Move over, all you "Reading to Rover" canines; here come the cats.
First, a little background. In describing the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome, the Autism Society of America says, "The essential features of Asperger's Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, and activity." The Society goes into some depth on the subject, and I urge you to read more there if you are so inclined.
In her 2006 picture book, Australian author Kathy Hoopmann uses a familiar and beloved subject for many children—cats—to explain a human neurological condition. Some behavior of children with Asperger's might seem unusual to others their age, but Hoopmann patiently demystifies it. Imagine: an enjoyable didactic book. It's a rare combination, but this creative approach pulls it off.
The illustrations consist of color photographs of cats and kittens, one photo to a page. Under a funny picture of a Persian playing with a ribbon, Hoopmann writes of a child "[caught up in a world of his own,] where small things fascinate him for hours." She notes quirky differences and points out strengths, such as, "In many ways his thinking is far ahead of his peers...[he] invents new ways to do old things." In the accompanying photo, an orange tabby leans over a sink, playing with a stream of water. An outside-the-box thinker!
It's likely that many readers know someone with Asperger Syndrome; my son has had a couple of sports teammates and fellow day-campers on the autistic spectrum. I'd recommend that school and public libraries buy the book—if you've spent time in a school library, you've seen the way the pet books fly out the door. Friends, siblings, and other relatives of children with Asperger Syndrome are the book's natural audience. Hoopmann, who currently lives in Dubai, has also written a series of chapter books (for ages 8+), including Blue Bottle Mystery, in which the protagonist is an Aspie.
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome made the short list in the nonfiction category for the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year. Winners will be announced on August 17th.
* This post is part of the One Shot World Tour: Australia, in which a number of bloggers are writing about Australian books and authors. You can find a list of all the participants at this Chicken Spaghetti entry. I can't wait to read about all the other great Aussie finds.