Laughing at my nightmare by Shane Burcaw



Burcaw, S. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781626720077

Plot Summary

Shane Burcaw was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that makes his muscles deteriorate over time and makes it hard for him to perform the simplest of physical tasks. This condition has no effect on his mind though, and in this book, he recounts several stories from his life and tries to explain how he has had to work to convince people that he is not mentally retarded just because his body is deformed. Burcaw shares daily routines and adaptations that he and his family undergo due to his SMA.

Critical Analysis

The greatest strength of Burcaw’s book is his ability to laugh at himself, lessening the awkwardness and diffusing the tension of some situations he has found himself in over the years. He uses humor in his writing and in his life to stay positive and that humor makes the book a very entertaining read. Burcaw is quite sarcastic himself and portrays his brother as such also, adding to the humor of the book. The fact that Burcaw is so honest about his life is refreshing also. He shares challenges he has faced and tells the reader how he has grown over the years. Burcaw’s recounting of life experiences demonstrates to young adults that they can make a difference in people’s lives no matter what situation they are in themselves. The one weakness in this book is the organizational structure. It is roughly chronological, but it is slightly confusing at times because Burcaw jumps back and forth some and retells a few stories.

This book is aimed at high school students and is suited to that age group. Burcaw shares events, feelings, and stories about things that high school students will relate to and will be going through themselves. The reading level is fairly high as well and suited to older teens in high school and even early college.

The appeal of this book is based on its honesty and the author’s willingness to be vulnerable and reveal personal moments and experiences. Young adults will also enjoy the book because of its frank discussions about sex and relationships. Lastly, the cover makes the book appealing to young adults as well because it looks humorous and has a cuss word on it.

Laughing at my nightmare is a current and fresh and Burcaw’s organization is doing things right now, and continuing to grow, so this book will be relevant for a while. The prevalence of bullying and the energy devoted to anti-bullying campaigns, along with a renewed focus on teaching children and young adults to treat everyone with respect make this book a good addition as well. The good writing, honesty, and humor will keep this book in circulation for many years to come.


Using wheelchairs (if available) or rolling chairs, students will experience what it is like to be Shane and to have someone help you with daily tasks such as drinking from a glass, reading a book, checking email, getting your phone off a table, etc. To make the experience as similar to Shane’s as possible, have students hold their arms as close to their body as possible and maintain body contact throughout. If students wish to fasten their arms to their body with an item such as a belt, they may, but should be closely supervised, and should never be required to do this part.

Students can create objects to help them manage these tasks easier such as the straw that Shane mentions in his book. Students may be as creative as possible in making up these items, but they must get their partner to complete the physical portions that they cannot complete with their arms touching their body at all times.

Related Resources

Muscular Dystrophy Association Webpage

Muscular Dystrophy Association. (n.d.) Spinal Muscular Atrophy: Overview. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from

This web page is on the website for the Muscular Dystrophy Organization. The disease that Burcaw has is a form of muscular dystrophy and this page tells about the disease. This is a good informational resource to pair with the book to provide more details about SMA.

Laughing at my nightmare Website

Laughing at my nightmare, Inc. (n.d.). Laughing at my nightmare. Custom website designed by Retrieved July 13, 2015, from

This website is the home for Shane Burcaw’s non-profit organization and includes a link to his blog, information about booking Shane and his team, a place to donate, a place to shop for merchandise, and a section of funny photos and posts to make you laugh. Sharing this website in conjunction with this book will provide a place for readers to learn more about Shane and his team and keep up with him and his endeavors.

Published Review

Wexler, T. (2014, October). [Review of the book Laughing at my nightmare]. Publishers Weekly. Available online from:

Cover Picture Citation

Carr, M. (2014). Cover of Laughing at my nightmare. Retrieved from


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