Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. Currently Available.
Genre: Middle Grade Nonfiction
Face Value: I have major font love for this book. It’s a biography, so the cheerful picture of Temple among her beloved cattle is fitting. It’s the typography, however, that sets it apart. A lot of biographies in the juvenile non-fiction section look old and outdated, even if they were published recently. This book has a contemporary design that will attract young readers.
Does it break the slate? Yes, definitely. The subject of this biography is Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who is famous for her innovative industrial designs for livestock facilities. Temple is all sorts of Slatebreaking, not only for being an advocate for those on the autism spectrum, but also for being notable and respected in a male dominated field. Temple had to endure a lot of ridicule in her life and every time she has come through it to show how successful someone can be even if their brain works in a different way than most others.
Who would we give it to? The language of the book would also make it a great selection for any young reader who has a sibling, friend, or fellow student on the spectrum and would like to learn more about what that means. It’s also written with readers on the autism spectrum in mind (Temple Grandin has a section of advice for kids on the spectrum at the end of the book.) This is also a book that you should give to every animal-loving child you know. Seriously.
Review: I am surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. It has nothing to do with Temple. I already admired her, knew a bit about her life story, and respected her advocacy for animals and people on the autism spectrum. But I am not an animal lover. I just don’t form emotional bonds with animals in the way that others do. I’ve never had a pet, I didn’t grow up around animals, and it’s just not a part of my life. So, I think that Sy Montgomery deserves credit for writing a book that is so much about love for animals that even I, someone apathetic to animals, can find deeply engaging.
Montgomery has a lot to juggle in this short biography for young readers. She has to tell the story of Temple’s life, describe Temple’s work with livestock animals in detail, and also work in details about autism spectrum disorders. And she accomplishes all three of these tasks with style. I was so impressed at the clarity of language with which Montgomery described Temple’s own sensory quirks, as well as the way she explains the concepts of autism and neurodiversity in a way that young readers can easily understand.
Montgomery is careful to not make generalizations about autism. When she describes Temple’s experiences, she will include caveat statements that not all people on the autism spectrum experience the world in that same way. Rather than using Temple Grandin as the generalized example of someone living with autism, Temple is presented as a window into the world of ASD.
In every chapter, there was something new I learned about Temple that left me agape with awe at just how stunning she is. I knew about her squeeze machine, but the process of how it came into being was much more laborious and intricate than I ever could have imagined. I was also so impressed with the way she dealt with rude livestock workers who treated her like crap for being a woman with a different way of seeing the world. They spread animal body parts on her car. And she just turned on the windshield wipers and came back the next day. Her resilience is inspiring. Temple experienced years of panic attacks and self-doubt, yet she has emerged as a leader in her field. Reading about Temple put things into perspective. When I have a bad day at work I act like my world is ending, and that’s just utter nonsense. Perseverance is key.
I loved this book, and I have only a marginal understanding of animals or livestock. For someone who is passionate about animals, this book would be an amazing reading experience. Spread the word and get this book into the hands of young readers who will appreciate it. I want people to know about this book. It cannot languish in the biography section, only to be read when someone is assigned the genre for a book report. Booktalk this one, folks. It is outstanding.
Reviewed from library copy.