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Book: What Did You Say? What Do You Mean?

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Book: What Did You Say? What Do You Mean?
Cover image courtesy of Jessica Kingsley Publishers

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By Jude Welton, illustrated by Jane Telford; 112 pages. Subtitle: An Illustrated Guide to Understanding Metaphors

A guide to understanding metaphors might be the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a high school English class, not a special-needs parenting bookshelf. But this cleverly illustrated book was instead designed to help children with Asperger syndrome decipher expressions that don't mean what they say. In fact, any literal-thinking child can benefit from this cheerful resource.

About the Guide Rating

Publisher's Site


  • Foreword explains the concept to parents, while introduction explains it to children.
  • Cartoons are funny and enjoyable to look at and discuss with your child.
  • Learning figures of speech can be helpful for kids with a variety of problems.
  • Once started, your child can write down phrases he or she hears for you to discuss.
  • Book does a small, specific job very well.


  • Expressions are regional, so you may not have heard some of these and know some with other wording.
  • Expressions are subjective, so you may have other definitions than the ones listed here.
  • There's more information on some expressions than others.
  • Kids who have trouble with language may also not get the humor of the cartoons.
  • Having to explain these things will make you realize just how silly some expressions are.


  • Foreword
  • Introduction for Children
  • The Illustrated Metaphors (bulk of book)
  • Blank Pages for You to Add to Your Metaphor Collection
  • For Parents and Teachers
  • Appendix 1: A guide to helping children with Asperger Syndrome to understand what we mean
  • Appendix 2: Ideas for using this book

Guide Review - Book: What Did You Say? What Do You Mean?

“Why don’t people just say what they mean?” That’s been my daughter’s lament, as her speech therapist and I have labored to help her understand those figures of speech that say what they don’t mean at all. She doesn’t have Asperger syndrome -- language processing and comprehension are her challenges -- but she shares with AS kids a genuine puzzlement with the whole concept of expressions. For years, I think she took the incomprehensible things people said as proof of the inscrutability of English, and it helped persuade her that the best policy was to sit still, be quiet, and hope people would do things for you. Now that we’re making a determined effort to tell her what those odd phrases are getting at -- a necessity, since not understanding the nuances of speech among her middle-school peers can have serious social consequences -- she’s talking more than ever. But she’s still a little ticked off that it all has to be so confusing.

Why don’t people just say what they mean? Our language would be significantly more clear, but significantly more boring, too. Expressions make a language fun, vital, growing, expressive. But it’s hard to overestimate the toll language games take on children with special needs who just don’t get it. This book -- with a cartoon showing what each expression seems to mean, a definition of what it really does, some background on why it means that, and an example from normal speech -- is a good way to let the cluing in begin.

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