Some titles of books for kids about special siblings

We’ll Paint the Octopus Red

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What starts as a regular new-baby story takes an unexpected twist. The young redheaded narrator is at first displeased with the idea of a new sibling but then has lots of ideas about what they might do together. She will take the baby to her grandfather’s farm and feed the calves. Her father says they can do that when the baby is older. She will teach the baby to paint. Her father says they can do that when the baby is older. She will take the baby to Africa on a photo safari. Her father says fine, but only if he can go, too. After the girl and her father are finished talking, she says, “We’d thought of at least a million things my new brother or sister could do with me.” Then, Father comes home with the news that baby Isaac has been born with Down syndrome. Her father is upset, but as the girl asks her questions all over again, they both see that although it may take a little longer and require more patience, they can’t find one of those million things that Isaac won’t be able to do with their help. The fine text gets right to a child’s level of understanding, and the positive messages of acceptance and helping may best be understood by children this age. An appended question-and-answer spread, written at a child’s level, tells what Down syndrome is, why some babies have it, and why parents may feel sad when the baby is born. Ink-and-watercolor pictures, while not expertly executed, do exude a warm feeling that matches the story. Although the book skirts some issues that Isaac may face (e.g., intolerance, illness), this is a thoughtful, focused book that will be of enormous help to families with Down syndrome children.

Ben, King of the River (Concept Books (Albert Whitman))

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The older brother of a developmentally disabled boy narrates this heartfelt story describing the family’s first camping trip. Chad is concerned that 5-year-old Ben, who is still in diapers, has allergies, and dislikes new things, will ruin the camping trip he has been looking forward to. The highs and lows of the trip, and of life with Ben, are nicely conveyed in Chad’s frank narration and in the expressive watercolors, which effectively communicate Chad’s mixed emotions: frustration at Ben’s babyish behavior; embarrassment when Ben makes a scene; and shame when he instinctively pulls away when Ben tries to hold his hand. An endnote by the author’s 13-year-old nephew talks about having a disabled sibling, and there’s a page of tips for children who do. Kids with a disabled relative or friend will strongly relate to this, but the story can also be used to increase awareness and sensitivity among a wider audience.

My Brother, Matthew

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When David finally gets to visit his new brother in the hospital, he can barely see the baby for the wires and equipment around him. Matthew was born with disabilities, and this fact has taken over the family. Even David’s birthday party is sacrificed. But when Matthew finally comes home, the boy establishes a bond with him. As the years pass, he plays space explorers, swims, and takes walks with Matthew, realizing that he is pretty special. More than just a realistic look at the effect a child with disabilities has on a family, this is a compassionate, lively look at a relationship. Thompson avoids sentimentality and didacticism while conveying a sibling’s normal feelings of loneliness, rejection, and impatience. The cheerful watercolors enhance the story and help to create a positive mood. This book can be used as bibliotherapy within a family or for more general audiences to create an understanding of the different challenges and achievements of a disabled child.

Way to Go, Alex! (Concept Books (Albert Whitman))

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Carly feels the dual emotions that many siblings of special-needs children may feel. She’s frustrated with her older brother, Alex, whose “brain doesn’t work,” and is ashamed of her feelings. When her parents enroll Alex in three events in the upcoming Special Olympics, Carly helps him train, then cheers him on despite her pessimism. Pulver brings the story to a fair and realistic conclusion, creating in Carly a character who is genuinely loving but also sometimes puzzled and discouraged. Wolf’s pictures, in intense but softly layered colors, reflect the warmth of the family as well as the excitement of the big day when the Special Olympics take place. A book that will fill a need for materials on disabilities and is a solid story in its own right.

My Sister Annie

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Now completing sixth grade, Charlie has reached a point in his life where he’s being deluged with decisions. His first-person narration, mostly a monologue, informs readers of his struggle to balance a need to belong with a sense of right and wrong. Adolescent pressures are piling up, from Charlie’s peers, baseball team, family, and girls. Complicating every facet of his life is his older sister, Annie, who has Down’s syndrome and is severely retarded. Adding levity to this brief novel are Charlie’s other sisters, four-year-old identical twins who lack presence and personality but whose name game (they are called “by any two things that go together. Salt and Pepper. Bacon and Eggs. Death and Destruction”) is clever, literary fun. The parents are rather flat but well-intentioned people, struggling with a difficult family and demonstrating their love and concern at all times. Charlie is clearly the star of his own tale. His worries, his voice, and his needs are as real as the kids hanging around on every corner; his understanding of Annie as he moves from humiliation to compassion will touch something inside readers.

Views from Our Shoes: Growing Up With a Brother or Sister With Special Needs

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A collection of 45 brief essays by children and young adults who have a sibling with special needs, ranging from mental retardation through a number of rare syndromes. The writings are arranged in chronological order, from that of a 4 year old to an 18 year old. As such, they vary in quality as well as in insights into family relationships. The writings seem to be quite honest as some children come right out and say that they feel they are treated unfairly and that their siblings can get away with things that they cannot. In most cases, however, the children speak out against those who make fun of or misunderstand the youngsters who are different. As such, this book would be useful for schools that have special-ed programs or a number of mainstreamed students for it concentrates on what special-needs children can do rather than what they cannot, and makes a firm statement advocating community support for all members of the family. The final piece is an eloquent plea for giving opportunities to special children. The drawings illustrate the children in sometimes amusing ways and add informality rather than clarification. Information on the special needs is included, as well as addresses and Web sites to find more information. The disabilities or disorders are explained in a glossary. This is certainly a different kind of book on developmental disabilities

Summer of the Swans, The (PMC) (Puffin Modern Classics)

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Sara is the middle child, between mute Charlie and pretty Wanda. Their parents, one dead and one very absent, have tasked Aunt Willie with the care of the children and all seems fairly standard – a little bickering, a “you can’t tell me what to do” argument, etc – until the day Sara takes Charlie to see the swans. Charlie finds the swans fascinating and soothing and doesn’t want to leave, so when he looks out his window that night and sees something white moving, he is sure they have come to find him. Leaving the house in the darkness, Charlie becomes lost and Sara discovers things about herself, her brother and others in the hours after he is discovered missing.

A Real Christmas This Year

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More than anything, Megan wants a “real” Christmas, the kind that ordinary families have, with presents, carols, and good times together. But Megan’s family isn’t ordinary. Her little brother, Kevin, suffers from multiple physical and emotional disabilities that disrupt the household peace, exhaust her mother, and drain the family finances. And since Kevin broke his eyeglasses and hearing aid, things have gotten worse. But family isn’t her only concern. She’s still trying to fit in at her new junior high school, cope with her best friend, and sort out her feelings for a cute boy. Eventually, Megan gets the Christmas she wants, as well as some things she didn’t know she needed. Along the way, she learns that she can’t make things right for everyone all the time and that events sometimes turn out better than she could have planned. The scenes of Megan’s home life are affecting and uncontrived. With a matter-of-fact simplicity, the author shows the physical demands, family tensions, ambivalent feelings, and devoted love involved in caring for a special-needs child. Regardless of their own situations, young readers will be pulling for Megan to succeed.

Welcome Home, Jellybean (Aladdin Books)

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A mentally challenged girl named Gerri who comes to live with her family after living in an institution all her life. This story is gripping and a little ways into the book, Gerri really touches you in the heart, and it seems like you just want to hug her (that’s what she does to everybody).

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