Burcaw, Shane. Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability. Photographs by Matt Carr. Roaring Book Press, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781626727717. Unpaged. Ages 6-12. P7 Q8
Have you had questions about people who have disabilities, but don’t know how to ask? On the cover, Shaun invites the reader to “Go ahead, ask me”, which sets the tone for the whole book. Shane has written a book describing what he goes through, including what he likes to do and activities that are difficult for him. Shaun shows how much he has in common with others which makes him relatable. The questions on the pages are questions that people have asked him. In answering those questions, Shaun makes it evident that he is the same as others on the inside; it’s his body that makes things challenging for him. The questions are in white speaking bubbles on the pages with text and photographs supporting his answer. Photos of his family and ways they help him are included in the book. The detailed description of his wheelchair, likening the joystick to a video-game controller, make it interesting. Shaun adds humor to the book. The best advice that Shaun gives is to “not judge a book by its cover, so when you meet someone who looks different from you, it’s always best to treat them with kindness and respect. After all, that person may end up becoming one of your best friends.” The author’s note at the end of the book explains spinal muscular atrophy and the impact it has on his life.
Verdict: This age appropriate book is a must have for elementary school libraries and public libraries. Shaun combines humor, family, photos of things he enjoys, to help answer questions one may have of people who have disabilities. He faces the awkward questions straightforwardly and doesn’t avoid them. One word to describe the book is inviting.
February 2018 review by Tami Harris.
Kirby, Matthew J. A Taste for Monsters. Scholastic Press, 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780545817844. 343 pages. Ages 12+. P7Q7
It’s 1888 in London, and Jack the Ripper is murdering women. Evelyn, whose hard life has hurt her emotionally and bodily (she is disfigured by Phossy Jaw or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, caused by the white phosphorus used in match factories), begins working at the London Hospital as a maid to the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. As Evelyn and Mr. Merrick, who is sweet and fragile, get to know each other, they are afflicted with ghostly visits from the unhappy spirits of Jack the Ripper’s victims. These visitations cause Mr. Merrick’s health to suffer, and Evelyn tries to resolve the mysteries to relieve his mind. There is a bit of romance, which turns out badly, but Evelyn is successful in resolving the situations that keep the ghosts restless, comes to terms with her own fears, and finds out who the Ripper is. All in all, it was a satisfying paranormal mystery that wasn’t too gory or explicit.
VERDICT: Young adults interested in the Victorian era and lovers of mysteries will enjoy reading this novel.
April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.
Morpurgo, Michael. Half a Man. Il. Gemma O’Callaghan. Candlewick. 2015. $16.99. 52p. 978-0-7636-7747-3. Ages 10+:
As a child, Michael was told to never stare at the burn scars on his grandfather’s hands and face, but his desire to learn the man’s story gradually came to fruition during the summers that they spent together in Sicily. The calm narration is from the adult who reveals the sadness of a man’s abandonment by his wife, the resulting estrangement between Michael’s mother and grandfather, and the war tragedy on a British merchant vessel leading to the disfigurement and isolation. In this combination of picture book and novel, the pen-and-ink drawings with screen-printed blues and oranges vary from small panels to double-page spreads. The low-key narration reads like a memoir. Originally a short story published in War: Stories of Conflict, edited by Morpurgo, the book’s dedication reads, “For Eric Pearce, whose extraordinary courage inspired this story.” Pearce was a patient of Archibald McIndoe, who did experimental reconstructive plastic surgery during World War II, primarily for burn injuries. Elegantly written, the book presents alternatives in dealing with others’ flaws and the emotional miracle of healing. P7Q10
February/March 2015 review by Nel Ward.
Burcaw, Shane. Laughing at My Nightmare. Roaring Brook. 2014. $17.99. 250p. 978-1-62672-007-7. Ages 15+:
This humorous, uplifting memoir shows the bravery of the author who has spent almost his entire life in a wheelchair because of progressive spinal muscular atrophy. Instead of welling in misery, he tells about the joy of his life and highlights the absurdities of his struggles to survive, even through his inability to hold up his head with his weak neck. At the age of 21, his weight dropped from a high of 65 pounds to 45, but his determination to live a normal life results in sex with a girlfriend. Well-worth reading is Burcaw’s blog, followed by over 50,000 people:
February/March 2015 review by Nel Ward.