Autism Awareness Month

April has been designated  World Autism Awareness Month.   On April 1 and 2, landmark buildings like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Universal Studios, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and many other businesses and universities worldwide were illuminated  in blue to honor this signficant campaign to educate the public.

Many of you may remember actress Holly Robinson Peete on “Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2010, vying to win money for the charity she and her husband Rodney Peete, former NFL quarterback, started — the HollyRod Foundation.  Their eldest son, R.J.,  was diagnosed at age three with autism.   Holly has become a leading voice in America for children with autism.   She’s on the new CBS weekday show “The Talk,” which airs at 2 p.m. EDT.  Every Friday in April, “The Talk”  has devoted a segment to autism awareness.  Today, Apr. 8, there will be a discussion on fathers of children with autism;  Apr. 15, the show will profile inspiring teens with autism; and Apr. 22,  will focus on what happens to autistic children when they grow into adulthood.   Rodney has written a book for father’s called, Not My Boy!

It  is only fitting that I review  My Brother Charlie, written by Holly and her daughter, Ryan Elizabeth Peete.  This beautiful and heartwarming  story is told  from a siblings viewpoint.  The illustrations, by   Shane W. Evans, are vibrant and engaging.  The book has won the 2011 Image Award for Literature.

” My goal with this book is to let kids and their parents in on a little secret:  Kids with autism are valuable human beings with real feelings, even though they can’t always express them, ” says Ryan Peete.  “I feel it is up to those of us who don’t have autism to change ourselves so that we can better understand people who have it.”   She did that very thing when she was in fourth grade and designed an Autism 101 for her class.

In My Brother Charlie, Callie and Charlie begin their life together as twins in their mother’s tummy.  Throughout their lives they share many of the same things other children do.  But, Callie soon begins to realize simple differences.  Charlie won’t play with her, laugh,  kiss Mommy on the cheek and ruins her playdates.   Callie wishes at times she could “crawl into Charlie’s world to move things around for him.”   She also realizes the things Charlie can do like playing the piano,  running fast and the first time he comforts her when she is hurt and says, “Don’t cry, Callie, I love you.”

This book is authentic and  inspirational.  It will capture your heart.   The authors show how a family pulls together to help bring out the very best in  Charlie and themselves.   As Callie so beautifully says, “Charlie has autism.  But autism doesn’t have Charlie.”  And, “I’m blessed to be Charlie’s sister and to share so much.  I count my ‘Charlie Blessings’ every day.   At the very top of my ‘Charlie Blessings’ list is the love Charlie and I have for each other.”

A percentage of the royalty earnings of My Brother Charlie will go to the HollyRod4Kids Foundation to help children with autism gain access to affordable treatment and therapies.  Inspired by her father and son, the HollyRod Foundation was founded in 1997  and is dedicated to providing compassionate care to those living with Autism and Parkinson’s disease.   The website is:

Other noteworthy websites include: and



Off We Go! Series


It is a treat for me to launch my book reviews during Autism Awareness Month with not just one book, but a very special series of books entitled Off We Go!  Written by Irish author and mother,  Avril Webster, the books began as “hand books” she wrote at home to help her son Stephen navigate everyday life activities.  Stephen has a developmental brain disorder, and new experiences that include loud noises, bright lights and new smells, were upsetting.

What I appreciate most about Webster’s books is the simplicity.  Each book is the same size, limited to 12 pages, and is beautifully illustrated with bright photographs by David Ryley.  Each page has a picture with one sentence.  For instance, in Off We Go for a Haircut, the child says, “I’m going to get my hair cut.”  The book prepares the child for what to expect and what comes next, thus reducing the anxiety and stress in a first time situation.  And, Webster uses the same cast of multi-ethnic characters in each book so that the child is familiar with them.

Webster’s books are designed for children with special needs and disabilities that include Autism, Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorders.   However, they have much a broader appeal, because they can be read to very young children, ages 2-5, to help them understand a visit to the dentist or getting a hair cut.   Some children are more anxiety prone than others.  I remember my first ride on a big bus with my mother at age three, and I sobbed because everything was so big and loud.  They also can be used with children for whom English is a second language.

Some of the Off  We Go! book titles include:   Going to the Dentist, Going to the Restaurant, Going to the Grocery Store, Going Swimming, Going on a Plane, Going to Buy Clothes, Going to Buy Shoes, and Going to a Birthday Party.   You can visit their website at:

Fortunately, Off We Go! was launched in the United States and Canada in March 2011 through Woodbine House  Publishing.  An interesting side bar is that Woodbine is a leading publisher of books for children with special needs.  Many of their employees have a personal connection to someone with special needs — a winning combination for all involved.  Books can be purchased at their website:  and at



Journey with me…



Special-needs-children-222x225Welcome to Children’s Books Heal!   I specifically chose to use “heal” in my blog name, because I felt it more inclusive of what I wanted to communicate — books have the power to heal.  Many of the books I plan to  review will focus on children and teens with special needs.   It’s  a broad category ranging from autism, Asperger’s syndrome, cancer, cerebral palsy, hearing and visual impairments to anxiety, ADHD, intellectual disability, adoption, divorce and grief.  I also will target books that are  multicultural,  about peace, conflict resolution, virtues, and the power of music and the arts to heal.  Each book will be hand-picked for the quality of its message.

In January 2011, Scholastic, the largest publisher of children’s books, released the Top 10 Trends in Children’s Books from 2010.    Among those trends was an increase in fiction with main characters who have special needs.  Examples included My Brother Charlie, Marcel in the Real World, and Mockingbird — all great books I will share.

According to a study published by Brigham Young University professors in the December 2010 issue of Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities,  “Despite an increasingly positive portrayal  of characters with disabilities in Newbery Award-winning books, there still is not an accurate representation of the nearly 7 million children with disabilities attending U.S. public schools.”   They studied Newbery Award and Honor books published from 1975 to 2009.

“We are hoping that this will be a call to authors,”  said Professor Tina Dyches.  “We’ve got so many wonderful authors in the world and we would love to see more inclusive characterizations in high quality books where kids with disabilities are being recognized for who they are no not just the limitations of their disabilities.”

I am a journalist and writer who  hopes to review high quality books for children and students with special needs.  I bring with me many life experiences.  My husband and I have a large blended family, with two adopted children, one a foreign adoption.  We have parented children with disabilities and special needs.  I also know what it is like to live as an adult with a disability, as I had a serious brain injury seven years ago.  And, I know how grief impacts children and families.  In 2009, our grandson was a casualty of the war in Iraq.   These experiences have influenced my choice in writing books for children, and the theme for my blog.

Please join me in my journey of writing and blogging.