Monday, October 7, 2013

The Real Boy Blog Tour - Oscar

Several months ago I was blessed enough to receive an early copy of Anne Ursu's The Real Boy. I read the opening chapters and immediately fell in love with Oscar. While never stated in the book, I felt certain that Oscar had Asperger's. In my fourteen years of teaching in my current district, I have taught many children with Autism or Asperger's. What I saw in Oscar was my students. It wasn't that Asperger's defined Oscar, just that it was part of who he was but not all that he was. 

In July I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Anne at an ALA gathering for Walden Pond Press. When I thanked her for creating this character of Oscar and told her how many of my students I could see in him, she shared that she has a son who has Asperger's. Today I asked Anne if she would visit my blog, share the inspiration for Oscar, and maybe what we can all take away from this beautiful book. Here's is Anne - and Dash's - story.

Oscar is not my son; where Oscar hides himself in the cellar of the magician’s shop preparing herbs, Dash would be running around, knocking the tinctures on the floor. Dash is all energy and wants desperately to be with people. But like Oscar, he has no idea how.

My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was three-and-a-half. The diagnosis came after two years of abruptly terminated playdates, a steady stream of disapproving looks and muttered comments from other parents, and a long preschool rapsheet from principals who moved quickly from “we care about him and want to work with you” to “we cannot have him here and we need you to leave.”

The diagnosis was an end and a beginning--one mystery solved only to plummet into a greater, interminable one. Dash’s world is so shadowy to me—full of uncheckable impulses and storms in his mind; of fundamental yearning for structure and order; of a great desire to connect bested only by the utter inability to figure out how; of love, empathy, need, rage, and shame.

I had a lot of trouble writing since Dash’s diagnosis—I’m a single mom, and taking care of him consumed everything for me. There was no space left to write. My books had always been about kids struggling against unfathomable forces; now I was watching my son live it.

After a while, the idea sparked: I wanted to write a fantasy that dealt somehow with the experience of having autism. This is the power of fantasy; it reveals the world by refracting it so we see things anew--telling the truth, but telling it slant. I just couldn’t figure out how to do this; all my ideas about real-world boys slipping into shadowy, mysterious, fantastical lands felt too on the nose. And autism is no fantasy. I put the idea aside.

One night I went to a master puppeteer’s production of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and somehow while the marionettes moved it all came together: the boy would not be from this world, but another. He’d live in a dark forest whose soil is laced with magic and secrets, working in the cellar of a charismatic magician, hiding out because he is an orphan who does not quite fit in.

The boy would have characteristics of autism. His life, too, would keep the world separate and bewildering, so the things that are simple for others are great struggles for him, so he would need to cling to order simply to get by. Meanwhile, the people around him who seemed so certain and comfortable would be desperately clinging to their own rules, smiling brightly and desperately pretending everything isn’t shifting under their feet.

I had lots of ideas, lots of things I was trying to do, but after a while it came down to this: I just wanted Dash to have a book where a kid like him got to be a hero.

When I started, I worried so much about getting it wrong. The minute you start telling a story through fantasy everything becomes a metaphor, and I did not want to say the wrong thing. Autism is infinite, impossible, and desperately personal.

But the more I wrote, the less I thought about these abstract things. Oscar was Oscar, that was all. And as I got to know him I loved him like I was his mother--it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  And I wanted everything for him, I wanted the events of the book to make him realize he could do anything, even remake the world.

I didn’t want Oscar to triumph in the end despite his autism or because of his autism; I wanted him to triumph because of who he is-- an exceptionally brave, loving boy. I wanted him to know that he had the power to survive and triumph no matter what the world throws at him. I want every kid to know that.

That’s my wish for Dash. He’s six now, and I can’t understand what it’s like to be him, what it’s like to be so baffled and besieged by the world he lives in. I never expected that my child’s very experience of the world would be utterly foreign to me; and I don’t know how to take his hand and show him the way to live in it. But I know how much he struggles, how hard he works, how much he strives; I know he fights monsters I don’t see, every day. I can’t protect him, I can’t make it right. All I can do is tell him that he is my hero, and he saves my world every day.


When I received Anne's essay in my email box, I was blown away. She eloquently expresses the heart of a mother in it. Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing yourself with us. Selfishly, thanks for continuing to write. The Real Boy is a book that everyone - children and adults - should read. 

Monday, 9/30 – Maria’s Melange - Maria’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Tuesday, 10/1 – There’s a Book - Danielle’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/2 – sharpread - Colby Interviews Anne
Thursday, 10/3 – Novel Sounds - Elena’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Friday, 10/4 – Word Spelunking - Aeicha Interviews Anne
Saturday, 10/5 – The Hiding Spot - Sara’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Sunday, 10/6 – The Brain Lair - Kathy’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Monday, 10/7 – Read, Write, Reflect - Anne Talks Oscar with Katherine
Tuesday, 10/8 – Librarian’s Quest - Margie’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/9 – Buried in Books - Heather’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Thursday, 10/10 – The Book Monsters - Kristen’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Friday, 10/11 – Cari’s Book Blog - Cari’s Take on The Real Boy + An Interview with Anne
Saturday, 10/12 – Unleashing Readers - Kellee Interviews Illustrator Erin McGuire
Sunday, 10/13 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Gina’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Monday, 10/14 – Heise Reads and Recommends - Editor Jordan Brown Interviews Anne
Tuesday, 10/15 – Bulldog Readers Blog - The Bulldog Readers Debut Their Book Trailer

And, if that wasn't enough, Walden Pond Press is holding a GIVEAWAY on Facebook in honor of The Real Boy and the prize is $300 in BOOKS! Click HERE to head over to enter.