Monday, 10 September 2012

I'm Here

I watched the final explosions of Paralympics fireworks in the distance from my bedroom window last night with a sad lump in my throat like the rest of the nation. What a fortnight that was then. I was lucky enough to be in the stadium the night Jonnie, Hannah and the extraordinary David Weir-wolf won their golds and I still cannot speak much above a growly whisper from the yelling.
There have been many stories in the papers about the long lasting change in attitude and respect towards the disabled that we all hope will be these Games real legacy. The Fellow Reviewers show the right mettle:
'The Paralympic athletes are WAY cooler then the ordinary ones Mum.' pronounces Bill whilst Eddie explained to me yesterday morning, 'There's this man and he can go really, really fast because he's got no legs and he pushes like this and I would like to have no legs and go as fast as him. Can I one day? Can I, can I please?'

With impeccable timing the theme of Playing by the Book's monthly carnival today is books about or featuring disability. It's a tricky old area that one; books that are inclusive without being tokenistic or patronising, books that can enlighten without 'staring'.

I have a cracker today though; a US book that I owe a debt of thanks to somebody online for drawing my attention to but just who that was I cannot remember; apologies! 'I'm here' by Peter H. Reynolds is a light-as-a- feather (or paper aeroplane) picture book dance for those for whom playtime is the most problematic part of their school day. On the dust jacket of the book in tiny print at the back it mentions that the book was published to support children and families living with autism but this book has a wider song to sing and it's not just those diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum who will want to listen to it.

My youngest is one such; whether you call him 'gifted' or call him 'on the spectrum', or just (as is my preference) call him Eddie he follows his own path through life with humour, love and passion but without compromise to others. The social negotiations of the playground baffle him and undoubtedly he would enjoy school more without the unstructured free-for-all hour in the middle (having said which, given the intensity he applied to the Summer's wrestling match with his brother he may yet be getting up to speed).

In Peter H. Reynolds spare and beautiful book a boy sits apart from his noisy and overwhelming class until a piece of paper blows over to find and befriend him. The boy turns his paper into an aeroplane which first takes him on an imaginary adventure of connection into his classmates and then brings a real connection as the aeroplane is returned by a girl who wants to play.

It's a hard book to do justice to because, like all the best picture books, it's simplicity hides profundities about how we all find the balance in squaring a sense of belonging and a sense of self. Difference is wonderful but also universal, any book that can help remind parent, child, sibling or contemporary of that is to be welcomed.

The back of the book, I am proud to say, bears an endorsement from an old (swank, namedrop, swank) friend of mine; Lucy Hawking, author and daughter of the rather well known Stephen and mother of the less well known but equally inspiring William. She posted something on Facebook at the weekend which made us all blub. I hope she won't mind me reposting it here. I love to make people cry. you know that.

'Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the experience of being a single parent to a teenager with autism. Today started out as one of those days. And then we went to the Paralympics. It was a wonderful day, not just because of the phenomenal sportsmanship. William and I were treated so kindly and helpfully by so many random people on our journey - we didn't have VIP passes or any reason to be singled out for special treatment. But London was good to us and people behaved towards William with great courtesy, respect and compassion. Thank you 2012. I don't suppose you thought you would change the attitude of random people on the tube towards autistic passengers (just one example of many) but it seems you have. Surely that's a gold medal in itself.'

 Having 'I'm Here' published in the UK and available in every school library is exactly the sort of 2012 legacy that could keep those tube passengers of the future reset to understanding. I (as you gather) highly recommend it; Amazon has its uses...

'I'm Here' by Peter H. Reynolds, pub. Simon and Schuster isbn 978-1-4169-9649-1


  1. With great appreciation, Polly -I thank you for sharing "I'm Here" with your world - it is a special story to me inspired by my friend's son who is on the spectrum... I was honored beyond words when I saw that Lucy Hawking gave a testimonial for the book. You're lucky to call her a friend... but in the playground of "I'm Here" - we're ALL friends. : ) Thanks again, hope to be in UK (I love in Boston) soon and perhaps our paths shall cross. Peter

    1. Thank you for chucking my paper aeroplane back Peter! It's a pitch perfect book. Congratulations and thanks for the visit.

  2. Wow Polly, a super review - and the book sounds amazing. So glad you've brought it to my attention today.