Current Issues

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Jacket-7• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Current events related title
• Sy Montgomery
• Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.
• Publisher: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
• 2012
• 147 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-547-44315-7
• Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K—12: 2013~Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2013~ALSC 2013 Notable Children’s Books, Older Readers;
• Author’s website: http://symontgomery.com/

Autism prevented Temple Grandin from speaking until she was five, isolating her from her peers and family. Autism also allowed her to perceive as animals do: in pictures and with a similar sensitivity to stimulus. Ms. Grandin uses these strengths to advocate for farmed animals and has become a worldwide authority on how to design our food system to treat animals more humanely.

Sy Montgomery interviews Grandin, her friends and family and tells the inspiring story of her life. Lots of photographs, Temple’s drawings and attractive and informal design help to break up the text. Early in Temple’s life few would have predicted she would have a PhD., an international career and be the subject of a biopic starring Claire Danes. Montgomery and Grandin don’t sugarcoat the disruptive behaviors and learning difficulties that Temple struggled with. They chronicle the important breakthroughs: an aunt with a ranch, a kind science teacher, a discovery of a door that became a lifelong metaphor and motivator. Most important Temple learned how to persevere, despite bullies, workplace harassment, and bias. Through her close sympathy with animals she found something worth working for.

The book functions on three levels: as a triumphant role-model biography of a woman with a learning difference, as a story about an animal loving change-maker within the food industry and as a universal tale of the struggle to find one’s place in the world.

Montgomery goes to great lengths to explain autism in concrete terms that children will understand. Sometimes this is very effective: as when she explains why autistic children often twirl or engage in repetitive behavior. On a few occasions her pronouncements come off as overly reductive: “others, whose autism is milder, may be nerdy, geeky kids who grow up to make computers in Silicon Valley.” Like all ‘may’ statements this one could just as easily read ‘may not.’ What compels are the many concrete examples from Grandin’s childhood, which help establish both context and sympathy. Even as an adult Grandin retains a childlike quality that delights, as when she responds to a bullying gross-out tour at a meat packing plant by stomping her feet in the deepest, yuckiest pool of blood: liberally spattering the plant manager. According to Montgomery current data indicates 1 in 100 people are affected by autism. It is also true that an increasingly large number of children’s and YA books feature autistic characters, making this a topic with plenty of currency.

Grandin’s empathy with animals and her practical advocacy on their behalf are very appealing. Many kids, who struggle with social relationships and overwhelming emotions during adolescence, will readily identify with Temple’s assertion that animals saved her. The neatness that she, in turn, now saves them from unnecessary distress, makes sense. And, in a world where most food oriented books for kids emphasize organics and small-scale producers, it is refreshing to read one focused on large-scale applications. Grandin is eminently practical: she makes the case that partnering with huge firms like McDonalds allows her to affect the welfare of billions of food animals in the United States. Rather than being the bad guys, we see how giant corporations can be tremendous forces for reform; more than half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled is systems Grandin designed.

Front matter: A foreword by Temple Grandin speaks directly to kids about her experiences and offers advice and encouragement. Back matter: An appendix offers seven pieces of advice from Temple to kids on the spectrum. A selected bibliography and resources provides books, articles, many websites and even a couple movies used in researched and/or recommended by Temple for kids, teachers and parents. The list, while divided by category, doesn’t indicate the recommended age group, thought titles are often indicative. Acknowledgements, a photo of Temple and her mother, photo credits and an index conclude the book.

The 911 Report; A Graphic Adaptation

Jacket-4• Grade Range: 6th-Adult
• Current issues title
• Author: Sid Jacobson, Illustrated by Ernie Colon
• The 911 Report; A Graphic Adaptation
• Publisher: New York, Hill and Wang
• 2006
• 133 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-8090-5739-9
• Awards: None known.
• Author’s website: Neither author nor artist have a website.

The official 911 report is 800 pages long; this graphic adaptation remains true to the report but clarifies and condenses it. The combination of visuals and text show what happened, what led up to the attack, who knew about it and when. The book conveys the 911 Commission’s findings on government agencies’ communication gaps and failures.

Jacobson and Colon deserve nothing but praise for this innovative and brilliant adaptation of an important document most of us will never read. There are few historical events that have as much emotional and historic impact as the 911 attacks. Today’s teenagers and young adults know 911 was important, but typically have few memories and lots of misinformation.

While a comic book treatment of a national tragedy might seem inappropriate, there are many good reasons to overcome this bias. Jacobson and Colon have been scrupulous in avoiding sensationalism. Nearly all of Jacobson’s text comes directly from the commission’s report and Colón, who drew from photographic images, went out of his way to avoid partisan stereotyping.* The medium’s ability to show sequential events is capitalized on: an 18 page illustrated-timeline allows readers to follow the unfolding events on the four flights simultaneously. Some drawings do imagine the violence on board the planes, but limit it to incidents we have anecdotal confirmation of. Colon also goes out of his way to avoid any images that might offend someone who lost a loved one.* He was personally unwilling to draw victims jumping from the towers and no children are pictured on board the planes or at the scene of the tragedies. Of course the most important reason to embrace Jacobson and Colon’s graphic journalism is that it means more Americans will read the report and thus be equipped with facts and information that will cause them to reflect and allow them to act. As the two vice-chairs of the 911 Commission report in their foreword to the book: “the safety and the security of our country require a well-informed public to hold its elected leaders to account.”

Despite the tremendous quality of The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation and the clearly splendid intentions of the author and illustrator, there are two disconcerting elements that merit mention. In the first 30 pages there is a woeful lack of persons of color other than the hijackers. 911 appears to have occurred in a very white and male world. Colon definitely does include heroic individuals of color, but I could wish there had been one black or brown man or woman, other than the hijackers, pictured aboard the airlines, if only to be certain to avoid the message that brown people are the bad guys and those with lighter skin are innocent victims. Given the catastrophic nature of the event it is silly to quibble about politically correct representation and I did learn that the victims of 911 actually were 75% male between the ages of 40-50 and 75% white.** I still wish for one brown face in the scrum of passengers. Despite Colon’s attempts to resist characterization, occasionally a few of the terrorists appear cartoonish. Again, overall there is a scrupulous effort to not caricature, but the rare occasions where the pen is loosed, I did wince. I bring these discomforts up because I recognize there is a tendency to find fault when uncomfortable and this book is likely to make many readers uncomfortable. After reflection and research I don’t think Colon misrepresents the demographics and visually the terrorists come off better than Condoleezza Rice. That said, I still wish for a minority passenger.

Front matter: The book is dedicated to the victims of 911. Contents list chapters, postscript and acknowledgements and provide thumbnail sketches. A well written and stirring foreword from both vice-chairs of the 911 Commission endorses the adaptation and challenges the citizen reader. Back matter contains the single most important take away: a graphic report card rating the government’s response to the commission’s findings and recommendations. Brief personal acknowledgements conclude the book.

* Minzesheimer, Bob. (2005, August 22). 9/11 gets a graphic retelling. USA Today. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2006-08-21-9-11-report-book_x.htm?csp=34.
** Beveridge, Andrew. (n.d.). Demographics: 9/11/01-02: A demographic portrait of the victims in 10048. Gotham Gazette.com. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.gothamgazette.com/demographics/91102.shtml

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Jacket-12
• Current issues title
• Age Range: Grades 8th-adult
• Author and photographer: Susan Kuklin
• Title: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
• Publisher: Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press
• 2014
• 182 pages.
• ISBN: 978- 0-7636-5611-9
• Awards: Just published~Booklist starred review
• Author’s website: http://www.susankuklin.net/

Six transgender teens from diverse backgrounds share their experiences growing up and transitioning to their preferred gender identity. Immersive first-person accounts include brief editorial comments in a distinct typeface and, where permitted by the subject, illuminating photo essays.

Kuklin privileges the reader with an opportunity to hear the thoughtful and heartfelt reflections of six transgender teens. Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences, what comes across clearly is the realization that as regards identity: gender is one variable and sexual orientation is another. Italicized authorial interjections help tie the narrative together and supply context but sometimes feel didactic: “School made Mariah feel like a loser, so she acted like a loser.” However the clear distinction between the teen’s stories and the editorial remarks allows the reader the freedom to keep perspectives clear and form their own judgments.

These personal reflections on identity, sexuality, societal expectations and biases, relations with peers and parents are fascinating in their own right for all readers. They are particularly useful for those who have a personal or professional stake in transgender experience. This is a valuable tool for expanding understanding of a marginalized group.

Back matter includes a detailed author’s note that outlines the research and interview process, essays that describe the work of the two featured organizations that work with transgender youth, commonly asked questions and answers about transgender issues, a glossary, and list of varies resources: including an extensive list of service and advocacy organizations.