Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
I found The Flight of a Dove through a library search on "autism" and placed a hold on it to be transferred from another branch. This book will be found in the Children's Literature Department. Author Alexandra Day had worked in Hospitals and Rehabilitation centers with a certified therapy dog and based The Flight of a Dove on a true event with a French girl who supposedly left her isolated autistic state through a flight of a dove in Wild Things Are by Gail F. Melson.
I personally am not familiar with this story and did not know anything about The Flight of a Dove before borrowing the book from the library. After observing the cover which depicts an almost doll like girl in a motionless state, I was quite surprised that The Flight of a Dove was just released in 2004.
Consisting of twenty-seven pages in a tall picture book with pastel illustrations, The Flight of a Dove is too complex for children to really comprehend. Autism is not this simplistic and will give families unrealistic expectations.
The first page is an author's note providing background information on what led to writing The Flight of a Dove. She does refer to the book as more of a fable than a true story, although based on the events of the French girl. Alexandra writes how she has witnessed miracles with children in Hospital settings when they come in contact with a therapy dog.
The Flight of a Dove follows a little girl known as Betsy to Green Meadows School where the head teacher is Mrs. Bouvier. There are various snippets on the pages showing Betsy isolated in her own world, usually sitting in a corner. Her mother Jeanne explains how Betsy does not eat solid food, makes hissing and clicking sounds while sitting still for hours.
Sometimes the illustrations show Betsy's eyes closed, her hands stiff by her side or clenched fists. Sometimes she is even barefooted. Her condition is mentioned as being extreme. Eventually over time Betsy would eat crackers while at Green Meadows School and play with blocks. Betsy made the same patterns with cards and when the teacher would turn away she would change the patterns.
The Flight of a Dove seemed to jump around a bit without any explanation of why Betsy preferred to do things a certain way, and how this is typical of children on the Autism Spectrum. Children with autism play the same way with their toys, lining items up or sorting in a particular sequence. One illustration has the teacher's one-year old daughter babbling beside Betsy as the baby tried to get closer. Finally someone removed the baby, but why was a teacher's baby at the school in the first place? This seemed a bit bizarre to me with no rhyme or reason.
The Flight of a Dove introduces the resident animals - a cat, two rabbits and a parrot. The animals were popular with the other children, but clearly Betsy was uncomfortable around these animals. Seasons changed with Betsy now being at the school for one year.
"Her mother's heart was heavy with discouragement and self-reproach. Had she done wrong to insist on this school? Could she have prevented her daughter's original withdrawal into such a terrible state? Even the teachers wee reluctantly coming to the conclusion that, with all their knowledge, skill, and patience, they could not help this child."
Up to this point nowhere in The Flight of a Dove does the reader see this knowledge they supposedly have, there is no discussion of Doctors, visits with therapists or really understanding and patience. Instead they are pushing a baby into the girl's space and bringing animals around her when she is visibly upset by the changes taking place.
Then the reader comes upon dark brown pages where Betsy is sitting on the floor with no socks or shoes and a dove enters the room. "Like spring coming to a frozen landscape, her rigid face softened and Betsy smiled." The next day Betsy was imitating the sounds of the dove and reaching out to touch it.
Another day Betsy seems to be the only one in a classroom with a teacher and kissing the Dove. Then Betsy started allowing the other animals to close to her and she became involved with the other children in games that meant dancing and holding hands with other children and the teacher.
"Becky's lack of language still worried everyone. She was now four and a half years old and had never made anything but very primitive noises." It is a shame that the author did not utilize this moment to mention autism or how many other children are nonverbal. The use of other forms of communication or proper terminology was not explored, but miraculously without any intervention but a dove Betsy one day said Mommy.
I am really not sure who the targeted audience is for The Flight of a Dove, and feel the book takes us back to the dark ages in keeping quiet about autism. The author has no experience with autism and makes it seem very easy to overcome and magical at that.
I personally would not want classmates of either of my children to peruse through The Flight of a Dove and think this is what my children are like. Readers with knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders will know that Betsy depicts traits of autism, yet it is not mentioned within the pages of The Flight of a Dove.
The illustrations showcase the isolation at first in the darker colors and stillness at the school. Yet once the dove enters the classroom the vibrant colors take over. Even the clothing on Betsy seems to be more appropriate as she enjoys the classroom more.
This is a book I would not purchase as the parent of two children on the Autism Spectrum. The cover of the book rubs me the wrong way, as well as how the girl says Mommy at the end. This book could really depress parents when they find that this is not the norm with children on the Autism Spectrum and create false hope.
Clearly not a book for families who just received a diagnosis of autism. Use caution when sharing with children who might have siblings and/or relatives on the Spectrum and wonder why their family member does not respond magically like Betsy did.
The Flight of a Dove is available at Amazon
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