There have been a slew of good middle grade books published in recent years about children who face learning or behavioral challenges and that’s wonderful. So many children are moving through real life facing these, and other, challenges. To be able to see themselves in the pages of a book has got to be a comfort. For children who don’t face these challenges, the chance to learn about those who do is a critical lesson in empathy.
I confess that I began Ann Martin’s new book RAIN REIGN (Feiwel & Sons 2014) with a slight feeling of trepidation. The jacket said it was about a twelve-year-old girl in the fifth grade who functions at the high end of autism and who’s obsessed with homonyms. From the title, alone, I thought I knew what to expect: page after page of having to wade through homonyms, long after the point had been made. Of course, I was wrong. Ann Martin is a wonderful writer and this book is full of genuine heart and understanding and, yes, sadness, but most of all – courage. Rose Howard is courageous in many ways: in the way she works every day to correct her “annoying” social tendencies because her classmates make fun of her and they make her single father angry; in the way that, after her father gives her a stray dog who she names Rain (a double homonym opportunity!) and who runs away during a hurricane, Rose discovers that Rain’s original owners are looking for him, too, and is determined to give him back even though she knows it will break her heart. It will break the readers’ heart, too, (it did this one’s), but it will also make them cheer because Rose is so brave and we see how hard it is for her to do what she has to. Thankfully, Rose has a wonderful uncle who encourages her collection of alike-sounding words and loves everything about her. She tells her own story, too, in a voice so steady and firm that we know she’ll be fine, whatever happens. Rose Howard is a girl to admire and root for. I can’t think of a better reason to read a book than that.