Friday, February 11, 2011

A Distinct Lack of Characters with Disabilities in Children's Literature

This article from Disability Scoop highlights what I think is an ongoing issue in children's books: the lack of characters with disabilities.

From Flickr user Svadilfari
I'm not picky about my reading material; I read books intended for any audience, no matter the age. I am always pleasantly surprised when I encounter a character who's "different," and when the author of the book handles it well. A good example of that would be a recent favorite of mine, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, which features a deaf supporting character who reminded me a lot of myself at that age.

As noted in the article, researchers looked at 131 winners of the Newbery Medal and Honor and found that just 31 contained a character - major or supporting - with a disability. According to the article:
What's more, characters with disabilities were most likely to be supporting characters and were often used to boost the emotional growth of those without disabilities rather than to develop in their own right, the study finds.
As a child I would have loved to read a book that contained a strong character who wore hearing aids, like me. I definitely wouldn't want to see "different" characters shoehorned in like Very Special Episodes of television shows, but more representation would definitely be nice.

2 comments:

  1. I agree this is a problem. Studies also show that most children's books feature a boy lead character, because girls don't care if the main character is a boy or a girl, but boys will only read stories about boys. I wonder if publishers are afraid "able bodied" kids won't read books about kids with differences?

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  2. Hi, Megan! Thanks for shedding some light on this important topic. The things you wrote were exactly some of the reasons that I decided to write my children's books, "Ellie's Ears" and "Happy Birthday to My Ears." I was sick and tired of not seeing these children represented in literature, or, when they were included, they were a minor character, singled out as "special" and in some way pitiable. My books, which were illustrated by a deaf adult bilateral cochlear implant user (Rachel Chaikof), feature as main characters children who are deaf but listen and speak with cochlear implants. Instead of labeling these characters as "different" or focusing on what they cannot do, the books put characters with disabilities in the narrator's position, focusing on their skills, abilities, and what they CAN do. The books are designed to instill pride and self-advocacy skills in children by making hearing loss just one of the many things that make us all unique. Rachel and I do not profit from the books. All proceeds are donated to organizations that help to empower children with hearing loss and their families to reach their fullest potential. It is our hope that every child can enjoy a storybook with characters "just like me!" The books, along with other resources on hearing loss, can be found at our website: www.cochlearimplantonline.com --EAB

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