The space we're in by Katya Balen

cover image

Illus. by Laura Carlin. Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781526610942.
(Age: Mid upper primary +) Highly recommended. Katya Balen's The Space We're In is a moving story about autism. The behaviours and the situations experienced by Max and his family members are perceptively painted. It would be a hard-hearted reader who could remain unmoved.
Autism is grounded in the life and world, universe and cosmos. It is a book about love, acceptance and joy. It's about where we all fit in and how love binds us together - that we are all made of stardust - and somehow everything makes sense like the existence of the Golden Ratio.
The story is told from the perspective of ten year old Frank. He is initially embarrassed by and ashamed of his brother, five year old autistic Max. He loves and protects Max but (before he learns to be proud) he joins others who deride Max. As if life isn't hard enough, his family is knocked for six with further tragedy. Somehow love prevails through time and the care of steadfast friends, family and community.
I want to lend this book to friends with autistic children. I want teachers to read this book to classes to build an empathy for disability and the lived experiences of families. It's a searingly sad but uplifting book. It helps us to understand our own part in community.
There is a lot a teacher could do with this book. Frank has an affinity for numbers. Code permeates the book. When deciphered, it forms chapter headings, which make a lot of sense e.g. meltdown, sorry, joy, fury, magic, wild, fight, treasure. A wordle created from the vocabulary would capture the essence of living with disability. Text to text background reading for children and teachers are Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt.
The illustrations by Laura Carlin, including quirky fonts and layouts, are in themselves, a soft and subtle visual journey that travels with the storyline.
Wendy Jeffery