Months ago I set out to peruse every book I could find that pertained to autism whether geared to the parents or siblings of the child. I had hoped to find My Brother, Matthew before reading My Brother Sammy, but I could not locate this book at the library so opted for the second choice. Since my son is named Matthew I really wanted to read the book along with my older son. The two books can be purchased together as a great buy at amazon.com.
I was a bit surprised that autism was never mentioned within the text of My Brother Sammy. The only mention is on the back cover, Sammy is autistic, and in this wonderful book two brothers find out how to really love each other. The cover design is consistent with how the pages are illustrated with the flowing brushed watercolor theme by David Armitage with the text written by Becky Edwards.
The majority of books, discussing autism that I have read have been written by parents or those who work with special needs children professionally. I could not ascertain what the connection to autism is with the author and illustrator for My Brother Sammy. The inside of the book mentions something I have never seen in a book before, The moral right of the author and illustrator has been asserted.
I cried after reading My Brother Sammy the first time and still get emotional when I peruse through the pages. My seven-year old thought the kids had orange faces and did not like some of the illustrations, especially when Sammy was angry. The illustrations of Sammy blended with the background, making it seem as if he was part of the scenery at times. I believe this was done to show how autistic children tend to drift away from crowds, preferring to stay in their own world.
Along the thirty-two pages of My Brother Sammy are butterflies, flowers and ladybugs with a sunshine array of watercolors that give the illusion of sponge smears on the pages. The story begins with the narration of the older brother offering insight to the differences between his day and his brother Sammy. Within each example the explanation is the same, My mom says its because hes special.
This first two-page spread has Sammy off to the far edge of the second page on the right as he watches his brother in the school bus one morning. Sammy does not ride the same bus or go to the same school as his older brother. The only visible person in this illustration is the brother on the school bus, with the driver and others darkened as if they did not exist. In a way they did not to Sammy for he had his eyes on his brother as the bus was leaving. As in so many other books for siblings with special needs the feelings of the sibling are expressed in a wide range. The older brother goes from sad, embarrassed, lonely, frustrated and angry to a surprised emotion.
When the brothers are at the park Sammy is barely visible through the leaves on the trees as he takes in the beauty of the sunshine while lying on the green grass. My seven-year old was bothered by this illustration and somewhat confused as to why the boys face was in between leaves and mentioned how similar it was to the shape of a lion. The previous page illustrates the brother with a few other kids playing on a bridge. My son questioned why the brother was holding a stick in one hand and a soccer type ball in the other, because he thought the stick would poke the ball.
The text on the page of Sammy nestled in the leaves of the trees mentions how embarrassed his brother is for he wishes Sammy would just join in his games. The following page really captures the intent look on Sammys face as he watches sand pour out from his hands while in the sandbox. His older brother is building castles and tunnels wishing Sammy would build creations with him instead.
Sammy repeats whatever his brother says to him so he will say Hello, Sammy right back to him without knowing any other way. This is called echolalia, a symptom of autism where the child repeats the echo back they just heard. My older son never showed signs of echolalia, and my youngest is still non-verbal. The older brother is now frustrated in a sort of way, hoping Sammy would just say his name.
One day when the brother was showing the Mother the large tower he had built, in came Sammy who knocked it down. Now all the feelings the brother has expressed come out in a rash of statements such as, I want a brother who likes to build sand castles with me. I want a brother who can say my name. I DONT WANT A SPECIAL BROTHER. In that instance Sammy turned towards his brother, stopped knocking down the blocks and pointed to his brother while saying, SPECIAL BROTHER. This surprised the brother who then went about building and tearing down blocks the rest of the day with his special brother.
The watercolor images of the siblings as they are building is half yellow with the sunlight coming into the room and half blue as if the clothing was on both of them making them joined together. Now all of a sudden the Mother is taking them both to school together with Sammy being able to wave good-bye to his older brother.
Just like the book Ians Walk the sibling finally seems to understand autism and enters the world of the autistic sibling. Now the illustration of the boys at the park has them enjoying the leaves lying on the green grass together as the other children play in the background. This image shows both boys as opposed to the earlier time just the facial expression of Sammy. They seem to be relaxing in the middle of the park taking in the scenery. When they go to the sandbox Sammy is no longer the only one with sand trickling through his fingers since his brother is right beside him playing his way.
I took turns reading pages of My Brother Sammy with my seven-year old, asking him when he finished what the book reminded him of. He replied rather quickly nothing and then pondered a moment before saying Matthew, meaning his own brother. The difference is that I do not really utilize the word special when referring or explaining his brother to him. He does have a hard time grasping that his brother cannot talk and inquires frequently to when this will happen.
At times while reading through My Brother Sammy I felt the collages of color were distracting as did my son. I would have rather had less emphasis on the special aspect of being different and more on what exactly is autism with some of the symptoms and how they fit into the world Sammy lives in. It certainly seems to be catching on to the siblings of autistic children that in order to converse with the sibling you need to get to their level, instead of trying to draw them out and force them into a world they cannot adjust to.
I am glad that I was able to find My Brother Sammy and will continue with my reading with the next selection being My Brother, Matthew. Families will benefit from reading My Brother Sammy especially those with newly diagnosed children and for the holidays to share with relatives that might not be experienced around the autistic child. I would like to see more of these books at the school library and read to the general education children.
My seven-year old had no problem reading the pages of Mr Brother Sammy. With thirty-two pages it is not long or difficult to manage and can easily be read by an Adult to a child or in a larger group setting.
***UPDATE*** Feb 2003
Kauai, HI The Dolly Gray award for best picture book will be presented to Becky Edwards (author) and David Armitage (illustrator), for My Brother Sammy, published by Millbrook Press. Also awarded the English Association's English 4-11 Award for the Best Children's Picture Books of 1999 - Key Stage 1 Fiction, My Brother Sammy offers a way of understanding what makes each child unique.