Books that help children understand others who are different to themselves and that support those in speaking about their challenges and difficulties get massive praise from me and this one does both of those things superbly. The co-authors, one of whom is autistic, take a challenging and often misunderstood subject and make it accessible and understandable to readers of all ages.
Eleven-year-old Tally and her friends are at the start of year seven at Kingswood Academy. For Tally, high school brings anxieties and worries; there’s new teachers, new surroundings, new mean boys, and her trusted friends from primary school are all acting differently, especially when her behaviour gets embarrassing. Autistic Tally has always known she is different, seeing and feeling the world differently to those around her. But at high school the pressure to fit in is unbearable. And what is ‘normal’ anyway and does Tally really want to fit in…
Written by Rebecca Westcott and co-authored by eleven-year-old Libby Scott, who is herself autistic, Can You See Me? is a beautifully written coming-of-age story of self-acceptance and getting others to embrace you for who you truly are. The story centres around Tally’s transition to high school and her first few weeks in a new environment where the rules are different, the uniform is uncomfortable and things that were acceptable at primary school are a definite no-no. In the cut-throat world of high school, appearances are all important and being ‘different’ can leave you standing out for all the wrong reasons.
This honest and heartfelt look at the life of a young girl with autism is so insightful and is full of empathy, understanding and showing kindness to others. Like any pre-teen, Tally is desperate to fit in, to say the right things, to laugh at the right moments and to be accepted by her peers but having autism means things that come easily to the nuerotypical kids are not so normal for Tally. And the more she tries to fit in at school, the more she suffers from meltdowns at home.
Westcott and Scott do a brilliant job of conveying what life is like for a child with autism; from the sensory and OCD issues to uncomfortable social situations, new environments to the words and phrases that can make life confusing and frustrating. The authors also delve into the lives of those closest to Tally and how her behaviour effects them, particularly older sister Nell - who is often on the receiving end of Tally’s outbursts - and her parents. Tally’s supporting diary entries, written by Libby, provide a frank and authentic voice who not only explains her feelings and reactions to different situations but also outlines various aspects and traits of autism with valuable factual information.
Whilst this story focuses on a child with autism trying to navigate the world, any child transitioning to high school will find many of the situations that Tally faces very relatable; meeting new teachers, learning your way around, trying to fit in, the struggle between being authentic and faking it to make it, dealing with bullies, changing friendship dynamics and social situations outside of school.
We can never fully understand what it is like to live the life of someone else but Can You See Me? provides a wonderful window in which to look through to better understand someone who is autistic. Powerful and thought-provoking, this is one of those ground-breaking books that deserves a place in every school library and classroom. Essential reading for those children and adults with who have regular contact with an autistic child.
Recommended for 9+.