This quote from the opening pages of Alice in Wonderland is one that always makes me smile. Of course, a book without either of these qualities is ‘of use’, but there is something undeniably charming and tangible about a picturebook. The illustrations often tell a story of their own, or at the very least, enhance the narrative.
Over the past few months, I have been sharing Isabelle Marinov’s ‘Leo and the Octopus’ with children, as part of my PhD journey. The book tells of Leo, who is described as ‘a child with Asperger’s Syndrome’ (from the blurb), who makes friends with a beautiful octopus named Maya. I chose this book specifically because it paints a positive picture of an autistic child. Leo’s character has agency, a purpose beyond a simple story of an unlikely friendship. This book advocates for autism. Leo has challenged to overcome, but does not lose his identity as a result. There is no ‘cure’ here. He remains an autistic child, who navigates the world in his own way.
So far, between the pilot and the two schools I have visited, all of the children have commented on the use of a book such as this, and many have expressed their desire for more to exist. Obviously, there will be much for me to unpack once I start the lengthy process of transcribing the interviews, but so far the research suggests that I am on the right path: the representation of autism in picturebooks is not only valued, but necessary, for autistic and neurotypical children alike.