Raising the game for a boy on the sidelines
Karen Gold reports
Football has a crucial role in this year's winner of the NASENTES children's book award, too. Looking After Louis, by former Bedfordshire headteacher Lesley Ely, is about a little boy, Louis, who has autism, and the impact he has on the other pupils in his mainstream class.
Louis's echolalic (repetitive) speech, and his habit of running in and out of football games because he wants to join in but doesn't understand the rules, isolate him and frustrate his classmates.
Lesley Ely recalls only too well similar situations during her teaching life : "I wrote the book partly out of guilt. A few years before I retired as a head, I came across a child with very marked autistic spectrum symptoms, who had come from another school undiagnosed. I learned a lot about ASD, and so did my staff. We realised looking back on our careers we had known a lot of children who fitted that pattern, who we hadn't really understood at the time."
It was the impact of children who didn't look different but who behaved differently that both she and illustrator Polly Dunbar wanted to capture.
For Polly it was an artistic problem: "I tried to capture it in the atmosphere around him, and in his eyes. The other kids' eyes are quite beady; his are sort of soft. For Lesley that being different was why the book was needed: "ASD is something other children react to. When a child is acting in a way other children don't understand they all become bewildered and anxious, and with that a variety of negative behaviours."
In fact the children in Looking After Louis are mildly naughty in lots of the pictures: they giggle, whisper and protest to the teacher about apparent favouritism - provoking humourless disapproval from some American internet reviewers.