-posted by Meghan
One of the lovely things about writing about books is that you get to read a lot of books. I tend to read a lot anyway, but it sort of gives you license and reason to explore, to take the time to yourself to read and discover, to browse aisles and online. But there are so many wonderful books in the world, you still can’t find them all. And sometimes, when you’re really lucky, books find you. That’s happened to me a bit this fall, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Wish’s Derby by Carl O’Callaghan is one of those books that found me. I probably wouldn’t have gone looking for it, though it’s a book I enjoyed once I found it, and it’s a book that I think lots of people will enjoy for quite specific reasons. It’s about a horse with an autism spectrum disorder. Now, I love Temple Grandin’s writing, and I’ve thought about animals and autism, but not together. And as neither of my children are on the spectrum, nor are very fond of horses, it might be the kind of book I’d pass by. But I’m so glad it landed on my desk.
Wish’s Derby is the story of wish, the horse that had trouble behaving the way people expect horses to behave, so he was sad, and he had trouble getting along with authority and with other horses. Much like some autistic kids. But once his trainer (the author of the book) unlocked the key to his learning, he won the race for his stable. I loved the book for it’s message, and thought that it would really resonate with families dealing with autism and/or kids who love horses (the pictures in the book aren’t drawings, they’re read pictures of a race horse, his friend the goat and his trainer). So I read it to Molly and Jacob (who are now 6 ½, and can real anything and everything on their own, but still love to be read to…) to get their take. They really enjoyed it, and I was thrilled with the discussion that followed.
Both kids liked the images and the idea of the horse and goat being friends. (“Since it’s not drawings, it’s real life pictures, it means someone took photos. You know that, right Mom?”). They also liked that Wish thought he couldn’t do it, but he could. (Their words.) I think when you’re learning to read, and you’re learning a new language, and you’re learning math, there’s lots of worry in your head that you can’t do it, and knowing that anyone can do anything with work and practice is a powerful message to reinforce. But I also loved that it also turned into a discussion about how everyone learns and does things differently. Our school has a very high population of special needs kids, and our principal is fantastic about making sure they’re incorporated into the school community completely. It’s a topic that we’re all aware of, but maybe too sensitive about – in order to not say the wrong thing, it’s easier to say nothing. But kids are pretty darn sharp – they know there’s something special about one of the first grade classes and I thought this might be a good time to explore what they thought about the class and the kids and what other kids at school said about them, too. And it was a great discussion.
I’d definitely suggest picking up this book (and other books, too) that at first glance you might think wouldn’t resonate and pertain to your family. You might be surprised at where the discussion leads you. (And this is a great book to experiment with, as it’s for a great cause. All the proceeds go to Wish Upon A Teen.)