As you may have read in my article discussing my first book, “Ella Autie”, I looked through many children’s disability books to see what I liked about them and what I didn’t like about them, so I could change my own material for the better. In this book reveiw, I will be talking about “Why Johnny doesn’t Flap,” a book about an autistic boy’s neurotypical (meaning without cognitive disabilities) friend, Johnny. I will give a brief description of the book’s story, illustrations and message. In doing this, I hope to bring awareness to stellar children’s books that teach about special needs. Let’s get started!
“Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap” is a unique children’s book by Clay Morton. The text focuses on two kids- an autistic boy and his neurotypical friend, Johnny. The book does not follow a traditional storyline and is written as if the main character is explaining his friend’s ‘odd behavior’ to the audience. He walks the audience through different situations, like waiting for an ice cream cone or playing at recess and explains the differences between his thoughts and behaviors and his friend Johnny’s. Despite the differences in how they interact with the world, they remain close friends. This book flips similar books on their heads - instead of being told from the non-disabled child’s view that explains the actions of their disabled friend, this book juxtaposes the main character’s autistic behavior as normal or logical with Johnny’s neurotypical behavior, which is portrayed as strange. Needless to say, it is very refreshing to see such a different way of explaining that people think differently. Here are two excerpts:
"It can be pretty interesting being friends with a kid who is NT. He has a lot of quirks that can be very frustrating until you get used to them. Mom says that everyone’s brain is different, and different isn’t always wrong."
"Johnny has problems with communication. He will say that a math test was “a piece of cake” when he really means that it was easy. I try to explain to him that cake has nothing to do with an easy math test, but he never seems to understand that he should say what he means. I can always figure out his strange statements eventually, so that’s OK."
The illustrations in this book are delightful. The pictures are drawn in soft watercolors and are easy and pleasant to look at. Behaviors such as flapping hands, smiling, anxiety and calmness are well portrayed and make it easy to understand what the characters are thinking and feeling*.
The message of “Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap” is to show that what is considered normal to one person can be unusual to another. While a unique message, it may be hard for younger children to understand as it requires a basic understanding of what autism is (or at least an understanding that people’s brains work differently), and a strong sense of empathy. Older children (3rd grade- 6th grade) will probably get more out of this book. The text and dialogue (except for the use of the word ‘neurotypical’) is easy to understand while the message is powerful and complex.
In conclusion, “Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap” is a well-written and illustrated book that is empathetic and thoughtful. In reading many children’s disability books, this one stuck out to me because it broke the traditional structure and was still successful in it’s execution. I would definitely recommend this to older gradeschoolers that are curious about autism, or as a classroom read. Anyway, I’m sure it will get the conversation about autism going!
Do you know of some good books for neurotypical children that help explain autism to them? Please share them in the comments section below.
*See the Language Builder Emotion Cards if you are looking for a resource for teaching emotions to children or students.