Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘learning disabilities round-up

Cover of "95 Pounds of Hope"

Cover of 95 Pounds of Hope

The jacket flap to 95 Pounds of Hope by Anna Gavalda says, “Gregory’s problems will be familiar to anyone who’s ever felt like a square peg in a round hole.” Unfortunately, while I have always felt like “a square peg in a round hole,” I didn’t relate to Gregory. Worse, I disliked him.

Gregory’s first sentence in 95 Pounds of Hope did catch my sympathy: “I hate school.” As a teacher, I have met my fair share of students who express that sentiment. Actually, despite my current chosen profession, I used to be one of those students. Yet it’s one thing to hear that sentiment in the first chapter, it’s another thing to hear it again and again down to the very last chapter. If Gavalda had made clear why the smell of chalk “sends his heart into the pit of his stomach,” I might have felt more sympathy for Gregory. Yet I never could discern a good reason for Gregory’s hatred school. Does he find schoolwork hard? Does he find it difficult to make friends? What’s the real deal? The best I can tell is that school doesn’t simply interest Gregory. Well, there are lots of things that don’t interest me either but they don’t make me sick. Moreover, there are lots of things that bore me too, but that doesn’t give me license to act rude to adults, refuse to take any responsibility for my actions, or engage in a self-pity party year after year.

For all these reasons, I disliked Gregory and felt little compassion for his disorder. The doctors diagnosed him with Attention Deficit Disorder. In Gregory’s words: “You have to be kidding! I know exactly what’s wrong and it had nothing to do with concentration. I have no problem. Not a single one. It’s just that school doesn’t interest me.” Of course, it’s always possible that Gregory is in denial. We even see glimpses of that from his memories of kindergarten. He writes of how having to write his name brought him to tears and reciting a nursery rhyme was torture. In contrast, building and creating made him happy. It’s possible that Gregory does suffer from ADD but doesn’t want to admit it. However, beyond these examples, Gavalda doesn’t really explore that angle. Instead Gregory experiences success only in those moments when he himself wants something. When he wants to get into an alternative school, he takes the time to properly fill out an application. When his grandfather gets sick, he throws himself into schoolwork to make his grandfather proud. To me, those examples show that apparently he is capable but is only going to try when it suits his purpose. In that case, Gregory is right that his problems have nothing to do with concentration.

I picked up 95 Pounds of Hope because it fell under the category of learning disabilities. It was a disappointing read. Not only did I find Gregory whiny and (despite his compassion for grandfather) mostly apathetic, I didn’t learn anything about learning disabilities. Actually, if I were to listen to Gavalda, I might think Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t a real disability.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

Welcome to the second week of my round-up of books about learning disabilities! I have now reached my stack of fiction for intermediate readers. First up on my list is The Absolute Value of Mike, which author Kathyrn Erskine surprised me with after I reviewed another awesome book of hers about disabilities: Mockingbird.

The Absolute Value of Mike features a fourteen-year-old boy who has dyscalculia. What exactly is dyscalculia? Although many people are familiar with the term dyslexia and know that it refers to a reading disability, I less frequently hear the term dyscalculia which means an innate difficulty in learning or understanding math. For Mike, this meant that numbers and symbols make no sense to him. He also struggles with remembering directions, even in a small town.

Diagram of an Artesian Well

Diagram of an Artesian Well (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because Mike has a math learning disability, his dad wants Mike to spend the summer with his relatives who are building an artesian screw. The project could help Mike improve his math skills. Moreover, such a project should help him get into Newton High, a math magnet school. The latter is actually his dad’s idea, who believes that “if you can’t solve the simplest problems, you’ll end up on the streets.” For Mike, his brilliant idea instead is that if he can master the “artesian screw” project, he can prove to his dad that he can take care of himself and so maybe his dad would allow him to attend a regular school.

One strength of The Absolute Value of Mike lies in Erskine’s unusual but sympathetic characters which help emphasize the point that everyone has their weaknesses. For example, there is Mike’s dad who is a mathematical genius but doesn’t know how to relate with people–including his own son. He has a habit of speaking “in isolated pockets of energy, like he’d turned into electricity himself”. Then there are Poppy and Moo, the aunt and uncle with whom Mike is going to stay with over vacation. They’re elderly, meaning they struggle with the ability to see and hear. Moreover, Poppy has kind of checked out of the world, on account of the two having lost their only son a few months ago in a car accident. Next, there are the townsfolk Mike meets when he visits his relatives: Park is homeless, Gladys rejects everyone because her parents abandoned her and now she doesn’t want to get hurt again, and the list goes on.

Another strength of The Absolute Value of Mike lies in the zany plot which Erskine has created. The “artesian screw” project is not actually an engineering project but a mispronunciation by Moo. It actually refers to “artesian crew” or the townsfolk who are helping Karen raise money to adopt an orphan from Romania. Through the unusual situations the folks all find themselves in, Erskine also emphasizes the point that we should draw on our strengths to make the world a better place. Mike’s dad might define Mike by his lack of math skill, but the townsfolk instead give Mike the opportunity to use his abilities to: develop websites, create videos, sell products, and list goes on. As for the townsfolk, Mike might define Moo by her failing vision, but everyone else sees her as the lady who rescues all the rejects. Or he might define Poppy as a vegetable, but once upon a time Poppy used to make beautiful things with his hands. And list goes on.

The Absolute Value of Mike is a zany and hilarious book everyone should read, whether or not they struggle with learning disabilities. As for those young people who struggle with dyscalculia, they might learn a few math concepts from the chapter titles. Each features a term and a definition, which is then illustrated in fictional form by the situations which happen in the chapter. But, even if they don’t learn anything about math, maybe they’ll discover they have other strengths that are just waiting to shine.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Carmen Swick is the author of Patch Land Adventures, a series intended to help ease the time for other children who need to use a patch and to let the them know that they could do anything. Swick hopes that ultimately the series will also help educate others about why a child might be wearing an eye patch. She desires to bring awareness to low vision and to stress how important it is for children of a very young age to see a pediatrician eye doctor. She took time to talk with me about her son who has Amblyopia and Strabismu sand about her series that were inspired by him. 

Allison: Your bio indicates that you live in Colorado. One thing I know you like about Colorado is the outdoors. What is a special memory about outdoor activities?

Carmen: Colorado is a beautiful place to live, with so many outdoor activities. We really enjoy camping with the whole family and our dogs. Unfortunately one passed away a couple of months ago. When we go camping we really enjoy dirt biking and 4wheeling. In the evenings we sit around the fire and make smores, great time to bond as a family. We also like to hike around, and enjoy the beauty around us.

Allison: In book one, Preston goes fishing with his grandpa. In your upcoming book, Preston goes to camp. What is your worst fishing or camping story?

Carmen: I would have to say the most memorable and worst camping story has to do with our dog Beau. Beau was sprayed in the face one evening during a camping trip by a skunk. He slept with us in our pop-up camper which is very close quarter that evening, wow was that a though night!  And let me tell you what a long ride home it was the next day with that awful smell.

Allison: What is one memorable moment between mom and son?

Carmen: My son Preston and I have had a few memorable moments, but I have to say going to Millers farm, every fall to pick our own produce, corn, carrots, potato’s etc… It’s such a great bonding time! And we can appreciate where our food comes from. When we get home we clean all the produce and freeze some. That evening we will make dinner and make sure to incorporate some of the vegetables that we had picked earlier that day.

Allison: How does Preston feel about your books?

Carmen: Preston is very proud of me, he might not tell me directly, but his actions let me know that he is. I remember when we walked out of the doctor’s office, after hearing, not such great news. The Dr. had told us he was legally blind in his left eye that broke my heart! When we got into our suv, I put my sunglasses on, looked at him with tears and  I said Preston mommy is going to write a children’s book and it’s going to be called Patch Land. The expression on his face was priceless! He tells his teachers, librarians, friends etc…

Allison: Preston has to wear a patch for his blindness. What was the worst experience Preston had with wearing a patch? What helped him accept it?

Carmen: There have a been a few instances that were very upsetting to him while wearing his eye patch. People, Children, and Adults alike stare at him when he wears his eye patch, because it is different. One day we were at the grocery store and 12 yr. old came up to him and said, what are you a freak! My son’s reaction was to hide behind me. It is still little painful talking about it. I said to the young man, no he is not a freak and let me educate you why he has to wear an eye patch. Preston was very surprised that I didn’t keep walking, but at the same time was very happy and proud that his mother was able to make this young man understand why he patches. Of course some kids would say to him, do you think you are a pirate? So it made difficult for him to want to wear his patch in public. By me writing the series, I am able to educate the public, I go to school and read to the children, and the adults read to their children. Also these books can help the Children during patch time, they can do anything!

Allison: You work with various organizations associated with blindness. What advice would you offer parents and adults about how to support a child with partial or full blindness? What advice would you offer to other young people about how to best help their peers?

Carmen: Learn as much as possible about their eye disease.  There are so many tools now in this time of age that can help. You can start by searching local chapter support groups. These groups can help give you a sense of hope and support! There are many on-line groups you can join. Many share their thoughts and fears on these sites and help ease some anxieties. The one thing I can tell you is never let your loved one feel that they are limited do to certain things, because of their low vision. My son, skate boards, rides a bike, dirt bike, plays basket ball and football. Be their biggest cheerleader, love and support!

Allison: How have you been promoting Patch Land Adventures? What’s next?

Carmen: There are several ways that I am promoting my book, soon to be books. I have my own website where people can order directly from me. I’m also in local book stores, several libraries, Amazon and Barnes and noble .com. You can now order my books from the UK and Australia. I have a blog, and fan page.  I read to schools, and I do several book signings. My books are listed in some mom blogs, and support group blogs, and I have been interviewed by several bloggers.

What happens if you’re a mom and your son is diagnosed with Amblyopia and Strabismus? Well, first, you might ask what those terms mean?

  • Amblyopia is the loss of one eye’s ability to see details. It is considered the most common cause of vision problems in children and can lead to blindness if undetected.
  • Strabismus is a disorder in which the two eyes do not line up in the same direction, and therefore do not look at the same object at the same time.

Next, if you’re Carmen Swick, you might decide to write a series of books. Patch Land Adventures is intended to help ease the time for other children who need to use a patch and to let the them know that they could do anything. Swick hopes that ultimately the series will also help educate others about why a child might be wearing an eye patch. She desires to bring awareness to low vision and to stress how important it is for children of a very young age to see a pediatrician eye doctor.

A child wearing an eyepatch in an attempt to cure Amblyopia. Her own son, Preston, is legally blind in his left eye and needs to keep up with his eye patching six to eight hours a day. As with many other children with the same ailments, her son must wear a patch over the stronger eye in order to strengthen the weaker eye. He also has a patch dog buddy.

The series features Preston having various adventures while wearing his patch. In Fishing with Grandpa, Preston spends a day at the brook with his Grandpa catching fish. When he returns home and climbs into bed, he takes off his patch but dreams of adventures where everyone wears a patch. In Patch Land, Preston can do amazing things like fly a jet in the sky like spies but also more ordinary things like play baseball with neighborhood friends and dogs. The next day he has an eye appointment, where his status is updated. Afterwards, Preston and his mom have an outing of their own to celebrate. The next book in the series will be Camping at Mimi’s Ranch.

It’s always nice when one can end on a positive note. Having now reached my fourth and final book in the Everyday Geniuses series by Barbara Esham, I’m happy to announce that in addition to Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets, I thoroughly enjoyed Stacey Coolidge’s Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting. I liked both books because of their catchy titles, the delightful cartoon-style artwork, and the entertaining but educational story. Yay!

Stacey Coolidge’s Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting is not about Stacey. She’s actually that annoying student that appears in every classroom. You know the one. Her schoolwork is always perfect. And she knows it. Which is why she asks, “If we finish extra early, can we play with Frederick AND work on the computer?” As for Frederick, he’s a guinea pig! Main character Carolyn has been “waiting since first grade to be a big kid and have the chance to play with him”. Too bad, by third grade, second grade isn’t going so well. You see, that’s about the time Carolyn’s teacher announced it was time for students to learn cursive. If that wasn’t bad enough news for a student who struggled with handwriting, Carolyn’s teacher also thought it might be a good idea to allowing (or rewarding) only those students who finished early to play with Frederick.

Ouch! Carolyn can ” color inside the lines of a picture and almost print my name inside the lines on notebook paper after a few tries, shoot a basket from where my big brother stands, and weave cones around my skateboard without knocking a single one over.” She just can’t write sentences in cursive without squeezing the letters too close together, smudging the paper, or creating holes. Even when she comes early or brings work her handwriting book home to practice.  About this time, Carolyn’s teacher decides to share Stacey’s perfect work to the class. If I were sitting there, I’d probably wish that Stacey would just stay home!

Esham perfectly portrays a grade-two classroom and a student who struggles with handwriting. Even as an adult, I completely relate to Carolyn’s frustration: “Does Mrs. Thompson know how hard I am working? Does she see how many erasers I’ve worn out? Does she see the big bump on the finger next to my thumb? Will I ever be able to write in cursive? Will I ever get to third grade? Will I ever get to Frederick?” That’s a lot of pressure! Fortunately, Carolyn’s teacher is able to recognize how hard Carolyn has worked and offers Caroyn encouragement along with a special prize for all her hard work.

Some online reviewers have cited their favorite books in the Everyday Geniuses series. My picks are Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets and Stacey Coolidge’s Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting. In both of these books, the main characters struggle, fail, but persevere despite obstacles. Just as importantly, they figure out ways to deal with their obstacles. These are messages I can applaud!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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