|Image is of the cover of Wonderstruck.|
Having loved books all my life, I often wish for more characters with differing abilities/disabilities, especially in children's fiction. I've seen a lot of characters with autism and Asperger's syndrome, particularly in young adult fiction, but characters who are deaf, blind, have mobility issues, or have other challenges are not really depicted all that often. I wrote recently about a study done on 131 winners of the Newbery Medal and Honor awards and found that only 31 of the books contained a major or minor character with a disability - and most often were simply supporting characters included to develop the main character's moral values.
That's why I was excited to see Brian Selznick mention Deaf culture and deaf identity in a recent interview with Publisher's Weekly. In the article, Brian explains why he wanted to include Deaf characters and how he has spoken to Deaf individuals who appreciated the very visual nature of his previous, wonderful book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Wonderstruck features entwining stories - one told in words, the other in pictures:
I started what became Wonderstruck while I was still working on Hugo. I had been thinking about Deaf culture after seeing this really, really good documentary, Through Deaf Eyes, which is about the history of Deaf culture. There was a line about how the deaf are a “people of the eye.” Most of the ways they communicate is visually. To me, that was the perfect reason to tell a story about a deaf person through illustrations. I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.Brian and the interviewer, Sue Corbett, also discuss the difficulty of "having to look for one’s culture outside of one’s biological family" that I think is really touching and interesting.
I'm really excited to read Wonderstruck now. Speaking of books with deaf characters, my friend Caris recently told me about Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz, in which the main character's little brother is deaf. I plan on picking this one up soon to take a look at how the character is handled - too bad I have to wait till September for Wonderstruck!