Books and their role in the ‘taming of our crew'

 Fiona McKay Wed 12 October 16

During the interval in Sunday’s matinee performance of ‘One Really Big Circus Show’, I saw two year old Roxy perched on the edge of the stage, immersed in a book the Stage Manager was reading her. I chatted to Roxy’s Mum, Nat, about her daughter’s love of books.

Nat says Roxy is totally committed, will spend hours listening, looking, involved with books. I asked Nat whether Roxy spent much time with screens. Maybe half hour or so screen time a day. It was a familiar story. Books played an important role in the development of our children too, and perhaps more so in the development of our son, Davy, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Like Nat and Myke, we gave our children unlimited access to books, but limited access to screens. Books gave a gentle way into a fast, often confusing, ever-changing world. Books were always part of our children’s daily routine (not just at bed time) giving us many positive hours together. We always carried books with us and often used books to distract, calm anxiety or fill frustrating waiting time.

Our son found change difficult and the unknown confronting. Books played a role in introducing new concepts and places. 

Those with ASD struggle with understanding emotions. One of the first things we were advised to do was to help our ASD almost-schooler learn how to recognise feelings, in particular happy, sad and angry. I made my own book for him with photos of family and cut outs from magazines with a simple text to help explain these emotions to him.  Happy was easy, but when it came to sad and angry, I used more picture books resources. The Cat in the Hat, Judith Voist's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day and Anthony Browne’s Willy the Wimp were just a few books which have great illustrations showing expressions of sadness, and the cause.  Richard Tulloch's Danny in the Toy Box, with its wonderful opportunities for expressive reading aloud invited a viewing and discussion of anger.
Understanding humour is also difficult for many with ASD.  Books have helped there too. Two simple books Don't Put Your Finger In The Jelly, Nelly and Ketchup on Your Cornflakes? by Nick Sharratt,  introduce different types of humour in a clever, interactive way.  With them, Davy grew in his understanding of what’s funny and why. Bamboozled by David Legge is another special book we all enjoyed. Recently I was thrilled to find it, like a number of others of our old favourites, newly republished. A website like helps quickly locate the cheapest copies of books, both old and new.  

Books were a great way in to naturally discuss behavioural and friendship issues in an easy and acceptable context. My Cat Maisie by Pamela Allen, and a book I made myself using photos of the children and our cats helped manage and redirect a spate of rough pet handling. 

Homemade books including photos of themselves were popular reading entertainment with our children. While ours were all cut-and-paste-in-photo-album-books, now, with digital advances, a book about an individual child, or family experience is an accessible option to add to any home library, giving a compelling invitation to engage with books.

Books played a powerful role in the lives of our children then and still do today. As young adults, Davy reads non-fiction while his sister reads fiction, but they’re both firmly readers in this digital age. I believe that Roxy will be a reader too, because she’s been shown the value of books and reading from the start.  

About the Author

Fiona is the Chair of Circus WOW (  which is a women's community circus based in Wollongong creating thought provoking circus and physical theatre that energetically affirms women's lives in the Illawarra with an irreverent and larrikin sense of humour. 

Circus WOW are also starting up a Mums and Bubs class which is taking enrolments NOW – CLICK HERE for the Circus WOW Facebook page for more information.

Fiona McKay is a qualified teacher with a Bachelor of Education in Primary teaching and a Master of Education and a Certificate of Teacher Librarianship. She has worked in a number of settings including as a primary school teacher, English K-6 Consultant with Department of Education, researcher, tutor and lecturer in university education programs, Teacher Librarian in primary and high school and, currently, as a teacher in an Autism Support Unit. She is also the mother of a young man with Autism.


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