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DAILY DISTRACTION

Where children can learn about ‘The Boy Who Said Wow’

Nancy Carlson illustrated the story for a special video series.
Nancy Carlson illustrated the story for a special video series.Nancy Carlson for Minnesota Public Radio

It’s been just over a year since 9-year-old Ronan Mattin charmed the world with one word: “Wow.”

Handel and Haydn Society had just played Mozart’s “Masonic Funeral Music” at Symphony Hall. Mattin’s exclamation filled that magical moment between the end of a performance and the audience’s applause, perfectly capturing what everyone in the room was thinking. The verbalization was exponentially more significant to Mattin’s family, though, since the New Hampshire boy has nonverbal autism. Loved ones said that they can count similar utterances on one hand.

“Ronan’s story chimes on so many levels: the power of the arts to reach people in the most private inner places, the exuberant innocence of youth, the misconceptions we have about autism, the multigenerational nature of the story,” said poet and author Todd Boss. “It yanks heartstrings for all these reasons, which is why it went viral with adults, but I felt that the story had even more to say to kids.”

The Minneapolis-based writer (whose poetry has been published by The New Yorker and NPR) reached out to David Snead, president of the Handel and Hayden Society, who connected him to Mattin’s family. Boss spent a lot of time talking with Mattin’s father and the grandfather who accompanied him to Symphony Hall. After writing “The Boy Who Said Wow,” Boss submitted it for consideration to Minnesota Public Radio’s Classical Kids Storytime, a video project that meshes storytelling with classical music. Picture book author Nancy Carlson (“I Like Me”) was hired to bring the story to life with art. Find the finished product at www.youtube.com/classicalmpr.

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Boss never explicitly mentions autism in his story. “Some children are born loud," he writes. "Some children are born silly. Ronan was born quiet.” Boss hopes young readers will draw their own conclusions about Mattin and his concert experience.

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Nor does Boss make any claims concerning Mattin’s inner life. “In the end, he goes home quietly and falls asleep listening to the music in his head,” Boss said. “The story honors his privacy, and invites the reader to honor it too.”