________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 15 . . . . March 30, 2001

cover Here's What I Mean to Say...

Sarah Yates. Illustrated by Darlene "Toots" Toews.
Winnipeg, MB: Gemma B. Publishing (Box 713, 776 Corydon Ave., Winnipeg, MB., R3M 0Y1), 1997.
24 pp., pbk., $10.00.
ISBN 0-9696477-2-7.

Subject Heading:
Cerebral palsied children-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2 - 4 / Ages 7 - 9.

Review by Alison Mews.

*** /4

image With some notable exceptions, children's stories with a disabled child as main character often have that child become a hero by solving a problem in a unique way and thus winning acceptance by his/her peers. This artificial ploy to promote tolerance is not favoured here. In this story of a nine-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, we hear how her life was dramatically changed when she received a computer that could vocalize for her. While the story is firmly rooted in her physical condition, the focus is on her relationships with her parents and her best friend, Jay.

      Yates uses Ann's voice to convey what it is like to have CP. She states simply: "It means I can tell my arms and legs what to do but they don't listen. I can't speak either but I've got lots of words inside my head." Ann is confined to her "rolling chair" and needs the help of her parents and teacher aide to do things other children take for granted. Her perseverence as well as her frustrations, and those of the people who care for her, are revealed in Ann's matter-of-fact voice. She describes her experiences in mastering her speaking computer and her excitement as she realizes its potential. Ann is also preoccupied by her upcoming birthday, as her mother plans to have a hat decorating party and Ann worries that Jay will find it too feminine. Ann is not able to explain this to her mother, nor to ask Jay himself. When she can finally use her computer to tell her mother she doesn't want a hat party, her sense of accomplishment is profound.

      Illustrator Toews, a graphic designer, has also collaborated with Yates on two previous books about Ann. She uses bold colours on edge-to-edge backgrounds, often blending different colours from top to bottom (eg. from pink to yellow). Her figures are two-dimensional with cartoon faces that convey an minimal amount of emotion.

      The author, whose daughter has CP, wanted to provide a role model for children with disabilities and an advocate for those children. Ann does indeed fill that role. She is a likeable child who gets great joy from life and uses humour in her interactions with others. There is no plea for sympathy here, only a honest portrayal of Ann's day-to-day life, and it is by comparison that children will see the enormity of her daily challenges and victories.


Alison Mews is head of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of NF, St. John's, NF.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364