Steve Brown
Steve Brown

The Ups and Downs of a Very Special Super Hero

Written by Melissa Brown, Illustrated by Madeleine Harvey

“The Ups and Downs of a Very Special Super Hero” is a children’s book that gives young readers and their parents who read with them, insights into understanding the differently-abled people they will meet in life and how to be prepared with a positive expectation. It is written by Melissa Brown, an educator for students with special needs, and illustrated by Madeline Harvey.    

It may be the only book ever written for children that advocates and teaches kids and their parents about special needs in a positive way that inspires wonder and fosters uplifting conversations. It is unique among all of the many books and articles on interactions with people with special needs in looking for the extraordinary instead of missing the opportunity of exploring and celebrating.    What’s more, it is a book with a mission in which its readers get to take part.  

Through its wonderful story and sensitive illustrations, the book explains a differently-abled person as a young person might imagine a superhero: having characteristics that might be hard to comprehend but very much valued. And that this superhero may need the child’s help so they can be ready when needed. The book celebrates both specific characteristics of a person with Downs then broadens that to a message of inclusion with ways to be a friend to, or knowledgeable acquaintance of many types of differently-abled people.  

I read this book with some trepidation for several reasons. I have a twenty seven year old son with Downs Syndrome. I have read many books and articles on special needs. They’ve ranged from truly awful, as in the 1990’s version of the celebrated “What To Expect When You Are Expecting”, whose index entry on Downs Syndrome only linked to the page on “Abortion Options” to other authors’ laudable attempts to resolve their own perplexion at “why” folks with special needs are who they are and “how” their lives may have meaning.

Often they conclude that people with disabilities “bring out the best in others” or “are so loving”. However well-meaning, I think these conclusions miss the mark. The gold standard for me is writing that celebrates life. “Life is what God says it is” may have been an unintentionally memorable quote from an interview with Jill Kelly, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s wife and mother of Hunter, a child with Krabbe’s disease and an advocate for that cause. A life is worthy because… it’s life. Not because we say so. Could “The Ups and Downs of a Very Special Superhero”  avoid trying to solve the inscrutable puzzle of “why”?   

The other reason for my trepidation is that the author of “The Ups and Downs” is my daughter.   She has boundless energy and creativity in programs for her students with special needs and in crafting “Josh and Melissa time” with her brother.   But could she communicate that love for kids with special needs to help children understand differently-abled peers? The book surprises with its fresh, insightful, and fun storytelling. It succeeds on both counts.   

When she was four years old, we took this future author to a children’s play.  Next to us, a mother and father seated their son in a specialized wheelchair with a portable mechanical breathing apparatus, a maze of tubes, and all manner of distressing gurgling sounds. Before I could form an (insufficient) explanation for the questions I knew she was about to ask, Melissa said to me “I wouldn’t want to be that boy but I’d want to be his sister and help take care of him!” I looked at her in wonder, thinking “who is this child?” The book partially answers that question as well.  

The book’s mission is to be placed in a thousand homes and a hundred classrooms.   Its website lists those who have taken up that challenge. Thoughtful readers will vie for a spot on that wall as much as they will enjoy reading the book.   

A link to the book’s webpage is listed here 

About the Author
Steve Brown is a registered architect and has headed an architecture, environmental design, and construction firm in the Philadelphia, PA area since 1985, whose recent work includes several Net Zero Energy projects.