The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin (2017), written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, is a smart biographical children’s picture book about Dr. Temple Grandin, a compassionate scientist with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Born in 1947, Temple Grandin became an important figure in the farming industry for her work refining the treatment of cattle. Grandin negotiated ASD and the sexism in her field at a time when ASD was poorly understood and women didn’t do “men’s” work. Writer and illustrator both do a very good job representing neurodiversity as a critical lens for seeing the world differently and making a difference in the world.
The text opens with an adult Grandin sitting in an open field among cows, her preferred companions. It quickly moves back in time to Temple’s birth in Boston. As a toddler she was perceived as “an unusual girl” who “loved spinning in circles and watching things twirl.” She hated loud noises, bright lights, crowds, itchy clothes, and too much intimate contact.
When Grandin did not begin speaking by three-years-old, her parents brought her to doctors who suggested sending her “away,” but Grandin’s mother advocated for her fiercely. Her family was finally able to find doctors and teachers able to help her.
At school, Grandin was teased for being different from her peers, which eventually prompted her to respond angrily. After throwing a book at a student she was expelled. Her mother recognized that she needed a change of space and pace and arranged a visit with her aunt who lived on a ranch. This ended up being a life changing decision.
On her aunt’s ranch, Grandin discovered an intuitive connection with animals. She was especially intrigued by cows. In fact, after careful thought and observation, she figured out that similarly to her, they thought in images.
When she began attending a new school she worked with a science teacher who encouraged her interest in science and became a lifelong friend and mentor. This relationship, and her clear achievements in science, give her confidence. She was inspired to find solutions to the cruel treatment of cows at factory farms. She eventually earned a doctorate in animal studies and designed equipment to use in the management of cows that was widely adapted.
Mosca anf Rieley do a wonderful job communicating Grandin’s fascinating way of seeing the world. Hearing words triggers a flow of images in her mind and she can think in detailed images, which helps her see connections between things.
The cartoonish images of a curly-haired peach-skinned girl with wide eyes help portray Grandin as inquisitive from birth. Other meaningful artistic choices include Rieley’s very abstract backgrounds that provide the reader’s eyes with nowhere to wander, and his decision not to portray other characters full bodies and faces. This clearly focalizes Grandin and her experiences with ASD even though it is a third-person narration. The artistic choices work very well, easily allowing children with ASD to identify with the character and focus on the book’s optimistic message.
This is a wonderful story to read with children 3-years and older. It provides an important representation for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to identify with and for neurotypical readers, it provides a snapshot into the experience of ASD encouraging understanding and empathy.