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Nancy Tandon: The Way I Say It (speech pathology, anxiety)



GIVEAWAY!

Nancy is graciously offering a signed copy of THE WAY I SAY IT!

For a chance to win, leave a comment below,

or tweet us the words "WAY I SAY IT" on Twitter.

 


The boy sitting across the table from me couldn’t say his own name.

Eleven years old and a new sixth-grader, Justin had come to see a speech/language pathologist (SLP) for the first time. He was able to tell me about school, friends, and how good he was at bowling.


“And you’re here because you’re having some trouble…” I prompted. I knew from his chart why he’d been referred, but wanted to hear it from his perspective.


His face reddened, and I saw him swallow back tears. “It’s this one problem,” he told me. “My name’s not Dustin. It’s…” He traced a J in the air. “…Dustin. Ugh. See?” He dropped his head.


A quick speech-sound assessment revealed that Justin did not have any other phonological issues besides not being able to say /dʒ/ (“d + zh”). But for him, this one sound error was affecting so many parts of his life, including his growing social anxiety.


Years later, I watched another red-faced boy struggling to speak. But this time, it was my own son, who around age ten was dealing with the height of his moderate/severe stutter. He often pulled out of blocks by saying, “I forgot what I was going to say.” My heart sank when at a birthday party, I overheard one of his friends say, “you forget a lot.”


There is such power in being able to say what you want to, when you want to. And the emotional toll of not being clearly understood often exacerbates the speaker’s frustration. As a writer, I began to consider creating a story that would explore this dynamic. During my initial brainstorming, I thought back to Justin (and several others I had treated with speech-sound disorders or delays that affected their ability to say their names correctly) and asked myself, what would be the worst possible name for a kid to have if they were having trouble with one of the later-developing phonemes (speech sounds)?


“Rory who can’t say Rs” was born. Over the next several years he grew into the main character in my debut middle grade novel, THE WAY I SAY IT.


It is about twelve-year-old Rory, who starts sixth grade thinking his inability to say R is his biggest problem, until his ex-best friend Brent starts hanging out with some mean kids who tease Rory about his speech. But then Brent sustains a brain injury in a bike accident. When Brent returns to school, he joins Rory in the speech room. He also becomes the target of the same kind of bullying Rory has endured. Rory struggles with how to feel. Should he stand up to protect a former friend, even though Brent never did that for him?


One of the best parts about writing this story was being allowed to make the speech/language pathologist as cool as I wanted. The character Mr. Simms has a unique way of connecting to middle schoolers, and isn’t afraid to get creative in therapy sessions. He is obsessed with heavy metal as well as Muhammad Ali, and both components made for some very interesting research!


Muhammad Ali’s life story, especially, was the gift that kept on giving. He was an incredible athlete, yes, but also a complicated, multi-layered man. As Rory and Brent researched more about Ali for a biography project, Mr. Simms was able to step in and use moments from Ali’s life as key social-emotional learning opportunities. For example, during one lesson, Mr. Simms juxtaposes Ali’s international boxing success with his more internal and personal struggles, and both boys come to understand that everyone carries heavy burdens sometimes.


Mr. Simms does what the best teachers do; he meets the boys where they are and helps them highlight their own strengths, while also encouraging them to be mindful about what others may be going through. In the end, both boys must admit they each played a role in harming the other. Self-forgiveness becomes a hard but necessary step they must take before they can reconcile their relationship.


Just as Justin found his J, and my son’s dysfluency eased, Rory makes his way toward a more correct /r/. However, it’s not a linear or perfect path. I hope that “speech kids” who read this story will recognize that what they have to say is more important than how they say it.


Ultimately, I hope all readers will come away with renewed consideration for what others (especially those they don’t agree with) might be going through. I hope readers will internalize that reaching out to help someone, or asking for help when you need it, is one of the best ways to show true strength. And I hope anyone struggling to share their voice will listen to Mr. Simms when he says, “Be loud and proud, Rory. Loud and Proud.”



 

GIVEAWAY!

Nancy is graciously offering a signed copy of THE WAY I SAY IT!

For a chance to win, leave a comment below,

or tweet us the words "WAY I SAY IT" on Twitter.

 

Nancy Tandon is a children’s book author who loves sharing all kinds of stories. She has worked as an elementary school teacher, a speech-language pathologist, and an adjunct professor of Phonetics and Child Language Development, all of which helped plant seeds for stories about awesome kids doing brave things. Her debut middle grade novel, The Way I Say It (Charlesbridge, 2022) was an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce and Indies Next pick as well as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. She is also the author of The Ghost of Spruce Point, from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster (2022). Born and raised in Michigan, Nancy now lives with her family in Connecticut.