“Early morning chases a long night. Mama pulls the curtains back to welcome the sunlight.” So begins Tiffany Hammond’s “A Day With No Words,” which debuted at No. 1 on the picture book list. In it, we see the world — vividly illustrated by Kate Cosgrove — through the eyes of a boy who takes everything in: his mother’s blue hair and fingernails, his father’s voice (“soft as a light summer breeze”), the feeling of wet grass on bare feet.
“I do not speak,” the boy lets readers know. “I was born like this. No voice from my lips. I’m autistic. I use a tablet to be heard, pushing buttons with pictures that speak my words.”
Hammond writes what she knows: She has autism, as do her sons, who are 16 and 14. Her older son, Aidan, uses a tablet to communicate.
“I didn’t know I was autistic until I was 18,” Hammond said in a phone interview. “Being different kind of puts you out there as an outcast, so I just had books.” She immersed herself in Goosebumps, the Baby-Sitters Club and Nancy Drew, relying on these series not just for entertainment but for guidance on how to connect: “I was trying to fit in with all the other kids, so I needed to read things that they read. I needed to figure out, how do I talk to you?”
That kind of instruction works both ways. “A Day With No Words” will help young readers understand autism; in a poignant scene, the main character’s mother uses a tablet of her own to explain to a group of bystanders, “My son does not speak, but his ears work just fine. The words that you say go straight to his mind.”
To understand how the book has been received by members of the autism community, consider the 777 (and counting) five-star Amazon reviews. “This book is the beginning of my son being able to see himself out in the world,” one parent wrote.
“It teaches us the expansiveness of communication that is possible, if our children are truly heard, respected and supported,” wrote another. Take it from a professional: Rarely will you find this level of agreement and civility among book reviewers.
As for Hammond’s sons, they approve of her work. The younger one, Josiah — who is, as she said, “at the age where everything is just OK” — read “A Day With No Words” to his brother, who tapped “Love book” on his iPad. “I think he has a couple pages that he finds to be his favorite because he will always open the book to that page,” Hammond said.
One of them has a picture of mother and son leaving the park together, hand in hand. On the screen of the boy’s tablet, two words are visible: “All done.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”