We all know that picture books can be powerful. They’re catalysts for sparking a child’s imagination, igniting a new interest, or opening the door to a whole new way of seeing the world. Sometimes a book’s impact is so dramatic it completely changes a child’s life!
That’s what happened with Sunshine on my Shoulders—John Denver’s words and Christopher Canyon’s artwork awakened a little girl’s ability to speak. It all happened in an instant, much in the same way that Helen Keller experienced a dramatic awakening to language through her experience with water. Everything just clicked! We learned about this experience from the little girl’s aunt.
“Sunshine on my Shoulders, and the illustrations captured the imagination of my niece causing her to say her very first sentence! . . . As a special education teacher myself, I remain in awe of what one book did to change my whole family.”
Here are the inspiring details of this family’s experience:
“My niece was a developmentally delayed, non-verbal toddler. Shortly after birth she stopped breathing and needed to be medically airlifted to a hospital, where many code blues where called to keep her alive over the next 24 hours. As she grew, she hit her milestones late, and remained non-verbal much longer than the average toddler. She struggled to be understood, but couldn’t find words to string together into ideas. She only knew four words: Mommy, Daddy, no, and kitty.
I thought a “kitty” would be the key to unlock my niece’s voice, so I suggested that my sister and her husband scour the library and get out any books with kitties. Sunshine on my Shoulder was in the mix one day, and that was the day my niece’s life changed. One of the illustrations has a man with a guitar sitting next to a kitty. My sister asked “Where’s the kitty?” My niece started screaming; not saying anything just pointing. She kept screaming insistently, then after looking at the picture intensely she said, “ne pababu” (“Next to Papa Bruce.”) Papa Bruce is her grandpa. He plays a guitar like the man in the illustration, and the kitty was sitting right next to him.
Over the course of a few weeks my sister read her the book daily, and slowly my niece’s vocabulary grew. Months later I can proudly say that the combination of the singsong passages in the book, together with the imagination-inspiring artwork, my niece is verbal! This book pushed her to think abstractly, and to pull from relevant experience to explain the imagery. I remain in awe of what one book did to change my whole family.”