Welcome to Picture Books for All

Children of all abilities should see themselves in the books they read. That's what makes reading fun. There are many picture books that include characters with disabilities; some are excellent in terms of their portrayal of these characters, some are pretty good, and some miss the mark. This blog features these picture books and evaluates them based on standards for quality in children's books that portray characters with disabilities. For more information, see the first post entitled "Welcome to Picture Books for All." (Click here) Welcome to Picture Books For All

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book #15 Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

This story is unique because it is about a child who at the beginning of the story has not yet been diagnosed. Sam’s parents and peers are not sure what to make of his somewhat strange behaviors. Not surprisingly, Sam gets teased for his “differentness,” and his parents are not sure how to respond to his extreme emotional reactions or sensory issues.  When Sam’s behaviors become dangerous (leaving the house alone at night) and more extreme (crying and saying he does not want to go to school), his parents realize they should take him to the doctor. Once he receives the help and support he needs, things get easier for Sam, and he is able to function better in the company of his peers.

Related Information
Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter

Clarabelle van Niekerk
Skeezel Press

Year of Pub:

ISBN:     (ISBN-13)

Age range

Type of Disability
Asperger Syndrome

Fiction or Nonfiction

Category:  A, B

A) books that provide factual information about a disability

B) books that provide information about a disability in a story format in which the character with a disability is integral to the plot

C) books that provide stories that have a character with a disability who may or may not be integral to the storyline and who has been added to the story to achieve diversity and reflect reality

D) books that include a main character with a disability but whose focus is not necessarily the disability

Annotation:  Sam is a child who experiences difficulty controlling his impulses and his emotions. He demonstrates repetitive behaviors and acts differently from his peers. When he leaves home alone at night to go back to the Ferris wheel at the local carnival, his parents realize they need to get Sam some help. Once doctors and therapists get involved and Sam gets a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, he is able to function better because the people around him understand him better and know how to support him.
Link to publisher:
Links to professional reviews:
I could not find online reviews from Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly.
The 2010 Dolly Gray Children's Literature Award, which recognizes high-quality children's literature that includes positive and realistic characters with developmental disabilities.

The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval Winner Holiday 2008

Standards for Quality Portrayal of Characters with a disability
1. Promotes empathy not pity
While the reader empathizes with Sam’s inability to pull himself together (especially the adult reader), Sam cries so much in the story that child readers/listeners could feel pity.
2. Promotes acceptance, not ridicule
Yes, in the end.
Sam has musical talent, which may be one reason he is accepted and even admired. The story shows that children like Sam can easily be ridiculed by peers. 
3. Emphasizes success rather than, or in addition to failure

4. Promotes positive images of persons with disabilities or illness
Sam is presented in all his realism—he can be very sad, disorganized, and helpless and he can also be very accomplished, calm, and happy.
5. Assists children in gaining accurate understanding of the disability or illness

6. Demonstrates respect for persons with disabilities or illness

7. Promotes attitude of “one of us” not “one of them.”
(There is no “them” in this story.)
8. Uses people-first language

9. Describes the disability or person with disabilities or illness as realistic (not subhuman or superhuman)

10. Depicts people with disabilities as more similar to than different from other people
Although Sam cries more than most children his age and does not like rough and tumble play, he likes puzzles, Ferris wheels, and playing the cello, and he wants to succeed just like his peers.
11. Shows peoples’ strengths and abilities along with their disabilities

12. Represents characters as strong, independent people who others can admire or learn from
Yes, in the end.
Sam succeeds in performing in the school concert.
13. Represents people with disabilities from different racial and cultural backgrounds, religions, age groups, and sexual orientations
Main character is white, but the children in Sam’s classroom are ethnically diverse.
14. Shows people with disabilities in integrated settings and activities

15. Shows people with disabilities in valued occupations and diverse roles.

16. Shows people with disabilities in reciprocal relationships
Sam does not have any special relationships in this story except that with his father.
17. Main character develops and grows emotionally as a result of what happens in the story
Sam gets help from doctors and therapists after he goes to the fair at night by himself. Then he is able to function better. Whether Sam grows emotionally as a result of the experience is not specifically addressed, although he gives a beautiful concert without incident at the end of the story.


  1. Replies
    1. It is a very nice book. Kids will like it whether or not they have behaviors like Sam's. It is a great springboard for classroom discussions as well.

  2. Looks interesting and sweet! I am looking for the books that can share with my girl! And this one is on my list!