Book Recommendation: Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Award winning children’s book Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You is a beautifully written and illustrated book reminding us that we’re all unique and our differences are our superpowers – including stuttering! Likening people to flowers – each unique, growing in different ways and needing different things to thrive – this book helps build acceptance and understanding, and normalises the experience of being different. 

The author Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was inspired by her own experiences of living with Type 1 Diabetes, to educate others on the experiences of those with disabilities and differences. 

The story begins with the author herself, Sonia who gathers the courage each day to prick her finger to test her blood sugar levels. The following pages share the experiences of those with dyslexia, asthma, ASD, Down Syndrome and more, highlighting their powers – their strengths, while also acknowledging some of the challenges that may come along with it. 

Midway through the book we meet Anh, who has a stutter. Anh repeats words, gets stuck when she’s speaking and sometimes takes a bit longer to express herself. A simple explanation of what it’s like to stutter, perfect for a book like this. The character is a female, a refreshing change from the many children’s books with male characters who stutter.

Anh’s strength is her good listening which is my only qualm with this book. People who stutter can be good listeners, but highlighting this as her power, implies that the flip side of communication – speaking, can’t be a strength. Flow of speech is a tiny slice of the communication pie, and having a stutter does not equate to poor communication. I’d love to see a character with speaking as their strength – to show young people who stutter that they can be awesome communicators! 

As the title suggests, this book encourages children to ask questions if they are curious about someone else, while respecting that not everyone is comfortable answering them. Misunderstanding is a large contributor to stigma, so this is a great skill to instil in children from a young age. Many of the young people we work with are asked questions about their speech… “Why do you talk like that? or “Why do you say but but but?”. Curiosity can be easily mistaken as meanness. Young people may need to be taught that people usually ask questions because they’re curious, and giving them an informative answer is the best way to educate them and help create a more accepting and supportive environment. 

Questions you could ask your child while reading Just Ask! together

  • Do you mind when kids ask you questions about yourself?
  • What questions do kids ask you? Do they ask you about your speech/stutter?
  • What could you say if someone asked you about your stutter? What do you want them to know?
  • What are your superpowers? What are some of the things you’re good at?
  • Is there anyone at preschool/school who you have a question for? How could you ask them about that?
  • What do you think the world would be like if people were all the same?

We’ve recently added this book to our collection at START and we think it’s a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of those who stutter, educators and therapists. It’s a great reminder that it’s ok to stutter and it’s ok to be different. After all, the world would be a boring place if everyone was the same. 

Available at libraries in these areas: Auckland, New Plymouth, Tauranga City, Western Bay of Plenty, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Central Otago and Lakes. You can also request your local library to source a copy. 

Also available in New Zealand at: