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A Page from Real Life

A recent review by Kirkus Reviews described Hunter’s portrayal of Mimi’s special needs as “child-friendly and honest,” precisely what the author hoped to achieve. She depicts different aspects of Mimi’s behavior, like her habit of repeating phrases she overhears, without dwelling on her condition. That’s because Every Turtle Counts is first and foremost a rescue-adventure tale about overcoming insurmountable odds. “[Autistic children] have dreams and things they love,” Hunter says. “They can also be the heroes of a story that other kids can love, rather than just being in a story about autism.”

Through promoting Every Turtle Counts, Hunter also hopes to raise awareness for a pressing issue facing autistic individuals and their families. Local governments do an excellent job of funding educational programs for these individuals through age 21, Hunter says. But once they turn 22, the funding stops and families are at a loss for how to help loved ones lead independent and fulfilling lives, while also receiving needed supervision.

Sara Hoagland Hunter

To illustrate her point, Hunter describes her niece’s experience. Mimi spent three years at the Riverview School in Sandwich, an international day and boarding school that Hunter praises as a pioneer in the field of special education. After completing her senior year of high school at Riverview, Mimi began the school’s innovative three-year vocational training program. She turned 22 after her first year in the program and, unfortunately, had to withdraw because funding for her education stopped.

Mimi has since moved back home and participates in a state-run day program. “She gets picked up in the van every morning,” Hunter says, “and different corporations in the state will farm out jobs that let
developmentally-challenged adults do mostly manual projects.” On one hand, Hunter says the program is edifying for Mimi because she earns a paycheck and has made friends, but it also leaves a lot to be desired. “It just tugs at your heartstrings that a child who loves doing projects and working with little kids is on an assembly line,” Hunter says. “But the answers are few right now.”

Since her book’s publication, Hunter says one gratifying moment came when Temple Grandin, an animal behavior doctor who is autistic, endorsed the book. In her review, Grandin—a professor of animal science at Colorado State University—did not focus her critique on autism. “She talked about how it’s a great book for kids who will discover the wonders of nature,” Hunter says. “And I thought, ‘bingo!’, that’s what this is all about. Temple and Mimi are about more than their autism.”

Hunter, who splits her time between Centerville and Boston, has a writer’s pedigree; her maternal grandfather, Harold H. Blanchard, was an English professor at Tufts University, while her father’s father, John Hoagland, was the business manager for the entire Christian Science Publishing Society. When Hunter was in the second grade, her grandmother Roberta Blanchard—an artist and writer of craft books—took her to visit writer Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord. “I saw [Alcott’s] desk by the window and thought, ‘it would be really cool to write children’s books when I grow up’,” she recalls. Hunter says this experience, coupled with inspiration she received reading books by favorite childhood authors like E.B. White and Ruth Sawyer, fueled her desire to become a writer.

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