An Aspie Perspective On 5 Classic Children’s Books

No storyteller has ever been able to dream up anything as fantastically unlikely as what really does happen in this mad Universe. ~Robert Heinlein

My apologies first of all to my regular readers. I’ve been drained recently by several outside forces completely beyond my control: family visiting from out of town, most of whom are energy-sucker extraverts, some unusually warm and humid weather for early May, and the fact that I’m still getting over my “breakup” with H.M. Murdock. I’ve not been in much of a writing mood. But, since P&Q won’t write itself, I press on. I find a topic on which I always have something to say and go with it.

Since I read obsessively, work in a library, and never seem to write about books, I’m pulling some of my old favorites out for a closer look. One thing I’ve learned over many years of reading is that “children’s” books are not always just for children. They can be political or spiritual allegories (Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia books, for example), exercises in meditation (The Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie-the-Pooh), cautionary tales slyly aimed at adults (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Series of Unfortunate Events.) Plus, the stories are usually more entertaining and there are often accompanying pictures and maps.

Everyone argues over what’s a classic. The following half dozen titles are some of my favorites which have stood the test of time and are also widely read. They’re the types of books that still get checked out by today’s hyper-wired generation of kids though they were first written many years ago. I’d love to hear back from readers as to some of their own personal “classics.” Hey, if you hated reading one or more of these books in school, I’d love to hear that too. In no particular order:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)

Some readers are more partial to Wonderland or Oz…I’ll take the pun-filled, offbeat Kingdom of Wisdom over either. It has been said that some Aspies are literalists who “don’t get” hyperbole, metaphor, or anything that isn’t as subtle as a pie in the face. I’d actually recommend The Phantom Tollbooth as a way for NTs to better understand Aspies. It’s a book full of unforgettable images (which is how many Aspies think: in pictures), plays on words, unintentional gaffes of language, and wisecracking talking creatures.The plot is pretty simple: a bored kid named Milo takes a trippy journey into a kingdom whose denizens, right-brain and left-brain, AS and NT, are at war over a simple misunderstanding. More than any other book I can name, it also explores the need to think outside traditional limitations and conquer the boredom of the soul. I don’t know too many children today who would really “get” this book, or many adults, for that matter. For those who took the time (in the form of Tock, the Watch-Dog, perhaps) they would find it to be a richly rewarding, moving experience.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)

No, I haven’t seen the 2009 film version of this perennial classic, and I don’t plan to. It can’t duplicate visually for me what the book does on its own. In some of the reviews, I heard it mentioned that this book is a visual metaphor for an autistic child in an NT household. Max, in his wolf suit, is a kid with a healthy imagination and a connection to a more animal side. (That might suggest AS to some, as it does to me.) Consider that the book was written long before AS became widely known. Max has obviously had enough of his mundane life, or at least its rules and social norms. He sails to the Land of the Wild Things and becomes their king. But, when the time is right, he decides that maybe home isn’t such a bad place to be. I was fascinated by the cool illustrations growing up and continue to be today. Whether the book is actually about AS or not, it’s about imagination being able to take us places when time and money otherwise won’t allow travel.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

No list like this would be complete without my including a) a Victorian novel, as children’s literature as we know it was born in that era, and b) a book about horses. Black Beauty is the first and among the best of the horse books. Because it is told from the point of view of the horse, the reader finds it easier to sympathize with the animals when they encounter cruel owners. Aspies, of course, often have a special connection with animals and can, to some extent, communicate with them. (I’m sure Temple Grandin would enjoy the book, for example.) Also, because Aspies are often unable to express their true needs to NTs, we can empathize with the title horse, a noble animal who changes hands as the years go by and finds that some humans are kind and some are terribly vile.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (1960)

While I have no evidence that Dr. Seuss was an Aspie, he sure as hell provided a lot of inspiration for me growing up. This is by far my favorite of his many classics. It works on several different levels. The book, a product of a bet in which Seuss’ editor wagered the author could not write a book using only 50 words, is hilarious as a tale of “try it, you’ll like it.” The illustrations always made me giggle when I was little…check out that train going in the drink, and the passengers just smiling blandly as if nothing is wrong. Now that I’m older, I laugh at the Aspie-like behavior of little Sam, who is insistent as hell that the other main character (who is unnamed) try green eggs and ham. That’s a fixation if I ever saw one. He has no real reason for doing so, but he’s just a tenacious little bastard anyway. And I’d still like to know where he got a goat and a fox on such short notice. Maybe he’s as resourceful as other Aspies when they really, really want something.

Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)

Here’s a book I actually read when it first was published. I’d read most of Dahl’s other works (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being my favorite) and loved them. This book was the perfect one at the perfect time in my life. It’s about a very smart little girl, who lives with ignorant parents, who goes to a school run by a tyrannical headmistress. Little Matilda, who maintains an angelic exterior, manages to get even with all the terrible adults in her life through her cunning, wit, and Carrie-like psychokinetic powers. She reads classical literature while her peers learn multiplication tables. It’s not a stretch for me to see this story as a kind of wish-fulfilling revenge fantasy for all the Aspies who were relentlessly tormented in school.

I may in time post another of these…there are just so many books and so little time. Some of my honorable mentions, for those of you who were wondering (and yes, as a librarian, I heartily recommend all these titles)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Just Me and My Mom/Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer

Redwall Series by Brian Jacques

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katharine Paterson

The Grannyman by Judith Schachner

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry

(Reminder: don’t forget to click the “Like” button if you enjoyed this post and subscribe to P&Q!)


~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on May 11, 2011.

One Response to “An Aspie Perspective On 5 Classic Children’s Books”

  1. So many of these titles are on my great list as well. My all time favorite being the whole Wrinkle series. I love M. L’engle so much that I started a blog using a devotional of hers as my framework.

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abandonen toda esperanza aquellos que entren aqui


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