Back to Front and Upside Down! By Claire Alexander is a Schneider Family Book Award winner and with good reason! This book is about Stan, a reluctant writer because of the difficulties he faces when he writes his thoughts down on paper. His letters come out “back to front and upside down.” The struggle that Stan faces is a very real one that many students encounter every day. But Claire Alexander has managed to portray how students with similar disabilities can still be successful writers.
The story begins with Stan’s principal, Mr. Slippers, announcing his birthday in Stan’s classroom. He invites the entire class to his birthday party and all of the children are excited. Stan’s teacher, Miss Catnip, decides that all the children need to create birthday cards for their principal. Stan is ecstatic at the idea and immediately begins drawing! But then, Miss Catnip reminds the students that they need to write, “Happy Birthday” in their cards. Stan immediately became full of anxiety! As hard as he tried to write “Happy Birthday” the same way he read it on the board, his letters came out “back to front and upside down.” Alexander accurately portrays the anxiety and frustration that struggling writers can face with tasks that seem easy to others. Stan became very frustrated and started to shut down. He watched as his friends effortlessly created their birthday cards with writing in them to Mr. Slippers. He so badly wanted to ask Miss Catnip for help but was terrified that his friends would laugh at him.
The illustration on this page is iconic for what dyslexic and struggling writers face every day. The background is black which suggests how lonely Stan feels in his daily struggle to write. There is a giant clock behind him that portrays how he always feels so rushed to keep up with his peers. When you turn to the next page, the background is completely black and there is sad Stan sitting alone in his small desk. “Stan felt sick, like his tummy was being all stirred up with a big wooden spoon.” Any reader and writer, struggling or not, can empathize with Stan by this point in the story. I have witnessed students exactly like Stan fight the same struggle in my classroom and it is not an easy one.
Then, it was Stan’s friend Jack that reassured him that it was OK to ask for help because we all need help sometimes. So when Stan does ask for help, Miss Catnip is happy to assist him and a classmate named Mimi admits that she also needs help. The look on Stan’s face is priceless! Alas, he is not alone after all! After this realization, Alexander has two pages about how much hard work and practice, practice, practice was needed for Stan and Mimi’s letters to come out “right way round and the right way up.” In the end, it is explained that Stan now enjoys writing even though it does take him longer than everyone else and when he gets stuck he asks for help. That closing message is exactly what I try to get across to my struggling, dyslexic writers every day. Although writing may take them longer and use more effort than others, they are just as capable and smart as everyone else.
The illustrations in this text are lively and colorful. They are welcoming to any child and are sure to keep their attention throughout the story with so many fun elements. The vocabulary is not difficult and has some repetition that is helpful for struggling readers. This text would also be wonderful to help students with their fluency. I highly recommend this book! It forces readers to empathize with students with dyslexia, a developmental delay, or similar disability and in the most supportive way. I currently have a student in my classroom that endures an identical struggle every day. I cannot wait to read this book to my class and watch her eyes light up when she realizes she is not alone. We are in this together.