Rose Robbins, Talking is Not My Thing

Scallywag Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1-912650-22-4

The bright, distinctive cover of this picture book shows a young girl cat, one paw partially covering her mouth. Above her head is a thought bubble with the words 'Talking is not my thing.' On the title page we see her again, this time cuddling a toy bunny. The story begins with her sitting under a tree with her bunny, looking round and smiling as a little boy cat runs over to her, telling her to come inside as it's nearly dinner. This time her thought bubble says 'I don't speak. But my brother finds it easy.' They run inside, he saying he thinks it's spaghetti for dinner, she with a thought bubble expressing a hope that it is. Sometimes she tries to use her voice, but the words don't come out right. Sometimes, noises get too much. 'I wish I could turn my ears off. But I still like to feel included.' Sometimes she uses flashcards to communicate, like when she needs her grandmother's help to go to the toilet. She teaches her brother a guessing game with pictures. He reads to her until its time for tooth brushing and bed. But when she goes to put on her pyjamas, she discovers bunny is missing. She rushes out into the garden. Her brother runs after her with a torch. Bunny is still under the tree. After a happy dance with bunny, she climbs into bed. She laughs, as she finds her brother's car under the bedclothes. He is thrilled that she's found it. They high-five.

This is a touching story. Its very special value lies in its depiction of a non-speaking child with autism. We see family life through her eyes. We see too that although she is non-verbal, she is very communicative and lively, and has a keen sense of fun. We see the mutual love and support between her and her brother, and with her grandmother. The illustrations are simple and extremely expressive. With each picture, we know how the protagonists are feeling. The device of using thought bubbles for the little girl cat, and speech bubbles for the others is extremely effective. Rose Robbins teaches young people with autism and has a brother with autism. She is an ambassador for Inclusive Minds. Her knowledge and understanding shine through in this lovely and useful book, as it did in her previous one, Me and My Sister. Highly recommended. A very positive portrayal of neurodiversity, this will be helpful and reassuring for children with autism, who need and deserve books with characters they can readily relate to, and will foster empathy and awareness among siblings, and among children with less experience of autism. Incidentally, how valuable to have a book with a grandparent as the main carer.