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Growing up in a small Scottish village, 11-year-old Addie is used to being treated differently. She loves books, sharks, her personalised pocket thesaurus and her older sister Keedie, who understands what it’s like to struggle every day. Addie and Keedie have more than being sisters in common. They’re also both autistic but now that Keedie has gone to college, Addie’s missing her ally – the one person who gets how she feels and how her mind works; who understands that the world isn’t designed for neurodivergent children like them.

When Addie’s teacher announces that they’ll be studying witchcraft and the real-life ‘witches’ tried and executed in Old Edinburgh, Addie is instantly fixated on the subject. The more she learns, the more upset and outraged she is about how these women were treated simply because they were ‘different’. Feeling a kinship with them, Addie begins campaigning for a memorial in their memory. But her town still isn’t ready to remember or honour the women in the respectful manner that Addie feels they deserve. She’s determined to fight for what she knows is right, even if it means stepping out of her comfort zone.

“I search through my mind, wondering which neurotypical performance I need to try and get right. What do I need to do to communicate to them how important this is? I’ve given everyone eye contact, I’ve made sure that my voice goes up and down with lots of expression. I’ve done everything that they always want from me, what more can I do?”

Writing from personal experience, Elle McNicoll tells a heart-warming and tender story of what it’s like to be an autistic child trying to make sense of the world, whilst at the same time making sense of their own thoughts and feelings. It’s filled with such warmth and empathy, which could only come through having shared in Addie’s experience. Addie is a victim of bullies – not just her peers but her teacher too, whose old school methods of ‘teaching’ and her bigoted perspective make Addie’s life even more difficult. It’s devastating to read but Addie’s fierce perseverance is uplifting too.

If ever there was a children’s book that made you stop and consider how you perceive and treat people who aren’t neurotypical, the outsiders who don’t fit into the outdated idea of ‘normality’, this is it. A Kind of Spark is an advocate of tolerance, understanding and compassion – and that’s such an important message to send to the young people who will hopefully go on to make the world a kinder, fairer, more accepting place. With books like this, a better future feels possible.

★★★★★

A Kind of Spark was published by Knights Of on 4 June 2020

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