Monday, May 12, 2008

Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley, illustrated by Judy Stead - review

Best Friend on Wheels by Debra Shirley, illustrated by Judy Stead
Are the rhymes a little sing-song-y? Is the plot a little forced? Sure. But I haven't seen a better book about how Kids in Wheelchairs Are Just Like Us ever. And I need this book - at the very least, I need it for the Early Childhood Development students at the local college. I also probably need it for the school library, and for the occasional parent.

The protagonist first meets her new best friend, Sarah, when the teacher asks her to show "the new girl" around school. The teacher fails to mention that Sarah uses a wheelchair, giving our hero the opportunity to model the confused and nervous reaction that many children (and adults - the text makes that clear) have when they meet someone who is physically handicapped.

I was so nervous, I stammered and stuttered.
I might say the wrong thing, I thought - so I muttered.
I wanted to get a good look at her chair,
but I felt like a jerk, so I tried not to stare.
In my opinion, "I felt like a jerk" sells this book. If you're going to talk to kids about responding to difference, you have to acknowledge that discomfort is a common reaction, and it's best to do that using direct and honest language. But then the book moves right along. Everyone knows that the best way to make a new friend is to find something in common, and that's just what our hero does. She discovers that Sarah is into rock collecting, and they're off and running.

As I said, there are minor quibbles about plot and word choice - the book might have worked better if it didn't have to rhyme - but that is not going to stop me from recommending it wherever and whenever a book about difference is needed. A big thank you to the authors for filling a gap.

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