Thursday, May 5, 2011

Anything But Typical: AudioPhile

Get it your public library, or
at or
Anything But Typical is one of those rare instances in which the performer and the novelist synergize to produce an audio book that perhaps transcends its written counterpart.  And if you found Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time intriguing, you'll likely warm to its younger yet equally intriguing hero.

Here, we live inside the mind of Jason, a sixth grade story-writing savant who shares his day-to-day struggles and triumphs as he befriends a female fabulist at '' and subsequently gets the chance to meet her at a writers' conference.  Life's a bit complicated for Jason sometimes, as it is for any sixth grader trying to negotiate the onset of puberty in a digital age, but more so perhaps because he lives with the effects of autism.

We get a rare, unromanticised and quite believable glimpse into Jason's mind as he focuses his considerable linguistic gifts on "", a website rather like "Figment" or "Teen Ink", where young writers share their craft and help each other to become more skillful.  And Jason regularly shares his ample store of sage advice for writers, advice that would make any English/Language Arts teacher smile if a student truly took it to heart, as he does.  In fact, he's the kind of student Language Arts teachers dream of, one who wakes up each morning with a wonderful word in his head, words like lexicon or fortuitous or confluence.

Having worked with quite a few students who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, it seems to me that author Nora Raleigh Baskin provides a credible interior life here, one that's so well-embodied by performer Tom Parks that we feel no pity for - an emotion of condescension - but rather empathy with Jason.  Baskin offers us a glimpse into the mind and heart of a person quite aware of what is happening inside him, but powerless to stop it:  Jason's day to day life requires regular efforts to adjust his natural responses into socially acceptable behaviors:  This alone, repeated regularly, to give us a sense of how much of his life must be dedicated to honoring other people's norms, is reason enough to listen to this audio book.

Given recent attention to autism on a national level, and its growing occurrence among our youth - witness the recent week-long PBS Newshour series - if you're looking for an entry point into this realm, one that affords you a gripping read as well, I'd suggest picking up this CD set or downloading the audio for a journey you'll not soon forget.

My Actions:
1.  Inquiry:  Research other books and films helping me to understand the scope of this increasingly prominent issue. Use what I learn in my teaching and community.
2. Write to both author and performer with gratitude for their work.


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