In researching the topic of quality children’s literature titles featuring characters with special needs, I realized that it would be easier to create a list of places to go in order to search for these types of books and what to look for in a “good” book, rather than coming up with a comprehensive list of “good” books. As educators, we all understand the importance of using literature to connect with children on various topics for study, or even emotions. What sometimes we fear, however, is pointing out differences or starting conversations about others who are different. It is important to understand that opening a dialog is the important first step to understanding not only differences, but similarities amongst our peers. Using a quality piece of literature is a perfect way to start a conversation of that nature. We must be choosey about the types of books we open these conversations with, as that will set the tone for the children’s understanding of the subject.
Many stories often stereotype people with disabilities, sometimes in an excessively positive way. As you look through a book. Stay away from books that…
• Cast people with disabilities as victims and evoke pity, sorrow or sentimentality toward them
• Cast people only in tokenistic ways, rather than as developed characters with distinct lives and personalities
• Represent the achievements or ordinary actions of people with disabilities as heroic
• Never show people with disabilities as independent, but rather depict them as helpless and in need of excessive support or assistance from people without disabilities in order to lead a functional life
• Portray people with disabilities as overly preoccupied with their conditions and consumed with the hope of recovery or cure
• Utilize condescending language (e.g., special, crazy, sick, slow, cripple, dumb, retarded, idiot).
• Show people with disabilities only in “special” settings and programs, and never show them participating in activities considered typical for their age group
• Dwell on what people with disabilities can’t do rather than what they can do
• Represent disabilities as deficiencies rather than differences
Instead, look for books that have received the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Make the choice to share books that promote the following characteristics…
• Use person first language (people with disabilities, not disabled people)
• Promote empathy, accuracy and an overall feeling of understanding for people with disabilities
• Demonstrate respect for and acceptance, depicting them as more similar than different from other people (“one of us” rather than “one of them”)
• Promote positive images of persons with disabilities and represent them as strong, independent people, who others can look up to or admire
• Depict people with disabilities in integrated settings and activities—in school, at work, or in the community among peers with and without disabilities
• Illustrate characters and adaptive equipment accurately
Check out the Anti-Defamation League website www.adl.org/educaiton-outreach/books-matter/?referrer=http://archive.adl.org/bibliography/#.Vyo-uoQrLIU for their list of great books for depicting the life of persons with disabilities.