Speak Up!

Speak Up!

Speak Up!











Speak Up!

Rebecca Burgess

HarperCollins, 2022

272pp., graphic novel, RRP $A39.99


Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self.  Mia would be happy to just be herself, stims and all, but the other students have trouble understanding her and even bully her, while her mother is full of strategies to help her attempt to mask her autism.  Although she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she’s always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her.

Together, they’ve taken the internet by storm; little do Mia’s classmates know that she’s the viral singer Elle-Q! Ironically, one of her biggest fans is also one of her biggest real-life bullies, Laura. But while the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure.

She’ll have to decide whether she’ll let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also showing everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say. Though she may struggle with some of her emotions, Mia does not suffer because of her autism. Rather than  a cure as though there is something about her that needs to be fixed,  she just wants acceptance, understanding and tolerance, just like the other characters who have other issues that drive their behaviour. 

For older, independent readers this is a graphic novel by an autistic author/illustrator offering a sympathetic depiction of one young person’s experience of autism, and because it is by one on the spectrum it is an authentic voice giving an insight into what it is like to be different at a time when peer acceptance is so important to who we are. 

The Secret of Sapling Green

The Secret of Sapling Green

The Secret of Sapling Green











The Secret of Sapling Green

Penelope Pratley

EK Books, 2022 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Sometimes being different can be cool, but when your talent is growing things, and your thumbs are literally green, it isn’t.  Until it is…

Sapling Green has always hidden her big secret – her green thumbs. As the others play in the schoolyard, even helping to create a new garden, she shoves her hands in her pockets and hides her thumbs. Much as she would like to help, the library is her refuge as she watches Wynn climb the old, bare tree in the yard. 

But one day it is damaged in a storm, and Wynn becomes more and more morose, particularly when the diagnosis is that the tree must be cut down. Is it time for Sapling to be brave enough to show her classmates her secret and save the tree?

Every class has its mix of the quiet and the boisterous and yet both might be behaviours covering similar insecurities.  Because while Sapling Green’s might be made overtly obvious in the story, why does Wynn become so despondent so quickly when the tree is damaged?  Does he feel his place in the playground, perhaps in the world, is entirely dependent on his tree-climbing prowess? So while this story has a familiar theme of our differences being our strengths, it is also an opportunity for students to consider the behaviours of others and begin to develop understanding, empathy and compassion.  Doing it at arm’s length through story is much less fearful and confronting than actual examples of their classmates, but it does offer a way of viewing others through a different lens. It is an opportunity to discover that our beliefs, values, thoughts, attitudes and actions are unique to us because of the experiences we have had, and that there are those whose lives are vastly different, even though, externally, they are similar.

Inspired by her son’s diagnosis of autism, the author wanted “to portray a character who isn’t neurotypical. A character who learns to accept themselves and be accepted by others simply for being who they are.” But, IMO, it becomes more than this because by delving deeper, not only does Sapling Green accept herself but others accept her too, allowing her to build trust in others that can lead to long-term bonds.  Just look at how Wynn’s relationship with her changes.  

We are not empty pots like those portrayed on the front endpaper – we each have magic hidden in our depths that allows us to bloom as individually as the pots on the back…

A Different Sort of Normal

A Different Sort of Normal

A Different Sort of Normal











A Different Sort of Normal

Abigail Balfe

Puffin, 2021

240pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


It begins with a poem, the last stanza of which says,

This is for ANYONE

Who has ever felt out of place

You don’t have to be the “odd one out”

You’re unique and that’s just great.

It continues with a childhood memory of a Punch and Judy birthday treat that she hated and when she later asked her mum why, her mum said, “I wanted you to be a normal child.  I didn’t want you to be an outcast like I was.”

The blurb says the rest…

Hi! My name is Abigail, and I’m autistic. But I didn’t know I was autistic until I was an adult-sort-of-person*.

This is my true story of growing up in the confusing ‘normal’ world, all the while missing some Very Important Information about myself.

There’ll be scary moments involving toilets and crowded trains, heart-warming tales of cats and pianos, and funny memories including my dad and a mysterious tub of ice cream. Along the way you’ll also find some Very Crucial Information about autism.

If you’ve ever felt different, out of place, like you don’t fit in . . . this book is for you.

While there are a lot of books that explore autism so others can have an insight, such as Annabel’s Dance; The Chalk Rainbow; and A Boy called BAT this is the first I’ve read that is written by someone on the spectrum for others on the spectrum.  It maps her journey through childhood through a time when she didn’t know that there was a scientific reason for her difference, just all the while feeling confused, unwanted and left out.  

It is a unique book, one for children and adults alike and made all the more poignant because of its honesty, truthfulness and lack of sugar-coating.  The author explains her reasons for sharing her story and while she had to navigate the world alone because she did not have a diagnosis, to help others pave a different path she has produced a poster that helps us to be an ally to those we know. 

Even though it is written directly to encourage children who are autistic to understand that while they ae unique, what they experience is not unique to them and they are not alone, it is one for anyone who has anything to do with children.  Because if we don’t understand we can’t empathise.

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp











The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

Paul Russell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Bowen Bartholomew Crisp’s mind doesn’t work like that of most children – it’s almost as big as his name!  When he is asked about the colour of the ocean, his is not the first hand up to answer because he is thinking –  he knows that the top can be green or blue depending on the sky, that the waves crash white but in the depths where no sunlight reaches it is black as the darkest night; he’s heard of the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Yellow river; he knows that algae can turn oceans green, brown, red or blue – but by the time he has decided on his answer the teacher has picked someone else.  

The most ordinary, everyday things spark deep questions to ponder on and consider but while he is doing that, his teachers, his friends, his family have all moved on.  Except his mother – she seems to have the patience to appreciate the moment, be in the here and now and understand her son’s need to wonder and takes the time to let him have the time. 

This is a unique story that follows Bowen as he grows up, always the outsider because of his propensity to look at all the angles, to see the world through a different lens. And it is not until he is grown up that his thought processes come into their own, and are at last appreciated. Bowen finds his place in the world.

There are many children like Bowen who don’t “fit the mould”. who take a different path to their peers and who often fall by the wayside, succumbing to all sorts of mental health issues as they struggle to be what other people expect rather than themselves, doubt their self-worth and underestimate their potential. The teachers’ notes  offer great insight into the story behind this story and suggest how we can put ourselves into Bowen’s shoes by putting ourselves into one of the situations he finds himself him and using a variety of thinking tools such as De Bono’s Six Hats to gain a new perspective.  Instead of paying lip-service to diversity we can experience it and develop greater understanding and empathy. 

Bowen Bartholomew Crisp’s incredibly busy mind shows the need for us to open ours and even enables us to do so. 

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers










Music for Tigers

Michelle Kadarusman

Pajama Press, 2021

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


“The first sound I hear in the forest at the bottom of the world is Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons. There’s a movement in the violin concerto that’s meant to mimic the sound of birds. When I step off the bus in the Tarkine bush, that’s exactly what I hear. An orchestra of birdsong descends like musical rain from the Tasmanian treetops.”

Shipped halfway around the world from Toronto to Tasmania to spend the summer with her mother’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. All she wants to be is a violinist, not a biologist like her mother but her mother has discovered that the family-run sanctuary is about to be destroyed and thinks Louisa needs to know more about her heritage.

Life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odours in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock. 

Finally, when Uncle Ruff gives Louisa her great-grandmother’s diary, she learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor-a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust. 

As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin a young lad on the autism spectrum; with the forest;  and-through Eleanor’s journal-with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever? 

This is an intriguing read for independent readers who are looking for something different, and something that will stay with them long after the last page is read. The Tasmanian Tiger remains an mysterious, elusive creature which fascinates because of the sporadic “sightings” and suggestions that it may not have become extinct when the last one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Acknowledging the expertise of the land’s traditional owners, it is one that has the preservation of the environment at heart, but also the changing nature of people and families as they learn more about who they are.

Written for readers at the upper age limit of this blog, I, as an adult, was engrossed and I could hear myself reading it to a class of entranced listeners. 















Kate Foster

Walker Books, 2021

252pp., pbk., RRP $A13.99


As Year 6 moves along  Alex has one goal – to make a friend, preferably Jared and the other popular kids, who won’t be mean to him when he starts secondary school. Because this is not easy when you are autistic and have super sensory awareness when sights and sounds, particularly overwhelm your brain, he has developed a plan to achieve this.  It has three components – to be an expert at the computer game Orbs World; to run fast enough so his relay team, which includes Jared, can go to the district competition and for his beloved cockapoo Kevin to win a trophy at the upcoming dog show, Paws. However, when his expectations and plans start to go awry, he pins all his hopes on Kevin being successful… 

Based on her own son’s experience when the family adopted a spoodle, the author has created an engaging story that will engage the reader from start to finish.  Told by Alex himself so that we discover how he thinks, what he does to help himself and why, this is a rare insight into the world of the autistic child and the challenges they encounter just dealing with everyday situations we take for granted.  Unlike the neurotypical brain that comes with ‘templates” for responses to situations, autistic brains are wired differently and Alex’s story shows how they have to build these responses from scratch, learning through mirroring and masking experiencing hard emotional lessons and confusing rejection as they do. Human behaviour being what it is, even his mum and brother can’t always match his need for consistency, and the one constant in Alex’s life is the unconditional love and sensitivity of Kevin.  The bond between them is critical to his well-being.

While it is intended for independent readers, it would also make an excellent class read-aloud particularly for any class that has a child like Alex. If we are to develop empathetic, compassionate children then they need to understand the challenges that others endure, and this does that perfectly in a story that you can’t put down.