The Sibling Experience
I was inspired to write this series of blog posts after reading a newly published picture book called Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles by Tami Lehman-Wilzig. This story is told from the perspective of a boy named Jacob, who has a brother named Nathan. What makes their relationship different from other sibling relationships is that Nathan has autism. Throughout the story, Jacob is frustrated with his brother’s repetitive speech, inability to understand social norms, and his incessant need to blow out the candles on the menorah like it’s a birthday cake. Jacob fears that Nathan will embarrass him in front of his new friend, Steve. But when Steve starts laughing and ridiculing Nathan, Jacob eventually realizes that even though Nathan may think differently, he is still his brother. This newfound understanding allows him to find the courage twithin himself to defend Nathan and stand up to Steve. At the end of the book, when the two families celebrate the last night of Hanukkah together, they decide to celebrate the holiday Nathan’s way…by blowing out all the candles on jelly donuts, their traditional Hanukkah dessert.
On the surface, this book is a Hanukkah story about two neighboring Jewish families coming together to light the menorah and take part in their family traditions. The story uses authentic language and realistic illustrations to share the experience of a this special Jewish holiday with its readers. It’s also the story about how two boys and their families become friends for the first time. For me, though, the heart of this story is the relationship between the two brothers and Jacob’s journey from anger and frustration into understanding, acceptance, and love for Nathan and of his autism. So often the needs of the sibling are forgotten when attention is given to the child with special needs, which makes books like these even more important. Not only does this story portray a truthful depiction of a child with autism, but it also poignantly communicates the all-too-important sibling experience, and the challenges and rewards that come with having a family member with special needs.
For more on the sibling experience, check out these books:
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
A girl tells what it’s like living with her twin brother who has autism and sometimes finds it hard to communicate with words, but who, in most ways, is just like any other boy. There aren’t very many published books depicting non-white characters with disabilities, which makes this book even more important to a library’s collection.
This two-sided book is meant to be read two ways. Part I is a parent guide to help children with the realities of life with a sibling with autism. Parts II and III are in a picture book format, addressing the sibling and the child with autism separately with information about what autism is and how it impacts all members of the family.
Written in a journal format, this book answers a series of questions about what it is like to have a brother or sister with special needs. The target audience is upper elementary and middle school, but its diary-like format make it an accessible read.
My Sister, Alicia May by Nancy Tupper Ling
Based on the lives of two real sisters, this story is told from the perspective of Rachel, the older sister of a girl named Alicia, who has Down syndrome. In many ways, Alicia is like any six-year-old girl. But, as we see through Rachel’s eyes, she is also very different and very special.
The Best Worst Brother by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
When a child with special needs is just learning how to communicate using sign language, sibling can easily become frustrated. This book talks about the ups and downs of learning how to talk to a sibling who cannot talk himself. I found the Question & Answers about Sign Language section in the back of the book particularly helpful.
Oh, brother! Growing Up with a Special Needs Sibling by Natalie Hale
This beginning chapter book is about an eleven-year-old girl who has an older bother with developmental disabilities. She handles unique challenges, all the while taking everything i stride focusing on her brother’s positive qualities. The short chapters and pictures dispersed throughout the text help make it an easy read for elementary students.