When I came across this book, it made enough of an impression for me to want to mention it well past its August 2011 publication date. Peter H. Reynolds’s I’m Here (Atheneum) is a welcome addition to the growing body of (mostly mediocre) children’s literature dealing with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and Asperger’s Syndrome in particular. This one addresses the topic in what I find the most effective way: without explicitly mentioning it—unless you count the jacket flap, which explains that Reynolds wrote the book “to help us all reach out, embrace, and appreciate children in the autism spectrum, as well as anyone who is different from ourselves.”
Several YA books, especially Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo and the Real World and Katherine Erskine’s Mockingbird, deal stirringly with the realities of Asperger’s. But—not to point fingers at many well-meaning authors who have attempted to address this tough topic—this is the first picture book I’ve seen that’s a story lending insight into the complexities and nuances of ASD, rather than an overly didactic teaching tool.
Reynolds depicts scenes familiar to many a kid coping with ASD in sparse, simple text: “They are there. I am here.” is accompanied by a gulf of white space between a group of kids playing and one boy who just looks, well, confused.
And he is: despite his loneliness, he has no idea what to do to connect with his peers. Ultimately he’s distracted by a paper sailing by. Befriending the paper (“No worries, friend. I am here.”), he folds it into a paper airplane and sends it off. When it returns, it is in the hand of a girl who approaches, ready for friendship.
I love this book. I love, love, love this book. I love it because the boy finds a way to connect, and because it really isn’t so hard for him, after all. I love it because the girl actually wants to be friends, because the pair have found a common interest and not because an adult has explained that she must be tolerant of other kids’ “differences.” I love the airy lines and soft pastels of Reynolds’s art, his effective use of white space and the natural separation of the gutter.
And as the parent of a child with Asperger’s, I love it because it speaks to my son, to his brother who must deal with him every day, to me and my husband, who don’t understand what it’s like to be him, try as we might. Reynolds manages to speak to us simply and beautifully, without needing many words at all.