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Book Review – George and Sam by Charlotte Moore

Published in 2003, George and Sam is a record of family life with two autistic boys, hugely different from one another, along with one “neurotypical” child. Charlotte Moore, the boys’ mum, is an excellent writer, a writer first (with an Observer column), who has a wealth of home experience to talk about. Her recollections are funny, touching and extremely thought provoking, for parents and therapists alike.

Her descriptions of her boys define the range of autistic behaviours that I have experienced in practice. Like many of the parents of autistic children that I have worked with, she is forever worrying about what makes for ‘normal’ and trying to minimise her children’s stress. She doesn’t want them ‘stimming’ all day, but she also doesn’t want them to be ‘programmed’ to the hilt, or to have empty lives.

One aspect of the book is her description of the various therapies and approaches that she tried with the boys. These included:

  • Auditory Integration Therapy – which she says was helpful for George, but not for Sam. Her reference gives for this, but that doesn’t seem to be up anymore – try here instead.
  • Applied Behavioural Analysis – which she says she wishes she’d started earlier for both of the children. There is more information at She also calls it ‘Verbal Behaviour Therapy’
  • Dietary intervention – the GF/CF diet, for which the main reference given is the Luke Jackson book.
  • She often mentions the ‘central coherence’ model, which is the rationale behind the ‘Visualising and Verbalising’ programme.

My interests are naturally on the linguistic side, and as such we have in this book some brilliant, sparkling gems of autistic thought and language such as the following.

George’s obscure lyricism:

  • What have you been doing today George? ‘Watching the shadows dance’ (music and movement session).
  • George, pulling out the slimy slice of dill pickle from a hamburger and saying ‘mum, this is my conscience’.

George’s fantastically intelligent delayed echolalia:

  • Pointing at his mum and saying ‘she was a wonderful writer, artist and countrywoman’ – picked straight out of a Beatrix Potter biopic.
  • Saying ‘he jumped into the bath with a tremendous splash’ as he did exactly that.

Sam’s habit of spotting visual correspondences:

  • Regarding a plate of tagliatelle, he said ‘I like seatbelts, mmm, ‘licious’.

Literal interpretations running wild.

  • Charlotte eventually came to the conclusion that one of the reasons George was not eating was because adults were telling him that eating food would make him big and strong. He did not want to change at all.

Top ten lift-the-flap books

I love lift-the-flap books. I use them in small groups to develop the children’s turn-taking, attention and interaction skills. That flap also gives the children a nice, concrete bit of bang, there it is, naming to do or to listen to. In one-to-one, on an adult’s lap, the flaps can help to sustain a wriggly child’s flagging attention. Pop-ups do the same kind of thing, as do noisy books, and books with textures, like the ones that can be found in the the mindless ‘That’s not my…’ series, published by Ladybird. Personally, though, I am a flap man.

I have trawled through high-street upon high-street of desolate, murky second-hand shops so that you don’t have to. Most of the books in this top-ten can still be bought new. For those that are no longer in print, I recommend (and link to) Abebooks – they have better book descriptions than Amazon Marketplace, and the books are usually cheaper. The links to buy the books are coloured red.

10 – The Three Little Pigs (Nick Sharratt)

Nick Sharratt and Stephen Tucker’s version of the Three Little Pigs is about as funny as a lift-the-flap book is ever going to get. It’s a tale of rural poverty – the desperate little pigs are edged out of the family home by new siblings on page one, with just a piece of fruit and a toothbrush in each of their bags to sustain them. Off they go to make their houses, in the time-honoured manner.

Meanwhile, the wolf paces around his kitchen. We are able to look into his tragically empty fridge and cupboards. You will actually feel sorry for him as he goes about his campaign of terror. This book is probably more of a four-year old’s book than a three-year old’s book, especially if you’re going to get all of the rhyming couplets understood, but most children would be able to get something out of it, as long as you can let them take the lead.

9 – Where’s Rusty? (Stephen Cartwright)

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Stephen Cartwright died tragically young in 2004, leaving behind at least a couple of generations of unknowing acolytes, who never really got to thank him for all the work he did for Usborne books, like the perfectly sedate Farmyard Tales books with Heather Amery, and the magnificent First Thousand Words, with that little yellow duck hiding somewhere in among the chaos.  

This book has Rusty the dog as the star. It’s a bit of a run of the mill ‘where’s x’ affair, but you really can’t go wrong with Cartwright’s drawings.

8 – Zoom and Fly Mr Croc (Jo Lodge) 

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I don’t actually own this book. And it’s more of a pop-up book than a lift-the-flap book. Other than that, it’s a shoe-in!

The Mr Croc series had to be included somewhere – they’re high quality and very popular. The simple scenes depict Mr Croc doing something related to that book’s theme (e.g. getting dressed, impersonating other animals, doing some sport). Either the page pops out as you open it or there is a tab that you or your child can pull to animate the scene in a novel manner. The book I’ve included here has a aeronautical theme – they all looked good to me in Waterstones though. These books are heavy on the verbs – great for children who are starting to combine their words together into short phrases.

7 – Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

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The daddy of the genre. Some of these animals are a bit on the niche side for very little ones (camel and tortoise spring to mind) but they all have great characters which you can act out together after you have discovered them under their flaps. I find the idea of the story inherently rather complex (the boy wants a present, the zoo send a series of animals which make for inappropriate pets for one reason or another) but children can enjoy the story at all sorts of levels. And the doggy at the end is particularly cute. This book comes in mini board book form, as well as a larger paper version.

6 – The Big Book of Crazy Mix-ups (Nick Sharratt)

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I know I’m getting a bit flexible here with the definition of a lift-the-flap book, but in my defence, this book is quite flappy. Just as with its sister tome, Ketchup on Your Cornflakes, Sharratt has cut the page in two in order to bring about a vast potential for incongruity. This one is the better of the two, for me, by virtue of the jellycopter alone. You do not have to be a particularly silly person, to have some fantastically silly thoughts to share with your little person, using this highly facilitating book. It is a bit like a distillation of the atmosphere of a childhood spent with Spike Milligan as your father (just the nice bits though).

5 – Maisy Goes to the Playground (Lucy Cousins)

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I wasn’t sure about Maisy at first, all those shaky lines just looked a little condescending to me. However, the content of this series of pop-up and pull the tab books is very well-thought out indeed. This one in particular has loads of ingenious tabs, more than one per page at times, that animate the pictures in such a way as to capture that all-too-elusive verb vocabulary. The only problem with these books is that when they break, you have to take the pages apart to get to the workings to sellotape them back together.

4 – Ping and Polo Playtime (Jo Lodge)

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Smaller again than the Maisy books, and much, much hardier, these are specifically designed for very little hands to hold. According to the reviews on amazon, the best of the series is the Peekaboo title, which I haven’t actually seen. I can see why, because the peekaboo page is the best in this title. The four other pages show the penguin and the polar bear doing nursery-related things together, their endeavours animated by means of tabs embedded in the cardboard. This book is just too sweet for words.

3 – Buster’s Birthday (Rod Campbell)

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Unlike Dear Zoo and Oh Dear, which are well-distributed, you might be excused for not knowing about this book – it’s not very prominent in the bookshops I look in. There is no confusing narrative underlying this one, the child just gets to reveal some presents on behalf of Buster. There is a superb clarity to Rod Campbell’s illustrations through all of his work, and this book is no exception. The final present is an actual thing – open up the flap top and bottom to reveal a living, breathing book within a book. This basically makes Buster’s Birthday Rod Campbell’s Hamlet.

2 – Where’s Spot (Eric Hill)

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It’s a tale that resonates through the ages – little dog goes missing, little dog’s dinner time is due, big dogs search for little dog, big dogs find little dog, little dog eats his dinner, the natural order is restored. But what of this Spot character? Is he hiding, or has he somehow managed to get himself trapped in that basket? What is his motivation? We await the memoir. Until then, all we have is this document.

Not all Spot flap books are as good as this. In the Farmyard one, for example, we have Spot rather confusingly searching for some baby animals to play with, some of the flaps just cover up text, which is no fun at all, and he actually finds two sets of baby animals in the end, to no great effect. It’s deeply unsatisfying. This one on the other hand is pretty much perfect, just as long as your little one can stomach another dose of animal vocab. Just like ‘Dear Zoo’ you have to choose between a poky 15 cm board book version, or a 20 cm paperback. If you’re feeling adventurous, the edition published in 2000, which can only be purchased secondhand, is a 20 cm hardback.

1 – Where are Teddy’s Shoes (Belinda Gallagher)

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Why aren’t there more books like this? Look at teddy on the cover! He’s got no clothes on! Just a bow tie! It is an absolute scandal. We must get some clothes on him. So we follow him around the house as he puts on his trousers, shirt, socks, jumper, jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. All of these have been placed in slightly awkward places around the house. One cannot decide whether teddy is either engaging in acts of self-sabotage, or if he just has to do this to properly wake himself up in the morning.

I jest, and I shouldn’t because this is the most beautiful book I have ever used with children and it demands respect. It is part of a small series, but it seems to me as though the other books are more to do with letters and numbers than everyday life like this one. Get this book (secondhand) – I promise you won’t regret it.

One for luck – Maisy’s Show (Lucy Cousins)

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More tab-pulling nonsense from Lucy Cousins – this one didn’t make it into the list because I only wanted to put one book in from each character, and this Maisy book seems to me to stimulate vocab that is less useful than the vocab in the playtime book (spinning, dancing, disappearing, bouncing ball, etc). This book is pure, demented theatre though, and comes highly recommended.