Author(s): Jessica Falconer
Beth and the Bracelets is a picture book with a difference. On one hand, it is about the Monday morning after a little girl is not invited to a birthday party. However, it is also about emotional overload, dealing with a complicated life and ultimately about the hope adults can give to children who are different.
I wrote it from the perspective that Beth has autism, however it is never spelled out. People who have interactions with those on the spectrum will see it. Beth has her own cushion, her own spot at the library, and a safe place she can go if she is overwhelmed. The exclusion of her from the party and the swirling vortex are two very powerful autism identifiers for me too. When I read Beth and the Bracelets to a focus group (ok, it was just my friends' children) they related Beth's differences to their own situations. One little girl thought Beth had anxiety, like she herself has. My son thought Beth had a special brain like his. It made me realise that Beth is a character that all children can relate to on some level. Whether seeing themselves in her or someone they know, they all "got" her.
Books like Beth and the Bracelets are desperately needed for children. There are books out there about Autism but most have what I call a "Full House" ending. Y'know, the ending where we all learned something and everything is just great now. They are trying to teach and have a 'message'. These stories feel disingenuous and kids pick it up in a heartbeat. Life is not all smiles at the end of the book for children with Autism, it's still complex and hard.
Beth has a meltdown after she discovers she is the only girl in the class who wasn’t invited to a birthday party and doesn’t have a pink bracelet like everyone else. Upset and overwhelmed, she runs to her safe spot in the library. But Miss Sam, her teacher, understands and gives her time and space to calm down.
Beth has autism, but it is never spelled out in this gentle story that will help children understand the condition. However, people who have interactions with those on the spectrum will see its subtle message of fostering empathy.
Falconer’s first book, complete with Klepatski’s sensitive and intuitive illustrations, offers guidance for children to also understand situations of bullying, anxiety, depression and the trauma of being left out. Highly recommended for ages 4 to 8 years.