<B>America's favorite teacher is back</B> Torey Hayden thought she had seen it all. As a veteran special-education teacher, she was used to working with children whose disabilities ranged from autism to Tourette's syndrome. But she had never met anyone like Venus Fox.
In her latest book, <B>Beautiful Child: The Story of a Child Trapped in Silence and the Teacher Who Refused to Give Up On Her</B>, Hayden who has recounted experiences from her teaching career in several previous best-selling titles tells the bittersweet story of her work with Venus, a 7-year-old girl who refuses to communicate. Her virtually catatonic state is interrupted only by brief, violent outbursts of rage.
Intrigued and determined to break through Venus' silence, Hayden tries a number of unsuccessful techniques. Unsure how to reach such an unresponsive child, Hayden spends her 20-minute lunch breaks alone with Venus, reading aloud to her and holding the little girl in her lap.
Progress is slow, in part because Venus is just one student in a class full of challenging kids, including twin boys with fetal alcohol syndrome, a boy with Tourette's syndrome, an autistic girl and a violent 8-year-old boy. A breakthrough finally comes when Venus shows interest in a She-Ra, Princess of Power comic book. Though the blond-haired, blue-eyed heroine is not the most politically correct role model for an African-American child (as a disapproving principal and a teacher's aide point out), Hayden uses Venus' interest in the character to engage her in role-playing games that reveal the depth of the child's despair. By the time Hayden learns the tragic truth about Venus' home life, it's almost too late.
Told with compassion and sensitivity, <B>Beautiful Child</B> takes the reader into a world where unfailing patience and dogged determination don't always yield tangible results, but where the few and hard-won victories can be life-changing. Hayden's first-person narrative also sheds light on the frustration many teachers experience in the face of limited resources, bureaucratic red tape and well-meaning pedantry. With vivid and detailed writing, Hayden recounts not only her trials with Venus, but also her triumphs and failures involving other children in the class. She doesn't hide the fact that her job is exhausting; instead, she writes openly about her exasperation with the children's frequent fistfights, tantrums and general unruliness. She also describes small victories that point to progress and hope.
This straightforward tone keeps Hayden's story from sounding self-indulgent. She doesn't profess to be a saint just a dedicated teacher with an inspiring story to tell. <I>Rebecca Denton is an editor and writer in Nashville</I>.