WHAT’S WRONG WITH TIMMY?

Reviewed by Anne McCarthy

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This hard-back edition is beautifully presented and is a charming portrait of difference. I was particularly taken by the genuine and uncontrived opening dedication which illustrated Maria’s enormous admiration for her family’s commitment to people with intellectual disability via the Special Olympics movement. I also noted Maria’s other best selling books—are they available in Ireland?

Maria Shriver approaches a very important issue with style, grace and subtle sophistication. The gorgeous pastel drawings by Sandra Speidel give the book that extra insight into the touching humanity behind the words, no doubt helping to bring it into the category of best seller. I also love the way some sentences are printed in extra large font when a significant point is being made.

The story may be for children and about children, but this book is very good for parents too. The message is very simple and it is this—that despite the doom and gloom forecasts from the doctor, Timmy’s mum fell for him just the way he was. She knew right there and then that if she loved him, he’d be the most wonderful child in the world, and that if she worked with him, together they’d build new dreams.

The initial nervousness and inability to cope caused by sudden, unexpected exposure to disability is well illustrated by Kate’s mother when meeting her friend’s sister Rosie for the first time when she herself was a child. The intervening years had only changed the fact that Timmy was playing in the park and being seen in public, whereas Rosie had stayed at home until her friends took her out. While Timmy has an intellectual disability and Rosie is in a wheelchair due to polio, the references and issues surrounding disability are mostly generic and universal.

The story subtly illustrates the negative effects of segregation, when a child meets someone in a wheelchair for the first time. This negative legacy of never being seen in public is juxtaposed with a similar situation in this modern era of integration into public places. The personal interaction and reactions are equally traumatic in the absence of disability awareness training or preparation. The human reactions were the same—illustrating that integration structures and opportunities are pointless unless the human responses, behaviours and attitudes of people without disabilities are nurtured to adjust, accept and advance this socialisation to the next dimension of human interaction and bonding.

Exposing children to disability from an early age is the only way that disability will be perceived as part of a multifaceted world, just like everything else, and remove forever the shock, nervousness and puzzlement of coming across disability for the first time. This book strongly emphasises this point by giving us three scenarios: Mum and Rosie, Kate and Timmy, Timmy and Kate’s friends. Kate and Timmy are both eight years old.

While Kate’s Mum is pivotal to the story, Kate was nonetheless a very quick learner.

At the risk of sounding cynical, Kate is a very bright girl and she illustrates the maturity of a twelve year old in the way she interprets the stunned silence of her friends when she introduces them to Timmy. If only real life was so simple! Somehow I think a little help from a teacher or parent would be the norm. However, I like the way the author illustrates how the best barrier breakers are using whatever a person is best at for communication and interaction. Timmy’s skill was basketball, and in that he held his own with the ‘gang’.

Perhaps the author could have left God and the angels out of it. The inherent Christianity and faith in the story would have been enough. The pictures with angels are pretty, but asking the questions about why God made disability brought the book out of its depth. I think this was the one weakness in an otherwise charming little book. Also, this book is either too short or in great need of a sequel. The sequel would tell us about Timmy at 16–18 years. Would he still play with Kate and her friends or with their younger siblings? Would he be coping with adolescence and would he have a girlfriend? Would Kate have a boyfriend and would she still play basketball with Timmy????

To conclude, this is a simple, short, beautifully written and illustrated book that says mountains about the inherent loneliness of disability and how it can be so easily overcome by kindness, empathy, understanding and forethought. Without doubt, this is a book for parents also when planning interaction and approaches for their children. Simplistic perhaps, but as a child’s introduction and preparation for meeting with neighbours and playmates with disabilities, it’s a winner.

Reviewed by Eric Jordan, aged 8, in conversation with his dad, Jim Jordan.

What did you think of the book?
I think it’s an excellent book. Ten out of ten.

Why?
Well, if you had read this book when the Special Olympics were on you’d know that a person with a disability is a person not a ‘dumb person’.

Is it a good story?
It’s a good story. Sounds like it could be real.

Who do you think should read it?
Children who have students with disabilities in their class should read this book. It would also be good for adults to read.

What would people learn from reading this book?
They would learn that they [children with disabilities] have abilities and that they want the same as everyone else. They might learn not to call them babies because they don’t talk properly.

What do you remember most from the story?
I thought it was kinda funny that Kate felt scared and embarrassed about Timmy when they are the same age and had so much in common.

Was she being silly?
No ‘cause everyone feels that way in the beginning. Even her Mom said she felt like that when she met Rosie.

What did you think of the pictures?
Eleven out of ten – one point off the scale! They could tell the story on their own.

I really liked the pictures with the angels – they were cool! My favourite picture was the one with Kate’s Mom, her friend Tina and Rosie.

Why?
You could tell from the picture that Kate’s Mom felt really uncomfortable.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH TIMMY? by Maria Shriver, illustrated by Sandra Speidel. Boston, Warner Books and Little, Brown. (2003). ISBN 0 316 23337 4. €14.20

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