Find Empathy and Acceptance in ‘No One Needed to Know’

Finding Empathy and Acceptance
Author Donna DriverDonna Driver is an author primarily of young adult and middle grade novels and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She likes to write about diverse characters dealing with social or environmental issues. She’s won two awards for the environmental themes in her novel Cry of the Sea, the first of her YA fantasy series The Juniper Sawfeather Novels.

Her novel No One Needed to Know is a story about empathy and acceptance with autism themes; something she has firsthand experience with. Donna is a teacher at a child development center in Nashville, an organization that practices inclusion. She teaches special needs students alongside their typically developing peers.

Tell us about No One Needed to Know.

No One Needed to Know is a middle grade novel centered around an 11-year-old girl named Heidi who has an autistic brother 4 years older than her. She has always enjoyed playing with her brother, but now she’s growing out of ‘make believe’ play and wanting to spend more time with her friends. Her brother, however, isn’t growing up and acting like other 16-year-old boys in the neighborhood. He is often bullied, and when the kids at school learn about him, she starts getting bullied, too. She’s miserable and angry and feels like no one understands what she’s going through. But she also needs to learn to accept who her brother is, and when she can do that, she can help others see why her brother is special.

No One Needed to Know

What inspired you to write it?

This book is based loosely on my own experiences. I have an older brother with developmental differences. We didn’t know it was autism when we were in school because it was way back in the late 70s and early 80s. Still, he was very different than the other kids and received a fair share of bullying. I also went through bullying in 6th grade, although unlike the book it had nothing to do with my brother. Our middle brother got a little more of the brunt of second-hand bullying and name calling.

Like Heidi, I always loved playing with my oldest brother, and when I began to grow out of it that’s when I really began to notice how different my brother behaved from other kids his age. I remember the embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, and eventually the acceptance. I wanted to share all of that in a story for other kids who go through that trying time of life when they go from carefree childhood into being much more self-aware and nervous about the opinions of others.

Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?

This book is aimed at 8-13 year old readers. Ideally, I’d love to see this book in schools as a tool to help kids learn about empathy and kindness. It is a great choice for teaching autism awareness (and there are a variety of other special needs highlighted in the story as well). It is also a good choice for starting discussions about bullying and effective ways to handle it.

What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?

The main message in this book is about empathy. Before judging a person based on something that is different about them, take time to learn more about them. When Heidi, and ultimately her friends, learn more about children with special needs, their hearts soften and they find the kindness they have been missing. The more people know about autism, the more understanding and patient they will become.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book?

The book was released in January, and I’m proud to say that every review that has come in so far has been glowing. I’m really thrilled about that. I am still seeking reviews, so if anyone out there is a book blogger/reviewer feel free to contact me.

Also, as a trigger warning, the “r-word” is used in this book. It is definitely shown to be a negative word that should not be used as an insult ever. In my author’s note at the end I provide a link to an organization with the mission of ending use of the “r-word”.

Do you have a proud moment, inspirational story, or moving fan feedback you’d like to share?

Two of the reviews I’ve had so far are from young readers. One 13-year-old reader said No One Needed to Know “helped me have a better understanding of children and all people with disabilities. I learned how their brains work and process things a little better. While reading this book I learned that being different or having a disability is not a bad thing, it makes you unique.”

This is exactly the reaction I want from the book.

The 12-year-old book blogger from Kid Book Reviewer wrote: “I would definitely recommend this book to teachers and students alike (as well as literally everyone else on the face of this planet), since it promotes activism and empathy, two characteristics that Heidi strongly displays in this book. The great thing, though, is that Heidi isn’t necessarily this way right from the start – as a reader, I loved seeing her evolve from a rather insecure girl who can’t really stick up for herself or her autistic brother, to a strong-willed, caring girl who makes for a perfect role model.”

How can I not feel proud after a review like that? It actually made me cry.

If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?

While No One Needed to Know will have appeal for siblings of autism (or other special needs), it is also a good choice for kids going through bullying. Please consider picking it up for your children, school, or library and putting it on the shelf next to books like Wonder, Feather Boy, and my favorite book from 6th grade Harriet the Spy.

Discover more about Donna and No One Needed to Know:

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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