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The Spark: A Mother's Story of…
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The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius

by Kristine Barnett

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I received Kristine Barnett's The Spark from LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewers program this month, my first reaction was "...why??" I'd remembered requesting it, but couldn't really remember why I'd done so. And I wasn't really in a non-fiction mood, so what was I gonna do? Although worried that my mood wouldn't give me a fair perspective on the book, I dove in anyway, ever so slightly curious.

Very early on, Kristine grabs you and holds on, totally forcing you to not only listen to and embrace this incredible woman's humility, but to acknowledge your own emotions on the subject.

This author is a woman who, despite having two special needs kids, lupus, and incredible financial difficulties (all on top of the regular taxations of life - family loss, the recession, etc.) still manages to put on a happy face for the sake of helping kids. Her message is that, regardless of their perceived abilities, all children should be encouraged to do what they love.

As the book takes you step by step through the diagnosis and subsequent trials of Jake's autism, you find yourself cheering for him, for his family, for this incredible boy who was told by professionals at three that he would never read. He was told by professional after professional that mainstreaming would never be an option but now, at thirteen years old, he's a college student, socially adept and considered to be possibly the smartest person in the world.

You don't need a genius - or even an autistic person - in your life to appreciate Kristine's story, but having a child in your life, or having someone in your life with special needs will certainly enrich your experience. And even if biographies and memoirs aren't your kind of thing (they're not mine at all), memoir is only the beginning of a description of this book. Everyone should read it.

www.theliterarygothamite.com ( )
  laurscartelli | Jul 19, 2014 |
Very interesting story of a boy genius with autism, told by his mother who just wants her son to be the best he can be. It's quite amazing to read about jake Barnett. ( )
  Smits | Dec 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Barnett's memoir of her son Jake's early life with autism is inspirational. When educators told her that her son would never learn to read because of his severe autism and they should focus on teaching him "life skills", Barnett refused to believe it was true. She'd seen her son do amazing things in his few short years of life and felt (though didn't yet know) that remarkable things were happening inside her son's mind. She persevered, taking risks by going against the established therapies of the day - allowing her son to play and indulge in the activities that appealed to him rather than enduring a litany of repetitive tasks with which he struggled.

As his mother, Barnett is clearly biased in her descriptions of her son's personality and gifts, but there is no arguing that Jake Barnett is a gifted child. I look forward to hearing about great achievements in his life - maybe even a Nobel Prize someday! ( )
  ReadHanded | Oct 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What a joy to read! The subtitle of this book is "A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius." If the publishing company was responsible for choosing it, I'm sure they meant not only that the son is a genius, but also that the mother has extraordinary instincts and creativity which came into play.

Parents reading the book would be inspired to adopt even a fraction of her ideas, for any child. Anyone - even teenagers - could adopt the family's approach to sharing their gifts with the community.

Following immediately upon another book about an autistic child who never recovered, I was fearful that this author's son might show signs of improvement but eventually lose some of his gains. After reading this, I wonder if the anger and lashing out that many autistic children exhibit is a sign of a deeper phase that is inescapable. ( )
  cherilove | Aug 13, 2013 |
I am in the vast minority when it comes to this book. I, like the author, am a mother of two kids on the autism spectrum who are both profoundly gifted. I was excited when this book arrived in the mail.

One of the reasons I didn't care for this book is that it was too much about the mother and not enough about her son. I think reading a story that was just about Jake would had been captivating. It is very impressive what he has been able to accomplish in his young life and it is going to be impressive where he goes from her.

I think that the author has some great ways of helping her son, but that doesn't mean they are the only ways and everyone else is wrong. This is what the author seems to want you to think. Jake was lucky that his mother ran a day care so that he was around kids all day long. For an autistic child, this could really help. But most parents of autistic children do not have that.

Some of the things made me question her ability to parent, such as the time when she had no heat and no food for her family during a winter.

There are certainly aspects to this book that I liked and wished were more fleshed out, or at least written separately: One: make the story all about Jake. Two: how the author's own health issues learned to adjust to her own struggles and how they affected her family. Three: having her focus just on the "therapies" she has tried (those she came up with herself) and go into detail about them. I think that the third would be invaluable!

I guess the thing that bothered me is that I should be able to relate to her because our children seem to have similar diagnosis, but I didn't. As far as I know, children with autism cannot be "cured" of it. They can learn to adapt more socially and some really surprise us with what they can do! For me, my children aren't disabled, but being on the spectrum is just part of who they are. Will they struggle in life? Yes, but everyone has their struggle in life... some are just more obvious.

**I received this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for a review. This did not affect my review in any way.** ( )
  HeatherMS | Aug 11, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Michael, who makes the impossible possible every day
And for everyone who's ever been told they can't
First words
"Mrs. Barnett, I'd like to talk to you about the alphabet cards you've been sending to school with Jacob."
Quotations
Imagine that you live in a tree house in a beautiful forest, and the only place you feel safe and calm is up in that tree house. But people keep intruding. “Hey, come out of the trees!” they yell up at you. “It’s crazy to live in a tree. You need to come down here.” Then one day somebody comes into the forest, and she doesn’t yell or try to make you change, but instead climbs into your tree house and shows you that she loves it as much as you do. Wouldn’t you have a completely different relationship with her than you do with anyone else? And when she asks you to come down for a few minutes, because she has something to show you, wouldn’t you be more inclined to check it out?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812993373, Hardcover)

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
 
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.
 
Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could?  This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.
 
The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
 
Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:51 -0400)

The mother of an autistic child who was eventually recognized as a genius recounts her rejection of conventional advice from developmental experts and shares the strategies she utilized for tapping her son's potential.

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