Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism - Picture Book Review

About a Girl Whose Little Brother is Autistic

Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism - cover art
Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism. Albert Whitman & Company

Summary of Ian's Walk: A Story about Autism

Ian’s Walk: A Story About Autism is a book that will appeal to kids who enjoy a good realistic story. Unlike many books about children with special needs, Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism is not overly preachy or didactic. Although children will learn a good deal about what it means to be autistic and what it can be like to have an autistic sibling from Ian's Walk, the children’s picture book is first and foremost a good story, one that will engage the interest of children from 6 to 10 years old.

The Story

Author Laurie Lears includes quite a bit of information about autistic children in the book, but the emphasis is on the feelings of Julie, whose little brother Ian is autistic, and the drama of his brief disappearance at the park. The story is narrated by Julie and reflects her conflicted feelings about Ian. She loves him and feels responsible for him, but at the same time, she often feels embarrassed and angry at his behavior.

When Julie’s mother gives her permission to go to the park with her older sister Tara to feed the ducks, Julie is pleased. When Ian indicates he wants to go with her, Julie agrees, although she is obviously not thrilled about it. As they walk, Ian responds differently than other people to the environment because, according to Julie, “Ian’s brain doesn’t work like other people’s.” In fact, Julie says,

  • “Ian sees things differently . . .”
    “Ian hears things differently . . .”
    “Ian smells things differently . . .”
    “Ian feels things differently . . .”
    “Ian tastes things differently . . .”

    On the walk, Ian continually does things that embarrass or upset Julie. She is concerned other people will notice how Ian is reacting. For example, at the flower stand when Julie gives him a bouquet of flowers to smell, Ian makes a terrible face. But later, while passing the post office, “Ian puts his nose against the warm, gritty bricks and sniffs the wall,” to Julie’s great embarrassment.

    When Tara goes to get pizza for the three of them, Julie and Ian wait for her by a park bench. When Tara returns, Julie is shocked to realize that Ian has wandered off. She has no idea where he’s gone. While Tara runs off to look for Ian, Julie tries to think like Ian so she can figure out where he has gone. To her great relief, Julie finds him at one of his favorites sites, the old bell in the middle of the park.

    The walk home is very different from the walk to the park. Julie is no longer trying to rush Ian along before his behavior embarrasses her. In fact, she tells him, “We’ll walk home the way you like!” His brief disappearance has helped remind her that despite his autism, he is her brother and she loves him. The close-up watercolors by Karen Ritz beautifully reflect both Julie’s changing emotions and Ian’s single-minded focus on the things that interest him, like the ceiling fan in Nan’s Diner.

    At the beginning of the book is a page-long note about autism from Carol P. Rolland, Chief Psychologist, Developmental Pediatrics, and Mary Kay McGuire, M.A., Sibling Program Director at Illinois Masonic Medical Center. While the note is directed to parents of autistic children, it provides helpful information for all parents.

    One of the points the two specialists make is that “There are opportunities for personal growth in having a sibling with a disability. The healthy siblings learn valuable lessons of responsibility, compassion, and toleration of differences.” (Albert Whitman & Company, 1998. Paperback ISBN: 9780807534816)