewing My Brother Charlie, and also opining on how Charlie and her own brother are both similar and different:

Hardcover book retail value $16.99


Book Review: Percy the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken
November 25, 2009, 8:49 am
Filed under: books, reading, review | Tags: ,

If you stock your kids’ bookshelves like I do, they contain a colorful mix of tales both fanciful and educational.  Books like Percy, the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken, Rick Rieser’s new FastPencil release about a chicken who doesn’t fit in.

I accepted a review copy of Percy with hopes that a book about creatures “perfectly imperfect” would carry a message of acceptance towards those who act or look in ways “typical” creatures find strange. I read Percy with my youngest daughter, who is almost-five, and we were both taken with Daniel Seward’s vibrant illustrations as well as the cute barnyard scene: an egg hatches! The chickens all gather round to greet the newest member of their flock!

Then a trio of older hens struts forth and scrutinizes Percy, declaring that they need to see him, as only perfect chickens are allowed to stay in their yard. Percy’s mom insists that her son is fine, and so he appears to be at first. Or is he? Unsurprisingly, I was hoping for an unsubtle special needs parallel … and was disappointed when Percy’s difference is revealed to be a matter of minor cosmetics. However, I am not a chicken, and I do not live in a world where a small variation in my appearance would get me ejected from my home.

Percy’s mom continues to protect him. When he reaches adulthood, he flies above the barnyard and is treated to views he’d never before encountered — including those of the three governing hens. From his new perspective, he sees that each hen has one of the forbidden imperfections, and confronts them.

I admit to a bit of discomfort with those scenes. We try to run a positive-thinking household, and pointing out someone’s else’s imperfections — even during self-advocacy — is not something we model. But it is also important that our children learn to recognize and reject hypocrites, especially those who wield influence or power. Otherwise, our kids will be taught to strive for that which they and indeed most people in their community do not represent (body image or materialism, anyone?). I want my kids to know that, as Percy’s mom says, “Perfect is something that doesn’t exist.”

Of course Mali doesn’t care about any of my analysis. She thinks Percy is an awesome book and reads it every day:

Coolness: Percy the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken was published through FastPencil.

Liking Myself, & The Mouse, The Monster, and Me
November 1, 2009, 7:15 am
Filed under: books, review | Tags: , , , , ,

Liking Myself and The Mouse, The Monster, and Me are two very sweet self-help books for kids by Pat Palmer. They are full of good advice and exercises for children who need help strengthening their identity and self-awareness. I imagine they’d be especially nice for conversational kids with autism, but they’d be appropriate for any child whose self-esteem is affected by social challenges.

My youngest, almost-five Mali, appreciated the emotional permission granted by Liking Myself and its simple yet important messages such as “Anger is an OK feeling” and “It is okay to like yourself and be your own good friend.” She did not notice that these messages were gently reinforced and repeated in several different formats — she just liked that Liking Myself had games, and encouraged her to draw and write right in the book.


Children who can read Liking Myself on their own should definitely do so, but I recommend reading Liking Myself with your child, at least once. Mali was much more willing to talk about her feelings when questions were posed “by the book.” And many of her responses were surprising — I think of her as a confident and content child, but when “the book” asked her what she liked about herself, she shrugged. Eventually she said, “I like that I have a great Mommy” (awww) but that was not an answer about herself. So we continued reading, and went over the book’s descriptions of nice traits some people have. She was then able to identify several excellent points about her excellent self. I don’t think the concept of “liking herself” had been posed to her before, and was glad to see her explore it. If you’d like to see her explore Liking Myself, click on either video clip:

The Mouse, the Monster, and Me is for older kids like Mali’s ten-year-old sister Izzy, and deals with thornier topics like assertiveness, handling criticism, and the difference between compliments and flattery. It reinforces its lessons with exercises and checklists. It is right up Izzy’s alley.

Both books are small, floppy, workbook-format paperbacks.  They are printed in black and white, and hand-lettered with homespun illustrations. I wonder if this lets them slide down more easily than the bright-colored, gender-based, and task-oriented American Girls self-help series. I certainly found them more self-friendly, if such a term exists — they focus less on finding solutions to common social problems, and more on helping children know, accept, and better themselves so they can be more confident and caring social beings in the first place.

If you’re looking for material to enable your child’s self-acceptance and social awareness, and especially if your child likes scripts or tends towards perseveration, I really do recommend Liking Myself and The Mouse, the Monster, and Me.


Compensation disclosure: I received one free review copy of each book. I so heart free books!

Fetchingly Familiar Fistful
September 11, 2009, 1:05 am
Filed under: A Fistful of Sky, books, Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I finally polished off the novel Badger gave me,  A Fistful of Sky. I enjoyed it thoroughly, have passed it to a delighted Iz, and recommend it with many exclamation points. (!!!!!!!)

The cover art and blurbs are silly and misleading, so ignore them — this is not a book about an ugly duckling who transcends her misfit ways, so let’s pause for a nose-thumb to crappy and insulting stereotypes. Rather, it’s about a confident young woman, Gypsum, who is happy with her non-mainstream appearance despite the disapproval of her conventionally beautiful, trim, stylish mother and her (literally) charming ways. Gypsum’s struggle has little to do with her outward self, but instead concerns her status as the only non-magical kid among five siblings.

I love the book’s exploration of style and girlyness and body size through unpredictable magicks, and the way those factors are handled with humor and empathy, yet with few judgments and certainly no concessions to the what the author calls “girl torture.” There are a couple of elements some parents may object to; in one scene Gympum sees two two people “going at it” behind some bushes, and there is also a mention of rape, but neither of these are explicit enough to deem it unsuitable for Iz’s sixth grade peers, at least in my opinion.

I have to write, I am totally freaked out by how many similar themes run through A Fistful of Sky and my own unfinished story manuscript. (I usually wouldn’t mention anything I was working on unless it was in a state worth mentioning, but feel I should record my freaked-outedness now — because if I ever do finish my story, I don’t want Nina Kiriki Hoffman to sue me.) So many eerie parallels with regards to how magical families might live amongst the rest of us in contemporary California, the traditions and rules such families might uphold, and the importance of training one’s kids in potential post-apocalyptic community survival skills. Too weird. But so beautifully told. If I produce something even half as creative and moving, I’ll be content.

Review: Daniel X: Watch the Skies
August 22, 2009, 3:37 am
Filed under: books, Daniel X, James Patterson, Ned Rust, reading, ReadKiddoRead, review

When I found out that copies of James Patterson’s new young adult book Daniel X: Watch the Skies were available for review, I immediately asked my eldest child and Patterson fan, Iz, if she wanted me to snare her a copy. She said “yes, please,” so I turned around to my computer and wrote “yes, please,” too.

The book arrived. Iz gobbled it down. She liked it, she said, because it was never boring, it was funny, it was fast, and it had what she considered to be an interesting twist at the end. She also liked the back-end placement of teaser chapters from other, forthcoming Patterson books, and wanted to know when she’d be getting her complimentary copies of those? I told her I couldn’t guarantee anything but we never know.

Then I sat down with the book to see if I liked it as much as Iz did, and initially the answer was “no.” The story was creative and exciting enough, about an orphan teen alien hunter and his friends, both imaginary and real, battling a giant malevolent extraterrestrial catfish-like media producer who makes marionettes out of humans before exterminating them, all in the name of “endertainment” and TV ratings; the book features explosions, fast cars, motorcycles, spying, narrow escapes, and chases galore, plus lots of nose-thumbing at school administrators. But it reads like Michael Crichton for kids: an innovative but minimally padded story outline, and it’s peppered with too much of what seems like movie, songs, restaurant, and brands product placement. And the chapters were jarringly short — many were only two pages. Daniel X: Watch the Skies was all bam-bam-bam action, with no time to take a breath or let characters develop. I found it disorienting yet skimpy, and was surprised Iz enjoyed it.

Then I put the book aside and thought about its appeal, and the authors’ (it is co-written with Ned Rust) motivations some more. James Patterson is also the founder of ReadKiddoRead, a site devoted to getting kids to love books like the author does. And I get the sense that Daniel X, like the Maximum Ride series Iz also enjoys, is about getting kids to do that reading using any hooks necessary. From this perspective, Daniel X is a rich read — it’s full of such hooks.

Many older kids and teens, and indeed adult sci fi/fantasy fans don’t want character development. They want action. This book will give them that, in an extremely violent but still relatively sanitary fashion — people are melted into goo, but there is almost no blood or gore. And the book is so fast-paced and there are so many action scenes that readers don’t really have time to analyze what kind of violence & action they’re reading about.

The constant citing of contemporary brands might be more grounding and comforting for some readers than a book skirting the retail and cultural footholds of our era in a bid to remain classic. Daniel X: Watch the Skies might not age well, but then again it might remain very much a symbol of that which was 2009. We’ll see.

Daniel X has much for a parent to approve of in that it celebrates love and responsibility towards family, friends, the environment, and even animals. It’s also quite tame when it comes to teen relations. There are funny feelings in tummies, there are kisses and swooning — but naught else. Parents or guardians concerned about all that sexy sex pervading teen literature should be pleased.

That tameness makes it rather strange, though, that the authors keep mentioning Stranger in a Strange Land as a pillar of literature, one of the Best Books Ever. I have already been teaching my kids about Stranger in a Strange Land concepts like the Fair Witness and grokking — but consider the book itself inappropriate for my ten-year-old Iz, who’s on the younger end of the Daniel X readership. What are kids to think about Daniel X when they discover the book he adores says it’s usually a girl’s own fault when she gets raped? That it depicts sixties-style free love? This is a bit of a misstep, in my opinion.

I could also do without the unsubtle preaching about the evils of technology and media and how they turn people into mindless consumer bobbleheads, but I suspect readers who enjoy Patterson’s books are willing to put up with that quirk in return for a rip-roaring bit of chaste ultraviolence with the likeable, resourceful, cheerful teen alien hunter Daniel X. They might smirk a bit, though, if they’re reading his story on a Kindle.


MotherTalk sponsored the Daniel X Book Tour. In addition to putting yet another volume on Iz’s groaning bookshelf, they provided reviewers with modest Amazon gift certificates. I look forward to using our certificate to replace my son Leo’s loved-to-shreds copies of My World, Hop on Pop, and Everyone Poops.

Friends Don’t Let Autism Families Read Jenny McCarthy’s Mother Warriors

A friend with a child on the spectrum recently tweeted her dismay in seeing numerous parents at her child’s ball game reading Jenny McCarthy books. I understand, because I read Ms. McCarthy’s Mother Warriors, and am myself distressed by how misinformed the author and her featured parents are regarding legitimate autism research, treatments, and literature.

Mother Warriors is not a book new autism families should be reading, so please don’t recommend it to them. Parents and caregivers who don’t know any better — or whose libraries aren’t stocking any other autism books — are going to be stuck with a pitifully skewed, and largely unhelpful take on autism treatments and possibilities.

The main problem is that Mother Warriors is a compilation of testimonials. Ms. McCarthy really does believe what she’s saying, and so do the other parents featured in her book. But if this was a book we could take seriously, someone would have edited the self-contradictory statements and omitted the factual errors that riddle its pages. If this was a legitimate information source for autism families, it would list resources besides the ones the author is promoting.

Trusting Jenny McCarthy with your autistic child’s welfare and future is like asking an American who spent a couple of years working in an Israeli Red Sea Resort — and thinks that’s all the experience she needs — to guide you through Gaza. She might be passionately dedicated, she may have even even weathered an attack or two. But she simply will not have the background or breadth of experience to speak for all of the people involved, or to guide you through areas of severest conflict. If you rely on her, there’s a good chance you’re going to be very, very sorry.

This is not to compare autism to a war zone, but to reiterate that new autism “recruits” are best served by veterans with extensive experience. This is especially true for families whose children are not as high-functioning as Jenny’s son.

Autism families, you want better than Mother Warriors. Your autistic child deserves better. Please spread the word.

Update: My extended review of Mother Warriors elaborates on the statements above.


Seymour suggested that we blog and RT books that families of autistic children should be reading instead. Here are my top six:

Autism From Autistics’ Perspectives:

Autism From a Parent’s Perspective:

Autism Approaches and Therapeutic Techniques:

Double Daring Book Review

Before I had children, I would obsess about a theoretical future daughter and the critical information I simply had to impart to her. Epiphanies would strike — Fair Witness! She’ll need to know how to be a fair witness! — and I’d pull the car over, write my revelation down, and then daydream about compiling a D’Artagnan-Rosenberg infostream manifesto to hand to that girl, once she appeared and when she was ready.

Lucky me, I got my daughter — and a spare (and a handsome son as well). I never put together that manifesto, but also no longer fret about it: Andi Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz let me off the hook two years ago, when they published their own compendium of core girl knowledge, The Daring Book for Girls.

Lucky us, they’ve now published a second collection: The Double Daring Book for Girls.

Do I love their Daring books? Yes I do, passionately, and so does my ten-year-old daughter. She squealed when our copy of The Double Daring Book arrived (the good folks at Houghton-Mifflin sent a complimentary copy), immediately dispatched the whole thing, and dove straight into the activities. Here’s her first attempt at Calligraphy (p. 256):

Found Item: Zelly's Steak Calligraphy

I too read the entire Double Daring Book (though a bit more slowly than my daughter), and was delighted. Look how many pages I dog-eared, so as to remember the best of the best of its activities, biographies, and histories:

Honestly, I want to hand this book to every girl I know, and the boys as well (pink typeface and Girl label be damned, this book is a powder keg of information and ideas for any kid). I am pleased that it contains overlaps with that imagined manifesto of mine, e.g., batik techniques and history (p.99), commonly confused words like imply and infer (p. 141), and the specifics of quality private eye work (p. 177).

What I truly appreciate, and what makes the Daring books transcend the How To label, is the activities’ historical and often rebellious context. Why should our kids want to know how to waltz (p. 78)? How about because it was considered scandalous — the dancing partners touched! And vulgar, forbidden — it was easy to learn and didn’t require a dance master!

Mostly, I am dazzled by the amount of good, hard, enticingly written information amassed in this book. I want kids to know everything in it. I want them to know exactly who Eleanor of Aquitaine was, and how startling her long, accomplished, independent life was compared to most women of her era. I want them to know the fundamentals of rhetoric, how to make a raft, the story of Ada Lovelace, how to join the circus, how to say thank you in scores of languages, how to make snowglobes, how to conduct an orchestra, and how to make rope ladders.

One quibble: The entry on Running a Magazine (p. 204) never mentions the word “zine,” or how those handmade magazines helped drive the relatively recent Riot Grrrls feminist movement, which is perplexing, but I suppose in keeping with the book’s overall timeless and classic feel. Don’t let this one item keep you away.

The Double Daring Book for Girls is buoyed by positivity, and focuses on cultivating competence, independence, willingness to experiment, and open-ended fun. It provides multiple short biographies of women whose lives exemplified these attitudes. These role models and this book are antidotes for heavily-marketed (and in some cases marketing-originated) books like the one pictured below, the title of which I will not type here, which my daughter and her friends crave, and in which junior high-aged girls live lives of insecurity, negativity, and cruelty, while obsessing about label-spangled fashion, unrealistic body images, and social machinations. Ptui.

If you want your girls to value knowledge and abilities like they do store-bought items, get them The Double Daring Book for Girls. I truly believe it has the power to inspire and edify any child with a curious mind, while simultaneously countering media-induced materialism. It is a treasure.