The mark of a great children’s book writer is the respect they have for their readers. Despite the limiting beliefs of many adults, children possess great emotional intelligence, compassion, and understanding.
In her children’s book My Brother Otto, Meg Raby trusts her child readers to appreciate a nuanced, honest depiction of what it’s like to have an autistic sibling. The result: a book that genuinely equips children with the insights needed to equitably engage with autistic people in real life.
My years of working as a writer, educator, autistic self-advocate, and clinical mental health counselor-in-training help me to appreciate what a refreshing and powerful depiction of an autistic character Meg Raby has created.
I am proud of her for not following in the footsteps of countless other children’s book writers who create tokenizing, idealized depictions of autistics.
We all know the narrative: “this person with a disability is so quirky and cute.” Those stories are not only unrealistic, but harmful. Depicting autistic people as one-dimensional and perpetually sweet dehumanizes them. It creates a power dichotomy in which neurotypical kids condescend to autistic ones, which, later in life, morphs into oppressive ideas about autistics not being capable of governing or speaking for ourselves.
In addition, the predominant, infantilizing autism narrative also hurts neurotypical people by not actually acknowledging and explaining the real life behavior of autistics around them. This leaves children ill-equipped to understand their autistic peers and makes them susceptible to adopting our society’s ableist ideals.
In My Brother Otto, Meg Raby’s main character Piper explores through the organic the context of everyday life the challenges and joys of having an autistic sibling. She explores what autistic behavior looks like and provides empathic insights into her autistic brother’s mind.
Some of Otto’s behaviors are upsetting to Piper and others are endearing or neutral- just like any sibling’s behavior. Regardless, Piper models what it’s like to feel unconditional acceptance and love for an autistic person, without applying any of the arbitrary societal standards that even small children can be conditioned to uphold.
For neurotypical readers, she serves as a conduit between themselves and the perspective of an autistic child. For autistic readers, Piper tells a story that is familiar and validating.
My Brother Otto strikes the perfect balance between being empathic and educational and also a joy to read. Piper and Otto’s love for each other can be felt through the page, and their adventures are fun to witness. Elisa Pallmer’s colorful, endearing illustrations create a wonderful world where crows wear yellow sweaters and worms fly airplanes.
I wouldn’t be surprised if many children adopted My Brother Otto as their favorite bedtime story, both for their love of Piper and Otto and their appreciation of how this book helps them to better connect with their friends.
Editor’s Note: Meg Raby, the author of My Brother Otto, is now offering three signed copies of her book to NeuroClastic’s readers. Below are the posts from Facebook and Instagram where you can find out more about getting a free copy.
- Book Review: My Brother Otto - November 16, 2020
- Finding Adult Autistic Women in the Media: A Unicorn Hunt - July 19, 2019