Book Review: The Girl Who Thought In Pictures

I got an advance copy of the new children’s book about famous autistic, Dr. Temple Grandin. I posted it on my old homeschooling blog because at the time, Wibbly Wobbly wasn’t up and running. I’m reposting it here, because of the subject matter. It doesn’t count as plagiarism since I’m just copying myself, right?

I was so excited when I heard there was a children’s book coming out about Dr. Temple Grandin. A children’s book about the woman who made autistic adults visible for the first time? Yes, please! I was even more excited when I was accepted for the opportunity to receive an advance copy in exchange for my honest review. Yay for not having to wait! But then I read and and thought, “huh.” Actually, I had a lot more thoughts than that, but I second guessed myself. This was a children’s book; I was probably overthinking it. But then I showed it to an autistic friend and her autistic daughter and asked them to read it and tell me what they thought, and they said a lot of what I was thinking without me saying anything first.

Review For Autistic Children:

My boys enjoyed The Girl Who Thought In Pictures. Builder Boy’s favorite part was that she invented things like he likes to do. Early Bird loved that there was a book about a real life autistic person. They’ve never seen anything like that before, and it meant a lot to have a book about someone who was autistic like them. For that reason alone, if you have an autistic child and don’t have a moral objection to Temple Grandin, you should get this book so they can have that experience.

For Non-autistic Children:

If you are looking for a book to introduce the topic of autism to a child, this is not that book. It does not explain autism, it does not connect autism with her strengths or sensitivities, and their most likely take away from this book would be autism=thinking in pictures. If you like biographies of women in science, or like diversity in children’s literature, then this could be an option you like. There are very nice pictures, a rhyming scheme, and isn’t too long to lose the child’s attention.

For Parents:

There is a lot of, let’s call them “opportunities for discussion-things,” in this book. The best thing to prepare you for reading this book with your child is to watch the Temple Grandin Biopic movie. Because this book seems to be a summary of the movie for kids. Which means that it assumes a lot of information that the uninitiated does not have. For example, the door metaphor from the movie makes an appearance in the book, with no explanation. Autistics are often very literal minded; inserting a metaphor without explanation in a books that is ideally marketed towards autistics is not that smart. Also, the way they jumped around in their summary of her life left the teenage daughter of my friend confused as to what actually happened, as she had not seen the movie.

This book seems to attempt to be neutral on the topic of autism. It avoids the person first vs. identity way of referring to autistics by not saying either; or anything at all, really. The only mention of autism is in the beginning when she’s having a lot of struggles. Autism is associated only with negative things. Then she grows up, does great, and autism is no longer mentioned. Did she grow out of it? The books might make you think so, if it’s your only source of information. The end of the book mentions that Dr. Grandin becomes a famous speaker, while omitting that she has done a lot of that public speaking about autism and being pretty much the first visible autistic adult in an age when autism was still considered to be a child-only “disease.” There is a simple timeline in the back of the book, an a short “more about” section. The more I think about it and look at this book, the more I realize this book really isn’t about autism. That was my faulty assumption going into it. This is a book about an industrial designer and an overview of how she became one.

Also, despite the title, there is very little mention of her thinking in pictures. But there is a picture and line about how she thinks like a cow. Please don’t let autism=thinking like a cow be your child’s take away from this. (This insight was pointed out by my friend’s daughter, who did not know about Temple Grandin before reading this book.)

The book ends with the positive idea that being different is okay and that the reader (presumably a child) should be okay with that. I’ve seen that message a lot in books, and seeing it again here I wondered, where are the books telling the reader to appreciate other children’s differences, too? Because while you might think that should follow, that’s not the message most kids hear, and it’s certainly not what plays out on the playgrounds.

So, if you’re a children’s librarian looking for examples of diversity in children’s books, this is a book you should have in your library. If you have an autistic child who would really love to see a real live autistic in a book, this is also for you. If you have a child interested in industrial design or animal husbandry, your child might like this book. But if you’re looking for a book to explain or show a positive example of autism, look somewhere else.

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