Juan has the Jitters!, written by pre-K teacher and children’s book author, Aneta Cruz, tells the story of Juan who is nervous about the school’s athletic games happening the next day. When Juan gets nervous, he claps “to get the Jitters out.”
Juan gets the jitters when there are “too many people, too much noise, and too many changes in his routine.” Throughout the day, Juan does several things to help with the Jitters like organizing his books and blocks, naming all the shapes in his room, and counting the wheels on all his toy cars. While telling his mom he doesn’t want to go to school because he’s afraid kids will laugh at him if the Jitters come back, his mom lets him know his teacher already has a plan to keep the Jitters away by making them about his favorite subject, Math.
The next day, his teacher makes Juan the judge of the competitions that involve the “Mathletes” sorting blocks by shapes and colors and racing cars with wheels. Even though the Jitters come and he claps to calm himself at the beginning, as the day goes on, Juan takes comfort in being the judge and making sure the kids who did the best won the competition. His coping skills were the skills he needed to be a great judge in the Math-centric competitions, and he did a great job. After the games, the kids all gathered around him clapping and chanting “Juan is number one!”
I really enjoyed this book and thought it portrayed Juan with empathy and insight. I liked that Cruz purposefully left out the word “autistic” from the book because she wants to “disable the label.” As she states in an interview regarding her choice “the story is written from his point of view, and he wouldn’t classify himself as autistic or Latino. Children don’t attach labels to themselves.” My friend, whose son is autistic, read the book and she liked the fact that you learn what scares him and how he reacts and that the teacher created the day to incorporate him. She liked how it demonstrates that not everyone handles things that make them nervous the same way. I personally loved that the kids not only accept Juan, Jitters and all, but rally around him and appreciate his skills in math and being a fair judge.
The illustrations, by award winning illustrator, Miki Yamamoto, bring you into the world of Juan with his orderly room, poster of emotions and joyful classmates. The inclusivity of this book in depicting children of different races and beliefs is refreshing in that it is not a part of the story itself, kids may see themselves on the pages.
Juan has the Jitters! is published by North Atlantic Books, a California-based non-profit publisher, and will be released October 6, 2020.