November 10, 2020

Duck Days

Written by Sara Leach
Illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press
120 pp.
Ages 7-11
November 2020
Third grader Lauren who is autistic is delighted to have a real friend in Irma, a little girl who'd arrived from Sweden the year before. Still, there is still some hesitation about her first time visiting Irma at her home. A lover of routines and the predictable, Lauren is reminded by her father to "go with the flow" (pg. 10)–which she visualizes with a hand gesture that looks like waves rippling on the water–when things might not necessarily go to plan. However, though Lauren and Irma have much in common, from their interests in insects to a love of reading and Swedish meatballs, a casual statement made by Irma that her neighbour Jonas is her friend sends Lauren's mind off into a tizzy.
From Duck Days by Sara Leach, illus. by Rebecca Bender
Lauren utilizes her strategy of focusing on things she likes and her square breathing to stop herself from overreacting but she still politely refuses to play with Jonas, a fifth grader, when he invites them to join him in bike riding and trying out his obstacle course of ramps. 
From Duck Days by Sara Leach, illus. by Rebecca Bender
When all the Grade 3 students learn that they will be participating in a day-long mountain biking event at school, Lauren is unnerved, embarrassed that she still uses training wheels and convinced that she'll never be brave enough to go without. Fortunately with some very gentle nudging from her parents and Irma, a new strategy from Jonas to think like a duck and let words flow off of her like water, Lauren is able to expand her friendships, face her fears about riding her bike with training wheels at school and trying new things.

Author Sara Leach introduced young readers to Lauren, a young child living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in Slug Days (2017) and Penguin Days (2018) and, with each new story we get to celebrate Lauren's successes in developing coping strategies that give her the comfort to endure typical childhood situations from school to spending time with relatives to making new friends and keeping them. Though it's evident that Lauren becomes uncomfortable with anything that detracts from her routines primarily as a result of her ASD, Sara Leach helps young readers see that anyone can use a little help when having a hard time. Most children do better with routines and the predictable and have worries about friendships and looking foolish. So while Sara Leach helps them understand some of the challenges faced by children with ASD, she also encourages them to find coping strategies, including visualization and focusing on breathing, to help get through uncomfortable or irregular circumstances.
From Duck Days by Sara Leach, illus. by Rebecca Bender
Accompanied by the charming pencil and digitally-rendered artwork of Rebecca Bender whose illustrations have graced her own picture books like Giraffe and Bird Together Again and How Do You Feel?, Duck Days will captivate early readers with both the familiarity and distinction of Lauren's circumstances and recognize that being brave is in everyone.

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