We are pleased to host Nonfiction Monday today.
Please use Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post to add your nonfiction reviews.
by Sy Montgomery
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her school library.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Students in my school frequently check out fiction titles in which characters have autism. Rules by Cynthia Lord and Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin are popular books in my library and have helped students begin to understand and talk about autism. However, there aren't many nonfiction titles about real people with autism, until now.
Sy Montgomery interviewed and shadowed Dr. Temple Grandin to research this middle grade biography. Many adults know Grandin's story from her autobiography, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, and from the HBO documentary about her life. Yet, not many children are aware of Grandin's amazing story. Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a young child in the 1950s. Not much was know about autism at that time. Grandin's father wanted to send her away to a mental institution, but her mother refused. Grandin's mother knew she was intelligent and had many talents, so she was sent to a small private school. Grandin is a visual and hands-on learner, and she used her strengths to build and invent while she was a student.
After being bullied in high school, Grandin left to attend a private school in New Hampshire. With support from science teacher, Mr. Carlock, Temple designed, built and tested a squeeze machine that could be used to calm down people. Grandin used the invention to center herself when she was feeling overstimulated. Grandin's psychologist wanted her to give up her work on the invention, but Mr. Carlock encouraged her to continue to focus on her strengths. Grandin also related well to horses and cows because she understood what made the animals nervous or scared. Grandin was able to use her innate understanding of animals along with her strengths in drawing, designing and inventing to excel in college.
The design of the book is superb. It's organized chronologically, and between chapters Montgomery includes information about autism. The information is written in a clear manner that middle grade readers will understand. Photographs from Grandin's childhood through adulthood compliment the story. Close-up photographs show Grandin surrounded by cattle. Sketches of Grandin's designs of a cattle pen and a dipping tank provide readers with insight into her work.
This is a powerful book for young readers. Students will be inspired by Grandin who went on to become a professor of animal science and a leading expert on designing facilities for livestock. Working in feed yards and slaughterhouses was not always easy for Grandin; she was mistreated by people who didn't understand autism. Many men in the feed yards did not want a woman coming into their area and telling them how to treat the animals. Grandin did not let prejudice stand her in way. She let her work stand for itself and became a well-respected leader in the field.
"Temple's most important innovations in design were accomplished not in spite of but because of her autism. And she thinks that many great achievements of modern civilization were attained thanks to people who may have been on the autistic spectrum, too." (p. 98)
The book closes with words of advice from Grandin; she tells students to focus on their strengths, join clubs that interest them, and get a part-time job to learn how to work with others. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World would make an excellent addition to biography collections in both school and public libraries. Readers will gain an appreciation for how brains work differently, and they will come away with the message that we all have gifts to share with the world. It's an inspiring story that should be required reading for all middle school students.
Temple Grandin's TED Talk