Such is the case with Claire Alexander's Schneider Award winner Back to Front and Upside Down! The Schneider is one of my favorites of the ALA Awards - each year it is given to a book that best exemplifies the experience of a person with a disability. If you want to teach your kids about persons of varying abilities, this is an excellent list of titles to begin the discussion. Alexander's title won in the picture book division, and one read-through shows you exactly why, as it deals with the subject of dyslexia and dysgraphia in a sensitive manner that's spot on for her audience.
Stan is excited to be making a birthday card for his principal, Mr. Slippers. That is, until the teacher announces the students must write "Happy Birthday to Mr. Slippers" on their card. Stan panics. No matter how hard he tries, his letters don't come out the way everyone else's do. Instead, Stan's are a jumble, and some don't even look like letters! As he watches all the other children finishing their cards, with what looks like no effort at all, Stan gets more and more upset. Fortunately his friend convinces Stan to ask the teacher for help - and once he screws up his courage and does it, Stan discovers he isn't alone.
Sprout loves the part where Stan and Mimi practice their letters over and over, until they get them right. We're at the stage with him where he's just starting to string his name together, and some letters are giving him trouble, so I think he relates to how Stan feels. We work on writing the individual letters, on perfecting our fine motor skills and learning how to hold the pencil. But it's tough work, and Sprout knows the frustration Alexander depicts in her book - he's sensitive to the isolation Stan feels, I think, because other kids in his class are writing their names already, while Sprout isn't quite yet.
Readers who've felt the isolation of thinking you're the only one who can't do something the right way will instantly identify with Stan's struggle. But kids who haven't felt that way -- yet -- will connect with this one too, because of the way Alexander's text draws the reader into the emotional component of this experience. One spread in particular does this best - Stan, all alone at his desk, small against a black background. The power of this single image alone is palpable, and makes the resolution, where Stan triumphantly presents Mr. Slippers with his completed card, all the more worthwhile.
Back to Front and Upside Down! by Claire Alexander, Eerdman's Books for Young Readers
Sample: "Stan looked at Jack. He was busy writing his card. He looked at Lucy. She was writing her card too. Tommy had finished and was writing his name! Stan's paws began to sweat and his heart pounded loudly in his chest."
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