When I read A BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold, I was thrilled to read something that I knew would resonate with so many people. As a marriage and family therapist, I work with kids with challenges like BAT’S.
A BOY CALLED BAT masterfully shows the inner life of a quirky, lovable, yet oft-misunderstood autistic boy. Well written and beautifully illustrated, this book is fun to read and will resonate with kids and adults alike. The family relationships and portrayal of autism and its challenges are authentic and compelling.
BAT is likable and genuine. His reactions to the world and to other people show how he confuses people’s social cues, yet it is obvious that his intentions are always good. Throughout the book, people misunderstand BAT’S good intentions, particularly when he speaks very literally without realizing how it will make others feel.
I especially enjoyed the sibling relationship. BAT is very particular about what he eats and how he does things and, as happens in real life with siblings of autistic kids, BAT’s older sister gets annoyed with him. Although BAT and Janie fight, we know how much BAT loves and admires her. In the end, the reader understands that Janie loves BAT too.
When BAT connects with a baby skunk and finally discovers a friend at school, we better understand how BAT’s mind works as he navigates normal problems that any elementary school kid could have. I love how author, Elana Arnold, weaves in diversity without making it the purpose of the story. BAT is an autistic, part-Asian son of divorced parents, with a pet skunk. What could be more interesting than that? I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!
As you can tell, I ADORE this story, so I am thrilled that Elana agreed to answer a few questions for Writers’ Rumpus.
Kirsti Call: My kids and I loved your book A BOY CALLED BAT. What was your inspiration?
Elana K. Arnold: Hooray! This makes me so happy to hear. I love that real kids are finally reading A BOY CALLED BAT. This book began with a character, and this character began with a name: Bixby Alexander Tam. The name came to me, and with it the knowledge that the name’s initials spelled “Bat,” and that was my key into the character, which opened up the whole story for me.
KC: When you wrote this book, did you have the entire series planned out?
EKA: When I was writing A BOY CALLED BAT, I was definitely aware that I wanted there to be more than one book, and I took lots of notes as I wrote about what might happen in future installments of what I call “The Bat Chronicles.” Right now, I have ideas for four more books; my wonderful editor and I just wrapped up the second book, BAT AND THE WAITING GAME, which will be out next year, and I am excited to begin working on Book Three.
KC: What is your favorite book that you’ve written?
EKA: I write books that are very different from one another; I write really uncomfortable YA, inward-turning middle grade, this chapter book series, and picture books. It is probably impossible for me to choose a favorite book, but it is easy for me to choose a favorite character: Bat. He is my favorite character, hands down, ever. I love how he makes me feel. I love how he sees the world. I love his relationship with animals, and I love how hard he works.
KC: What new projects are you working on?
EKA: I am currently working on a new YA that is different from anything else I’ve written. I don’t want to say much yet, because it is still so new, but I just passed the 10,000 word mark last night, and that feels pretty great.
KC: What advice would you give to aspiring kid-lit authors?
EKA: Focus on telling a good story and creating characters that are real people to you. Put aside the notion that your job is to instruct or to teach a lesson. Remember that children are whole people, already.
KC: Thank you Elana! I loved A BOY CALLED BAT so much that I made a video review where I read one of one of my favorite scenes from the book!
ELANA K. ARNOLD grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet–a gorgeous mare named Rainbow–and a family who let her read as maNy books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.