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Book review: Friends Are…? by  Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

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friendsFriends Are…? by  Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan is not just a good story to read to a child, but also a fantastic educational tool. The author touches on fourteen very important social skills in the form of friendship rules that are easily reinforced and recalled through rhyme. Because they are all set to verse, these rules can be reviewed in many forms, as a poem, song or chanting the lyrics to create a rap tune!

Written by a loving grandmother to help her grandson on the autism spectrum make friends, this book and the previous five others in this series, are a true labor of love. The content for these informative children’s books was generated by the author’s desire to help her grandson with the questions he posed or a challenge he was experiencing.

What is great about this book is that it can be read to any child, on or off the autism spectrum. These friendship rules apply to all! And the beautiful illustrations by Jennifer Lackgren really make the book enticing–how can anyone not be drawn to those most adorable and colorful characters!

Each friendship rule has it’s own title, making them stand out and easy to find. At the end of the book each rule is listed again on a checklist that encourages active participation from the parent and child to practice them. The Friendship Rules Checklist is my favorite, because this interactive aspect of the book challenges the child to master these skills in real life.

Wideman’s book has three other extras that make this book more than just a story.

–       She includes a Note to Parents at the end to remind them that these skills often do not come naturally to a child on the autism spectrum, and repetition in many forms is crucial to have them take hold. The mention of her grandson, and the history of how the book evolved, give the book an authenticity that other parents can relate to.

–       For children who may not understand some of the words used in the book, she added a word list/glossary at the back. These bigger words are listed in alphabetical order just like in a dictionary. Looking up words at the end of a book that the reader may not grasp is a great pre-teaching tool for using an actual dictionary or researching words online.

–      I’m happy to see the continuation of the “Where’s Waldo” theme that was included in the previous five books in this series. It invites the reader to become a detective and engages them in looking for items hidden within the illustrations. The other precious tidbit that I am privy to is that the hidden red sports shoe you find throughout the book was drawn by the author’s grandson himself. Now how unique and endearing is that!

This book is such a great learning instrument because it speaks to various learning styles–all reinforcing the other for optimal learning. It appeals to the visual learner, the auditory one, and the inclusion of the Check List adds a kinesthetic component as well. And as previously mentioned, the musical could be addressed as well. This is what I call a fun way to learn!

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