July 18, 2024
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“My Special Uncle” by Ahava Ehrenpreis. Mosaica Press. 2022. English. Hardcover. 13 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1957579030.

Even in fairly recent times, children with Down syndrome and other developmental or cognitive disabilities were hidden from view. Today, individuals with special needs are included as vital and vibrant members of our family tapestry, as well as in shul or social events. Growing up in the family circle as they become adults, whether in the extended family or in public forums, the other children in the family are exposed to individuals who are adults, but whose behaviors are not like those of other adults. From the perspective of a young child, these “adults’ can be very confusing.

In her new book, “My Special Uncle,” well-known author Ahava Ehrenpreis addresses this phenomenon from the vantage point of a young child. The reader is introduced to the child’s extended family—his uncles and aunts who are adults and have their own children, as well as those who live at home with his Zaide and Bubby. Then we meet his Uncle Dovi, a grown-up uncle who is happy to play ball and watch Uncle Moishy with him, and whose behaviors can be different from other adults. The narrator is confused when his mother doesn’t approve of Uncle Dovi taking him places or helping him cross the street.

In simple terms, Mommy explains that Uncle Dovi is special, which is a good thing (like birthdays and presents). But Mommy also explains that Hashem makes people in different ways, and not all adults can read and write or cross the street like other adults. But they can be happy and fun and care about us. Our narrator comes to understand that having a special uncle is something to be appreciated. The author includes scenarios that a child might be exposed to, such as the individual with special needs being aloof, sad, or even angry. Mommy explains that sometimes people cannot always be in control, and she reassures her young son that although Hashem makes people in different ways, we are happy to have them in our lives.

The book is graced by beautiful illustrations that children can easily relate to, and its simple and positive explanations serve to alleviate the anxiety that children (and even some adults) feel when they meet someone with special needs. Ehrenpreis has done a tremendous service in providing this first introduction to children while they are still in the process of forming their lifelong attitudes.

The Mosaica Press website cites approbation from rabbanim and professionals as to the importance and value of this book for children. As in her other books—“On My Own … But Not Alone” (ArtScroll, 2019) and “More Than Special: Perspectives From the World of Special Needs” (ArtScroll, 2021)—Ehrenpreis should be applauded for once again sensitizing readers to the challenges and feelings of other demographics in llal Yisrael and, of course, encouraging and stressing the importance of the inclusion of everyone into our society.

“My Special Uncle” is available at Jewish bookstores, on the Mosaica Press website and on Amazon.

By Rebecca Karp

 

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