Kate Foster, Paws, Walker Books, April 2021, 240 pp., RRP $19.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760652661
Alex is an 11-year-old boy who loves playing computer games, drawing, the colour blue and dogs; especially his pet cocker spaniel poodle, Kevin. Alex is also a boy with autism. He doesn’t like loud noises, hard crunchy foods, and finds it difficult to understand what other people are feeling.
Paws is written from Alex’s point of view and each chapter counts down the days to the ‘Paws dog show’ event that is coming to Alex’s home-town. He is so looking forward to it, but in the meantime, he ‘has to’ complete map 5 in ‘Tunnels of Disaster and Doom’, run fast enough to make the districts team, and win a trophy with Kevin at the ‘Paws dog show’. All so he can make a “real-life friend”. However, Alex’s plans don’t go quite as he expected as he faces numerous challenges along the way.
Kate Foster depicts the firsthand experiences of someone with autism very well. I really enjoyed reading Paws from a first-person perspective, and I believe it would give any reader a real sense of understanding and empathy for people with autism. Simple things that a person who is non-autistic may not otherwise consider, for instance when Alex is not able to pass a level in a computer game, he experiences immense emotional difficulty in not getting something ‘right’. These insights into the life of a person with autism help build a realistic picture that goes beyond stereotypes and encourages acceptance of difference.
This story has such great heart with the underlying theme of the importance of quality relationships in Alex’s life. There are lovely moments throughout of the unconditional love and comfort of his pet dog, the kindness and understanding of some of his classmates and teachers, and the acceptance and friendship of a new neighbour. So, despite the challenges that autism presents for Alex, his family and friends, there is a focus on the positive attributes he has as a person, especially with the right support and understanding around him.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone over the age of nine as a great fictional read that skilfully incorporates knowledge and understanding around the topic of autism.
Reviewed by Julie Bertola