- Author – Pat Mervine
- # of Pages – 26
- *includes illustrations
How Katie Got a Voice (and a Cool New Nickname) is a story told by a fourth grade classmate of Katie, the new girl in school. Everyone in the school has a nickname related to individual interests and personalities. When Katie comes into the class, the students are eager to involve her in their activities and to learn what is special about her. This proves to be quite a challenge. Katie has significant physical disabilities. How can Katie fit in with her classmates when she can’t even talk? When Katie is introduced to assistive technology, she is finally able to communicate with her new friends. As a result, the students are delighted to see her as a person with many interests and abilities, just like them. Katie knows she is a valued member of the school when she is given her own special nickname.
Just like its theme, there is a very special concept that differentiates between this book and many other books for young readers. Most times stories written for young kids try to emphasize the idea that being different is okay, and go against the idea of herd mentality – a term that describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. In this case, the book’s starting point is that everyone is different. Miguel, nicknamed “The Punster,” makes up nicknames for kids and staff at school based on what makes them unique (such as Picasso the painter or Tunes the music lover). When Katie shows up he can’t figure out a name for her since she can’t… do anything. Katie doesn’t move or play or talk. She just laughs and looks around. Usually, Katie would be the “special” one, as we often use the word “special” in a negative connotation to hint at disabled kids. However, here her disability specifically is not considered an issue with the kids, they just can’t figure out how to include her in the group. After explaining the issue to her teacher Katie gets sent to a speech therapist, and eventually is connected to a machine that allows her to draw, play music and even talk! The kids, by turn, exclaim out loud that Katie can now participate in their hobbies – reading, painting, playing music, and even cheerleading for the sports team. Now, when they can get to know her, Katie can be given a nickname as well, one that showcases, of course, her uniqueness.
The book How Katie Got a Voice takes a very delicate subject and handles it beautifully. It shows kids that being unique is important, and it also teaches skills such as asking for help and including everyone in the group. When the kids don’t know how to play with Katie or share their hobbies with her they turn to a teacher for help. They don’t avoid Katie, or the problem at hand, and instead choose to actively search for a solution. They want to be able to hang out with their new friend, even if she’s unlike any other kid they’ve met, because that’s what makes kids cool – being different. Moreover, the book had both male and female characters. Many books these days don’t have enough important female characters with actual lines and importance, and so it’s important to start writing well developed characters for both genders in books aimed at kids and young children.
The book’s last pages include some simple tips for kids when dealing with people with disabilities, such as not staring at them or asking about their condition unless they bring it up first. The tips explain that even when someone needs an interpreter or assistant to communicate, you should speak to the person and not the companion, and most importantly, be patient. The author’s website includes a PowerPoint presentation called “Katie’s Lesson in Disability Etiquette,” aimed to help teachers introduce students to the topic.
In conclusion, this is a very good book for kids. It’s relatively short and easy to read, allowing young kids to read it themselves. The illustrations are colorful and very pretty. More importantly, the book deals with many important subjects that parents often don’t know how to bring up with their kids. How Katie Got a Voice can assist parents and teachers in introducing these topics and starting discussions about them with their children. I highly recommend the book both for reading at home, and for reading in class.
*I received a free copy of this book from Story Cartel in exchange for my honest review.