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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Book Reviews by Tricia & Calvin Luker



Choose a book to begin:

I wish I could Fly Like a Bird

Community Success and Plan Your Day

Free and Appropriate Public Education (5th Edition)

The Prospector and Goal Mine

Grief Dancers

Build a Happy Family



I Wish I Could Fly Like A Bird

This book is for the birds, chickadees to be exact, and for the children and adults who can learn from them. At first we asked each other “Why are we reviewing a child’s book?” But as we read it, and listened to the tape [with the chickadee prompt to turn the page] it became clear that I Wish I Could Fly Like a Bird isn’t about kids, but about life.

The Dee family - Mom, Dad and 3 kids- lives in an oak treat at Chic’s house. The parents both work and the kids go to school. Cindy, 16, and Chaz, the youngest, peck down a quick breakfast and fly off toward the bus. Mom and Dad take turns rousing Chic who dallies behind.

Yes, Chic has what he calls a learning disability -- he can’t fly. We follow him through his day -- missed bus and bullies dropping him from the air. The whole day is a mess. And then he meets a friend . . .

This book comes with an 18 minute read along audio tape. The content -- I’m a bird with possibilities, don’t judge me by my disabilities -- is accessible to all readers and listeners. I Wish I Could Fly Like a Bird doesn’t pretend to provide resources of advanced understanding of complex issues. It’s focus on basic understanding will sensitize it’s audience. It does this well.

This story presents a novel way of looking at disabilities as differences. The author portrays having a disability as being a part of the human condition. While we imagine this book was written for family members and siblings of children with special needs it is equally appropriate for all audiences, children and adults and families with or without disabilities.

Note: We are compiling a book list sorted by topic. We will be updating this bibliographic resource on an ongoing basis. Bridges will use this and make it available to families seeking information about specific disability subjects.


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Community Success and Plan Your Day

When we were children we both remember amusing ourselves with comic books for hours. Calvin was a “Fantastic Four” and “Superman” fan while Tricia enjoyed “Archie” and “Supergirl.” As adults our initial reaction to Community Success and Plan Your Day, by the Attainment Company, was to ask why we would want to read books made up almost entirely of comic pictures.

Silly us. Indeed, silly for any parent or educator to pass up a reading selection specially designed to help children meet their own daily needs. Community Success and Plan Your Day, do just that. Using comic drawings, these reading selections accurately and completely detail the steps a child should take to complete activities of daily living.

For example, in Community Success, one task, waiting in line, is depicted in a series of eighteen pictures. The pictures walk a child through expected behavior while engaged in an activity we parents frequently take for granted. The user friendly pictures make it easy for parents, educators and care providers to tell kids in advance what to expect while waiting in a line at the bank, for instance and the pictures give talking points to emphasize the process.

We, like many parents, occasionally fall into a trap of rejecting information or materials we feel isn’t directed at us. The Attainment Company has carved a niche in the educational market by providing common sense, user focused pictorial aids to help people with special needs plan and understand daily activities. These books, as are many Attainment Company products, are designed to empower the user.

Our daughter, Jessica, used the Attainment Company’s daily planning and shopping materials for a number of years. She enthusiastically consulted her planner to see what her next planned daily activity is. Frequently, the picture prompting was all she needs.

The two selections, Community Success and Plan Your Day are self-explanatory. Community Success pictorially depicts sixty commonplace activities such as answering the door, asking for help, using an elevator, shopping for groceries and going to the dentist. Plan Your Day similarly prompts action and suggests the order in which things are done. Plan Your Day helps organize a wide range of over eighty daily activities into a manageable schedule.

When parents are looking for materials to help them understand and meet their children’s special needs, it is refreshing to know that the Attainment Company is seeking to provide key information at a level accessible to the children. These books provide direct help in a format equally accessible to children and their care providers.

We recommend these books and the format to parents and users whose impairments make the written word inaccessible. The Attainment Company’s work is a pleasant but effective reminder that neither parents nor book reviewers should judge every book (or its format) by its cover.

Both books are spiral bound. Plan Your Day is 56 pages and contains instructional material to help the care provider prepare the “Plan Your Day” user cards. Focused on time management, this book’s file cards include hour cards, time and place cards, and start and finish tabs. This volume dove tails with more comprehensive planner packs (including cards and card holder books) detailing the essential aspects of time management.

Community Success, also spiral bound is almost exclusively pictures used to educate on community based skills. The units focus on home skills and experiences, identifying types of public places and the social skills required to go grocery shopping, to restaurants, professional appointments, libraries, etc. It also pictorially discusses money management.

We would advise any parent or care provider looking for a non-verbal resource to help advance daily planning or living skills to contact the Attainment Company or Bridges for information on other Attainment Company products in this same format. The unique concept of presenting tasks through pictures is larger than the two books we have reviewed this month. We recommend this format and the Attainment Company for its effective and efficient execution of format style.

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Free and Appropriate Public Education (5th Edition)

Our first review presented what we believe is a “must carry” resource in every advocate’s briefcase; The Goal Mine and Prospector, by Don and Maureen Cahill. We are pleased to present the second book which belongs in the effective advocate’s briefcase. Free and Appropriate Public Education (5th Edition), by Rud and Ann Turnbull, is the defining legal resource for all special education advocates.

The Turnbull’s, who co-founded and co-direct the Beach Center on Families with Disability at the University of Kansas, take the cumbersome legal process that is special education and turn it into a powerful reader friendly guide to understanding special education advocacy. The book has three parts, Introduction to the Law, the six principles of IDEA, and enforcing the law. The 5th edition is updated to include the 1997 IDEA amendments.

The first part of the book places the special education struggle into an historical context, preparing the reader for the principles at the heart of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]. The Turnbull’s tell the reader where the law comes from, why it is needed and explains its power in the special education process. The reader learns what law is and how to make it work for individual students. A reader who understands why IDEA was needed in the first place will be better armed to advocate for a free appropriate public education for all students. This historical framework alone makes the book invaluable.

The second part of the Turnbull’s book focuses on the six principles of the IDEA: zero reject (including discipline); nondiscriminatory evaluation; appropriate education (including positive behavior support); least restrictive environment (access to general education); due process (including mediation); and parent participation. The Turnbull’s leave no stone unturned in detailing what families of children with disabilities have a right to expect from school administrators and teachers. The first time reader is thoroughly educated to the law and children with disability. The return reader and practicing advocate is given sophisticated information directly applicable to specific issues. The Turnbulls color each principle with the ink of history and the script of practical reality.

Rud and Ann Turnbull’s final section tells parents how to use the law to obtain a truly free appropriate education for children with special needs. They give the reader a straightforward, no nonsense discussion of how IDEA is enforced. The authors give equal emphasis to hardball legal mechanisms and emerging alternative dispute resolution practices. A parent or advocate who understands how the law really works is better able to weigh specific choices for specific children.

Free Appropriate Public Education includes comprehensive resources. This 400-page hard cover book includes the 1997 IDEA amendments; glossary; a table of important cases; and extensive excerpts from the three landmark educational rights cases.

This book is ideal for the parent who for whatever reason cannot take advantage of opportunities to attend or participate in special education trainings or conferences. It also is an invaluable resource to those parents and advocates who present training opportunities or direct advocacy to other parents and families. The book is easy to use to refresh one’s understanding of specific concepts or procedures. Finally, Free and Appropriate Public Education constantly reminds its readers and users that IDEA belongs to the families and not to the schools. It is not unreasonable for families to ask that IDEA be followed. The Turnbull’s have given families a brief case resource which lets them put reason into practice. We heartily recommend this book.

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The Prospector and Goal Mine

We parents of children with special needs must learn to navigate through many different service systems while raising our children. For most parents the school system provides the greatest challenge and requires the most effort. Federal and state laws protect the educational rights of children with special needs. But these laws are enforced through a procedural maze most parents find to be complex and unfriendly.

The Prospector and Goal Mine, by Don and Maureen Cahill, gently but effectively guide parents through the special education maze, empowering them to be strong advocates for their children’s needs. Although the authors assume readers are generally familiar with an Individualized Educational Plan [IEP], they breathe life and understanding into the core element -- goals and objectives -- of all IEP’s.

The Prospector concisely describes educational “goals” and “objectives,” and clarifies the distinctions between them. The authors walk the reader through how goals and objectives are developed and how they should be used to plan and measure a child’s educational course.

In Goal Mine, the authors apply The Prospector’s lessons in 31 educational need areas. Over 5,000 examples show what good goals and objectives look like and give readers specific goals and objectives to use on their child’s IEP. Suppose a child diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder has difficulty attending school. Goal Mine offers 51 specific goals/ objectives that promote the targeted need of improved attendance.

The Prospector and Goal Mine come in a single, spiral bound, 331-page volume. The text uses parent friendly language. Sample goals and objectives are divided into practical subject areas to make it easy for readers to find suggestions specific to their particular need.

While the special education system can overwhelm many families, The Prospector and Goal Mine’s wealth of accessible information helps ease the confusion. They are a “must carry” item in every parent’s or advocate’s educational arsenal. We highly recommend this volume.

You can order the The Prospector and Goal Mine by calling 1-800-294-2759 or visit their website at

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Grief Dancers

The Americans with Disability Act notes as one of its Congressional findings that disability is part of the human condition. We families of children who have special needs awaken every morning to the human condition and needs present in our homes. We might often wake up afraid for what the day might bring. For us, disability as a human condition translates into our lives.

As much as disability might be part of the human condition, it is not part of the dream parents have as they await the birth of their child.

“When do we first know our lives are forever changed? When do our hearts sink to our stomachs, our breaths catch in our throats, our bodies turn leaden? What do we do when we know there is nothing we can do?” Susan Zimmermann, Grief Dancers, p. 11.

Grief Dancers: A Journey Into the Depths of the Soul, is Susan Zimmermann’s diary of life inside and outside of her soul as she raised her daughter, Katherine, who has Rett Syndrome. On the surface, Zimmerman takes us through the educational process leading to her discovery and understanding of Katherine’s disability. She shares with us the daily patterning sessions Katherine endured for several years. She describes to us a daily schedule which most of us have lived and understand. Were that all that she did in Grief Dancers, Zimmermann’s description would be useful for most parents beginning life with a child with challenging disabilities.

But this book is not a “day in the life” diary. It is a journey down the jagged path of the shattered dream that cannot be reclaimed from the jungle that is life. In plain words, Zimmermann says dreams do not lead to pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But through her words Zimmermann guides us around our shattered dreams to the truth and the reality of knowing love at its basest level.

We are tempted to fill this review with poignant, insightfully cutting quotes which exemplify Zimmermann’s work. However, we cannot reprint the whole book for this review. Zimmermann’s descriptive detail cuts through to her soul’s deepest and darkest points. With surgical precision she carves out the pain, anger and frustration she felt and dissects it for all to see and to study.

She teaches us of the transition from pain to peace.

“We move beyond bitterness, beyond anger, beyond broken dreams The path winds, circling up and around. At moments we know we can’t get there. We don’t have it in us. The pain is too raw. We keep going. Finally we arrive at that place – which once felt impossibly distant – where we embrace what we didn’t choose.”
Grief Dancers, p. 107

We are quite familiar with books about process, about education, and about concrete expectations. Such books help us chart courses within the structure of what we know. Zimmermann takes us outside the world of concrete expectations and structure. Sharing her probing into her inner most pain and loss Zimmermann shows us how to connect with our pain, and from it to experience a love unknown to most. We feel like Zimmermann was looking into our own souls as she wrote it.

Grief Dancers is a book most people won’t be able to put down. It feels so personal to us we won’t loan our copy to others. It reminds us that from broken dreams and self-doubt come struggle, then understanding, then comfort and finally, a recognition of “a love not based on fulfillment of dreams.” Grief Dancers is the perfect book for families of children with disabilities..

“There are loud voices in each of us we don’t listen to. Voices that haunt us in our dreams and taunt us in our waking hours. When we have lost something precious, when our hopes have been dashed, we listen more to those voices. As we seek our way, we listen to voices we’ve spent our lives silencing. When we listen very carefully, the clamor turns to quiet and the quiet to song.” Grief Dancers, p. 201

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Build a Happy Family

Our first series of reviews have introduced books designed for a specific segment of the community of families of children who have special needs. Through our reviews we have introduced our readers to the concept of goals and objectives; special education law; sensory integration and normalizing childhood experiences. But focused discussion of specific topics does little good if we do not regularly identify and commit to our existence and role as parents. First and foremost, we want to be good and effective parents and to have a happy family, whether or not we are raising children with special needs.

Frank J. Doberman in Build A Happy Family, gives us the tools and confidence to achieve as parents. Doberman first recognizes that parenting is one part skill and one part determination. Doberman's book and video tape affirm the concept that we all can be effective and committed parents.

Doberman’s first line in the introduction says “We all want to be good parents, and most of us are.” But we parents who have children with special needs, who never expected or anticipated that our children would have disabilities, often wonder not only whether we are good parents to our children with disabilities but whether we are good parents, period. We second-guess ourselves on sibling relationships, spousal relationships, extended family relationships and community relationships. We also give little or no attention to seeing and meeting our own individual needs. Our drive to be “perfect” parents often can give our children, especially the siblings of our children with special needs, unreasonable or distorted views of family and community relationships. We all too often forget that we, ourselves, are individuals first.

On a personal level, we have been in a recently stormy relationship with Jessica’s younger sister, who just this month graduated from high school. We do not and probably won’t understand everything that has gone on to put such tension between us and her. We have been to a wonderful counselor, Paul, who has helped us tremendously. But when we talk about our sessions with Paul and our currently estranged daughter, we have come to realize that much of what Paul has taught us is effectively presented in Doberman’s book and tape. If we would have had Doberman’s resources we might not now be struggling so much with our daughter, whom we deeply love.

Doberman’s 12 basic tools of effective parenting are 1) Plan ahead; 2) Protect and nurture yourself; 3) Be consistent; 4) Create and maintain routine; 5) Downplay negative behavior; 6) Pay attention to positive behavior; 7) Shift emotions into neutral; 8) Move in close when giving directions; 9) Make Contact: eye or touch; 10) Use a firm commanding voice; 11) Be courteous: the two-to five-minute alert; and 12) Make family a priority. Doberman asserts that these might appear broad and simplistic on the surface. But what Doberman does so well is to blend these common sense tools with the concept of commitment to drive home the point that no tool is effective without consistency.

Doberman’s proactive approach to basic parenting acknowledges that effective parenting comes from developing basic skills that do not change if a child has special needs. Indeed, the consistency in parenting approach, regardless of a child’s developmental or medical needs, goes a long way toward preventing disability-based discrimination within the home. His approach becomes even more meaningful when he gives us parents both encouragement and skills to carve out our own needs and place in the family hierarchy. Parents can take care of themselves, too.

Unlike our usual reviews, this review reflects how the book has impacted us and our view of ourselves and our family. We could have spent an equal number of words lauding the wisdom and strategies Doberman shares in the book and tape. In our recent family turmoil we have been so stuck in our own guilt that until we received Paul’s help and read Doberman’s book we had no way to view ourselves except as inadequate parents. By showing you how the book has affected us, we hope you read the book for yourself and find for yourself the tools and commitment to affirm that you are good parents who justly deserve to devote some attention to yourselves.

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