The month of October is designated Down Syndrome Awareness Month. It is one month in the year to especially highlight the talents of children and adults with Down Syndrome, to advocate for inclusion in school and community activities, and to honor how much they have to share.
In partnership with Woodbine House, a publisher specializing in books about children with special needs, PicPocket Books has produced and published two picture book titles for the iPhone and iPad featuring characters with Down Syndrome. These two titles, My Friend Isabelle and We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, are reviewed below by Renee Grassi, a librarian and advocate for people with special needs. Follow Renee on Twitter at @MissReneeDomain
Picture books about siblings with special needs are few and far between. Picture book apps about this topic are even rarer. We’ll Paint the Octopus Red and My Friend Isabelle help fill in those gaps.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red. Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen. Illustrated by Pam Devito. PicPocket Books. 2009. iOS, requires 4.0 or later. Version: 1.6. $0.99. Age 5 and up.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen tells the story of a girl named Emma, who learns about her new baby brother, Isaac. At first, Emma has a hard time getting used to the idea that she will not be an only child. Her dad then talks to her about all the new things she and her new brother can do. Emma later learns that her brother was born with Down Syndrome, and she laments to her dad listing all the things she thinks she will not be able to do with Isaac. Her dad tells her encouragingly that, in fact, all those things that she thought Isaac wouldn’t be able to do—like painting the octopus—he will be able to do. He just might need someone to show him how. In the end, Emma is able to look past differences and is excited about all the fun she and her new sibling will have. The app’s functionality gives the reader the option of having the audio played aloud or turned off. Swiping across the screen easily turns the page. A few turn offs, though–the words are not highlighted as they are read, and the story does not play on its own unless the reader actively turns the page. However, the voice of the reading is clear and well-paced, and Pam Devito’s colorful pencil drawn illustrations—though not animated—translate well on the screen.
My Friend Isabelle. Eliza Woloson. Illustrated by Bryan Gough. PicPocket Books. 2009. iOS, requires 4.0 or later. Version 1.6. $1.99.
My Friend Isabelle is a story about a little boy named Charlie who has a friend named Isabelle. Even though they are the same age, Charlie talks about how they are both different. Charlie is tall, while Isabelle is short. Charlie runs fast, while Isabelle takes her time. Charlie knows a lot of words, and Isabelle’s words are sometimes hard for him to understand. But Charlie also recognizes many ways that he and Isabelle are the same. They both like to play and dance. They like to pretend play together and go down the big slide at the park. What makes book unique is that the reader does not find out that Isabelle has Down Syndrome until the end of the book. There is an added section on the last page that is read out loud to the reader explaining that Isabelle doesn’t look or think quite like Charlie does, but that through their friendship, Charlie and Isabelle are helping to make the world a more tolerant place. The app does a great job utilizing the original illustrations, though the images are not interactive or animated. Each word is highlighted as its being read out loud for the reader. The reading itself is well-paced and clear, ideal for a prereader who may be following along. While the reader must swipe the screen to turn most of the pages, some of the pages turn on their own. I found this a bit odd, but it was nothing that would deter me from using the app.
All in all, these two PicPocket Book apps are solid contributions to the conversation of acceptance and tolerance of people with special need and are worthwhile tools to introduce this topic to a child.