A Kind of Spark – Elle McNicoll

Stars: *****

I’ve seen this book on Twitter for weeks, and finally bought it when it became the Primary School Book Club (@PrimarySchoolBC) book of the month. It has been very highly spoken of, with brilliant reviews. Spoiler: this review is no different!

Addie is Scottish, autistic and loves sharks. At school, she loves spending time in the library with Mr Allison and reading non-fiction books about subjects she enjoys (did you know a Great White Shark can’t survive in captivity?) and the quiet space it offers her. Mr Allison is always kind and shows her compassion.

It’s a different story in the classroom, however. At school, there are some things Addie really likes learning about, it makes her brain light up and she feels engaged and happy. Others, she finds difficult to process as they don’t give her joy. Her teacher, Miss Murphy, doesn’t understand, or even take the time to try, how an autistic child might process classroom activities differently. She doesn’t treat Addie very well at all. She doesn’t stop Emily, another student in the class, from mistreating Addie either.

However, when Addie finds out about witches in her village – Juniper – who were persecuted because they don’t fit in, she wants to find out more. What if people like her were persecuted too, because people weren’t tolerant of others and their differences? Soon, with the help of her new friend Audrey, she begins to raise money for a memorial for the ‘witches’, despite the challenges she meets along the way.

A Kind of Spark is such an important book to have in schools and classrooms. Not only does it help the reader understand more about what life might be like for an autistic child, but it also really demonstrates the importance of tolerance, acceptance and kindness.

Addie has formed different relationships with a number of people in her life: her sister Keedie, who is also autistic; Keedie’s twin, Nina, who is a YouTube make-up star; Jenna who was her friend before summer yet never accepted her; Audrey, from London, who takes time to understand. It is through each of these relationships that we see more about how we can recognise ways we ourselves can adapt our actions to be more inclusive.

Reading the way Miss Murphy treated Addie was horrifying; I am sure we all would like to think if we knew of this happening within a classroom we would help eradicate the behaviour. But even when your actions aren’t as severe as this, there are ways we can all begin to think about reducing stress for autistic children within school and the classroom. I know I’ve had autistic children in the classroom before and think we are doing everything we can to help, but it might not be the case. Just as with neurotypical people, each autistic child is different and it is important to remember the strategies we use to help, and they use to help themselves will differ too.

A Kind of Spark helps to build compassion and empathy in the reader, no matter their age.

Like the sound of this book? Buy it here: https://amzn.to/32g2S3B

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