A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature is insightful, and imparts a hopeful message. Part of the story is about how the community copes with a shooting at Virginia Dare Middle School that took the lives of two students and one of their teachers. One student was brother to the main character, a 10-year-old girl with Asperger's Syndrome. Also, it is written from the mind of the girl with Asperger's, with all her thoughts and confusions, so the book may be difficult to read aloud. But the book's message is a poignant one: Every character is trying to overcome grief, develop empathy, and show tolerance for others. Ultimately, the entire community learns that problems and frustrations can be avoided "by getting inside someone's head," and better understanding him.
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What's the story?
Caitlin, a bright, talented 10-year-old girl with Asperger's Syndrome, is trying to understand the world around her, especially how to make friends and fit in at school. She also has to deal with the tragic shooting death of her brother, who had been her main support, and the pain of her father, who seems lost in grief over the killing of his son. As is true with most girls with Asperger's, Caitlin is intelligent, but "getting it," that is, understanding emotion or interpreting social behavior, is almost impossible. She has to use her intellect, the Facial Expressions Chart, and much verbalizing to herself to get it right. The reader sees all this from within Caitlin's mind, and it could not seem more real. Finally, with the help of her very understanding school counselor, the friendship of a younger boy, and the kindness of one of her classmates, she breaks through, and begins to understand empathy. As Caitlin starts to "get" compassion, so do those around her.
Is it any good?
Author Kathryn Erskine does a wonderful job of getting into protagonist Caitlin's head and taking us with her in this sensitive, captivating book that's simply a great read.
The story is a bit complex. With the school shooting, her father's overwhelming grief, and the responsibility Caitlin feels for bringing the situation to some kind of closure for everyone around her, it risks being more contrived and complicated than it needs to be. However, the tone is so perfect and the protagonist's voice so strong that it all seems quite possible.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it is that makes the other kids think Caitlin is weird. Do you ever notice someone who seems unusual or doesn't act like everyone else? How do other people usually treat them?
Talk about what the title means. If you have not read To Kill a Mockingbird, now might be the time. What parallels do you find between the two books?
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