Families are special, too;Books

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
MY BROTHER SAMMY. By Becky Edwards, illustrated by David Armitage. Bloomsbury Books pound;9.99.

DR WHITE. By Jane Goodall. North-South Books pound;9.99.

Elaine Williams on the problems of a boy who finds his autistic brother a burden

When we consider the life of children with autism, their relationships with siblings are often left out of the picture. Yet the burden of care required of families can often leave brothers and sisters feeling isolated and confused as to what is expected of them.

To live with a sibling incapable of normal social interaction and communication, who cannot join in with pretend and imaginative play, must place immeasurable stresses and strains on everyday life - a subject beautifully and sensitively explored in My Brother Sammy by Becky Edwards, a teacher of children with autism, and illustrator David Armitage .

A young boy has to understand that when he plays with friends in the park Sammy - because he is special - will lie on the green grass "and look up at the sunshine shimmering on the leaves of the trees, instead", and that when they play in the sandpit Sammy will spend the whole time not sharing the toys, but picking up the sand and watch it running through his fingers - because he is special.

But there are times when the boy cracks, when he doesn't want a "special" brother, and he lashes out in anger and resentment. David Armitage's fluid, watercolour illustrations are perfectly suited to the emotional volatility of the subject matter - the greens, yellows, reds and blues laid down in luminous washes to reflect the shifting feelings of the brothers.

It is only when the boy realizes that having a brother like Sammy makes him special too that he starts to come to terms with the relationship. This is a joyously colourful and absorbing book and Becky Edwards must be congratulated for treating the subject with such insight.

In another appealing picture book which explores child psychology, Jane Goodall, a champion of endangered species, gives us Dr White in which she investigates the healing role animals can play in human lives. Dr White is a fluffy white mongrel who visits very sick children at a city hospital, a form of 'pet therapy' used by nursing staff, until he is banned by a health inspector. However, the story takes a dramatic turn when the inspector's own child falls seriously ill.

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