October 9, 2013

Book Review: How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname) by Patricia L. Mervine

Cover Art
Title: "How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)"
Author: Patricia L. Mervine, M.A., CCC-SLP
Illustrator: Ian Acker
Publisher: Trafford Publishing, 2012

I had the honor of being asked by Patricia L. Mervine to review her book, "How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)" in observance of International AAC Awareness month. For those of you who aren't aware, Pat is the moderator of the website Speaking of Speech, an invaluable resource for SLPs.

The story follows the narrator, Miguel, who is a student at Cherry Street Elementary. He and the other students at his school celebrate each others' differences and idiosyncrasies by holding a nickname that speaks to their unique skills. For example, Brandon, who collects bugs, is lovingly known as 'Bugsy', Giovanni, who likes to tell jokes is called, 'The Jokester', and so on. Miguel and his classmates are thrown for a loop when a new student, Katie, joins their fourth grade classroom. Katie is different from her peers in that she is wheelchair-bound, can't move her arms or legs, and can't say any words. Katie gets by with the help of her one on one aide and her low-tech communication book. Although Miguel and his classmates have a desire to include Katie in their daily activities, they are struggling to figure out how to do so successfully due to her disability. This is when the school's SLP comes to the rescue...  with her help, Katie soon learns how to communicate using an electronic AAC device and the author cleverly illustrates how Katie is able to emulate all of the special skills of her classmates using her newfound tool. In the end, Katie receives her very own nickname -- I won't tell what it is - I don't want to spoil the surprise :). 

"How Katie Got a Voice" is a heartwarming story about acceptance and individual differences, and is a great tool for promoting AAC awareness and tolerance. This makes it a wonderful story to read with students, especially if you have AAC users at your site.

This book is available for purchase directly from the SoS website ($16 includes S&H and an autograph) and on Amazon ($17.61 + S&H) And for all of you tablet fans out there, there are versions for iPad and Kindle available, as well.

So far I have read this book with two of my groups in speech therapy: one group consisted of four 4th/5th graders with language goals, and the second group consisted of four 3rd/5th graders with articulation goals. We do not have any AAC users at our school, so it was a novel concept to them, and a positive way to build their awareness of this population. We talked about how despite Katie's physical limitations she is still aware of her surroundings and we spent a lot of time discussing how it might feel being unable to communicate effectively.

I prepared a short activity to illustrate the point: I brought index cards, each of which had a Boardmaker picture and a basic need written onto it, for example, "I am thirsty", "I have a stomachache", "I want candy" (okay, this may no be a basic need for most, but it is for me!), etc. Each student then took turns pretending to be Katie: they looked at one of the cards and then had to communicate to their peers what they needed without using gestures or their words. They were only allowed to smile, blink, turn their heads, and grunt. This is where I made an interesting observation: the students with language deficits just sat there, looking helpless and awkward. They simply had no clue how to possibly get the point across. On the other hand, my articulation students with average language skills devised some really clever strategies: one student tried to communicate "I am thirsty" by intently staring at the blue shirt of her peer. Another student attempted to communicate "I want candy" by staring at the "Granny's Candies" game on my shelf. Despite these students' creativity, none of them was able to get their peers to guess what they needed. This activity was a great way of illustrating the frustrations of communicative limitations.

The story was received well by my students, they asked thoughtful questions and afterwards I felt I had successfully broadened their view of the world. We discussed that throughout their lifespans they would likely come across individuals like Katie, and should meet them with patience and kindness.

If you are planning to read this book with your students, I would recommend that you allot approximately 45-60 minutes to allow for sufficient discussion time. I had initially planned on 30 minutes, but it was barely enough time to read the book (especially with my language group, since there are focus issues and redirection was needed), so we extended our session. Also, including an activity as I did will be helpful to those students who are unable to focus for extended periods of time. We took a small break from reading the book to do the activity around the point where Katie was introduced and her classmates were unsure of how to include her.

There are additional resources related to this book available on Pat's website, including a discussion guide that I used to jumpstart some of the conversations with my students. "How Katie Got a Voice" is definitely a book that shouldn't be missing from an SLPs library.

1 comment:

  1. What a clever and insightful way to engage your students in the theme of the book. Brilliant!