Level:Elementary Reader (3-5 grades)
Genre: General Fiction
Buy at Amazon.com: My Brain Won’t Float Away
Annie, an eight-year-old girl who wears a leg brace, is teased at school because one of her hands in smaller than the other and she falls down a lot. One day, Annie gathers the courage to ask her mommy why she is the way she is and learns that she has a disability called “hydrocephalus,” or as her mommy explains it to her, “water on the brain.” Annie is alarmed at the prospect of having water on her brain and fearfully asks ‘Is my brain going to float away?” Thus begins the story of one little girl’s journey of discovering the traits that make her different from other children and why being different isn’t always such a bad thing. Annie must work harder than the other kids just to do the same things they can do, but with the help of her doctor and her occupational therapist Alexis, she knows she can beat the odds. Little does Annie know that being able to tie her shoelaces with one hand is actually a unique skill, one that eventually gains her the admiration of the kids in her class. Based on the author’s own experiences growing up with the medical condition, hydrocephalus.
This book has a fairly easy readability level for students who read at a fourth grade level and beyond. By the fifth grade children should be able to recognize most of the sight words in this book. Adults will have to offer pronunciation and vocabulary support for unfamiliar, multisyllable words and phrases like ‘hydrocephalus,’ ‘disability,’ and ‘occupational therapy.’ The new words and narrative illustrations make this a good book for vocabulary development. The book is best for children who are comfortable reading words containing long vowels and consonant blends and are ready to move on to more advanced phonics skills (e.g. multisyllabic word-solving strategies, r-controlled vowels, silent letters etc.) Corresponding Spanish translations on each page make this a good book for developing Spanish vocabulary in Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking students alike.
- Discussion about disabilities – Introduce the terms ‘disability’ and ‘handicap’ to students. Explain to students that ‘handicapped’ is an offensive term that should no longer be used. Have a discussion about what our bodies can do. “Do you know anyone who cannot use all of their body parts?” “How are the similar to you?” “What CAN they do?”
- Learn about Braille – Find a book about Louis Braille and share the story about how he invented Braille. Obtain a Braille alphabet card and let students feel the letters and get an understanding of what it is like to read Braille. If possible, visit a local Braille bookstore or publisher to learn about the process of transcribing books into Braille
- Learn about seeing eye dogs – Bring in a picture of a seeing eye dog and share with the class how a seeing eye dog is used. If there is a group in your community that trains seeing eye dogs, invite a guest speaker to share with the class how the dogs are trained and what types of services they provide to the visually impaired.
Opinion/Review of book:
The story is not boringly didactic like some other books about children with disabilities and it does not play on sentimentality. Because the story is told from the perspective of Annie, the child with the disability, it gives the disabled child a voice. The character Annie is presented as more similar to other children than she is different; she is presented as an ordinary child learning to cope with the obstacles in her world. The author does a good job of portraying Annie as an active participant in life who is involved with other children with disabilities as well as with non-disabled children. The medical condition, hydrocephalus, is presented accurately as only one of Annie’s important characteristics. A note from the author invites children to turn to the back of the book to read more facts about hydrocephalus in the form of a letter from Alexis, Annie’s occupational therapist.
The book also meets the basic criteria for good children’s literature. The story is interesting and understandable and the writing direct, straight-forward, and age-appropriate for the child. The artistic style is appropriate to the content. The illustrations are colorful, of high quality, and clarify and contribute to the reader’s understanding of the issues. The pictures realistically portray Annie’s disability, but they also show her individuality and personality. The illustrations also do a good job of presenting a racially diverse cast of characters. Annie seems to be the child of a single parent since her father does not appear in the pictures or the story, however, a father figure is presented in the form of Annie’s encouraging male teacher. This is a well-written, optimistic book perfect for reading with a child who has been diagnosed with hydrocephalus or any other disability, whether physical, mental or learning. This is also a good book to introduce the topic of disabilities to non-disabled children. A wonderful addition to any bilingual library or classroom.
Note: Much of the reviewer’s analysis of this book was based directly on criteria outlined by Linda Lucas Walling, a leading authority on materials for and about children with disabilities.