“We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes,” is a great read and a great teaching tool for children with social learning challenges. The main character in this book is a gopher snake, who is captured by a middle-school-aged boy (“Gunnar”) who names her “Crusher,” and keeps her as a pet. The author, Patrick Jennings, tells the story from the perspective of the snake and that of the other wild animals whom the boy has captured.
Kids who like reptiles, amphibians and insects will appreciate the author’s accuracy in describing these creatures habits, physiology and characteristics. Kids who love video games will appreciate Gunnar’s preoccupation with them. Because of these popular themes and the author’s effective presentation of the story from the vantage point of the snake and the other “pets,” this book can serve as a useful platform for teaching how one individual’s perspective on a situation may be entirely different from that of another individual who is experiencing the same events. The book also deals with themes of compassion and empathy in ways which also serve as good teaching tools. The snake’s surprising journey in this regard adds an important dimension to the topic of perspective-taking.
The ability to understand another person’s perspective is a social learning skill which is an important prerequisite to a child’s ability to able to read with understanding. Often, children who have ADHD, ADD, autism and other developmental challenges have difficulty with reading comprehension because they do not develop this fundamental social learning skill intuitively (as neurotypical children do) during early childhood development.
When a child is very “me-focused” because he or she doesn’t understand that other people have wants, needs and preferences which need to be respected (as he wants his own to be), sharing, turn-taking and other basic social conventions are hard for them to understand and follow. And, if a kid can’t understand basic social conventions that require perspective-taking in his own life, he may find it even more challenging to understand a fictional character’s actions, intentions and reactions. Jenning’s book can serve as a teaching bridge from areas of deep interest and competency with which the socially-challenged child is quite familiar to the relatively unknown and unmastered concept of perspective-taking.
Jennings also does a good job of portraying the social dynamics of pre-adolescent boys. But while the language used by Gunnar and his pre-teen peers may correctly reflect how some neurotypical boys may interact with each other in certain settings, it can be quite rude at times. Sarcasm and put-downs are common in peer-to-peer dialogue. (“Eat me,” is how one boy responds responds to an unwelcome observation by another peer.) For this reason, some adults may decide that the book is not developmentally appropriate for some children with autism who are in the 8-12 year-old target demographic. Parents and teachers should review the book in advance to plan whether and/or how to address the saltier portions of dialogue in their social learning instruction.
This book, along with other popular titles by Patrick Jennings, is available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/We-Cant-All-Be-Rattlesnakes/dp/0060821175