Sometimes fiction makes difficult subjects accessible for children, sometimes it helps young readers understand people who are different to themselves and sometimes it encourages children to speak up about their own difficulties with increased confidence. This powerful collaboration between Libby Scott, an eleven year old girl with autism and Rebecca Westcott, a popular children’s author does all of those things. In addition Can You See Me? is a shining example of why children’s books are not only for children.
‘Actually, the more I think about it, the more I reckon that a lot of the cons of autism are not really caused by autism but by how other people react to it. I really do.’
The transfer to secondary school can be a challenging time for many and for Tally the worries mounted as the end of the summer holidays drew nearer. Tally is autistic and her anxiety about adapting to the many new aspects of school life is causing her problems. In addition her friends from primary school who had always supported her now appear to be subtly different; their interests and shared jokes feel alien to Tally. Increasingly she tries to conform to the requirements that others place on her to fit in which only adds to her difficulties. One of the boys has started to taunt Tally and she feel that there is no-one to help her. As the days pass Tally struggles to control her true feelings until eventually she discovers that they are too powerful for her to hide for ever.
This is a moving, powerful and, perhaps most importantly, insightful read. Rebecca Westcott, a teacher, writes with a knowledge and understanding of school life which ensures that the descriptions of the daily routines, the teachers’ behaviours and the attitudes of the pupils all feel authentic and relatable for young readers. The innovative approach, with Libby Scott providing input in the story itself and writing Tally’s diary entries which are interspersed with the story throughout, results in this book being an enlightening and at times slightly uncomfortable read. It highlights the expectations we as adults may have of autistic children that can make daily life harder for them. This would be a valuable read for both teachers and parents as it increases understanding and provides ideas for possible strategies to help. Rebecca Westcott has created in Tally’s family characters who care for and love her but at times experience both frustration and worry. Tally’s elder sister shows kindness yet also the understandable impatience of a teenager coping with her own issues. Tally’s diary entries, as written by Libby Scott, show a remarkable self awareness, honesty and maturity that is impressive. I found it an eye opening and gripping read.
That this story features in this year’s Empathy collection is no surprise. Perfect for encouraging discussion, understanding and kindness this deserves a place in every school library and classroom. Can You See Me? is a wonderful read for all children preparing for transition to secondary school and it would be an excellent class read for both Year 6 and 7.
If you are looking for books to help you understand autism the Healthy Books website has a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, suitable for a wide age range. Can You See Me? features on this booklist collated by Book Trust which aims to provide a range of children’s and teens’ books that feature characters who are on the autistic spectrum. A new self-help book, Autism, Bullying and the Child by Emily Lovegrove was published last month and you can read more information about it here.