This is the author’s version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source: Gilmore, Linda & Howard, Glenn (2016) Children’s books that promote understanding of difference, diversity and disability. Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools, 26, pp. 218-251. This file was downloaded from: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/101750/
c Copyright 2016 The Author(s)
Notice: Changes introduced as a result of publishing processes such as copy-editing and formatting may not be reflected in this document. For a definitive version of this work, please refer to the published source: https://doi.org/10.1017/jgc.2016.26
Running head: CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Children’s Books that Promote Understanding of Difference, Diversity and Disability
Linda Gilmore Faculty of Education Glenn Howard Faculty of Health Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Address correspondence about this article to: Linda Gilmore Faculty of Education Queensland University of Technology Victoria Park Road Kelvin Grove QLD 4059 Australia Email: [email protected]
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 2 Abstract An important goal of inclusive education is to create an environment in which individual differences are appreciated, and where all children are valued. Books are an important way in which children learn about themselves, others and the world around them. Children’s literature can potentially promote awareness of individual differences and similarities, acceptance of self and others, and information that counteracts ignorance, misperceptions and stereotypes about disability. This awareness, acceptance and knowledge should ultimately contribute to greater understanding, empathy and respect for diversity. In this article, we review over 50 children’s books that may be of value for assisting children of different ages to understand and appreciate individual differences and disabilities. Most of the reviews were contributed by postgraduate psychology students who were enrolled in a disability unit at Queensland University of Technology.
Keywords: children’s books, bibliotherapy, disability, individual differences, awareness, acceptance
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 3 One of the challenges for successful school inclusion of children with developmental disabilities is the creation of an atmosphere in which difference and diversity are accepted and appreciated. Several developmental processes are important precursors to the capacity to accept others and value them despite their differences in characteristics such as appearance, behaviour and ability. Children first need an awareness of the fact that everyone is different and that each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. This awareness strengthens perceptions about the self, including an understanding of one’s own strong points and limitations, and evaluations of the ways in which one is similar to, or different from, others. Such awareness and understanding provides the essential basis for self-acceptance and acceptance of those who are different from oneself. Young children are aware of individual differences from a very early age. They recognise differences in physical appearance such as skin and hair colour, and they begin to notice ways in which other children are alike or different from themselves. However, their understanding of individual differences is generally limited to observable features. Attributes of others that are encountered for the first time (e.g., beards or glasses) may initially be confusing or frightening. Not surprisingly, young children conceptualise disability predominantly with respect to physical appearance (Dyson, 2005) and they may respond negatively to peers who appear physically different (Diamond, Hestenes, Carpenter & Innes, 1997). It is not until around the time of school entry that children start to become aware of more subtle differences and this enables them to recognise less visible disabilities. Eventually they learn that superficial differences may obscure inner similarities, and they develop a better capacity for evaluation and comparison.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 4 Towards the end of their first year of life, children develop an awareness of themselves as separate from others (Stern, 1985). Over the next two years, their sense of self develops. They describe themselves in relation to categorical terms (e.g., gender, age) and recognisable characteristics (e.g., blue eyes, curly hair) (Stipek, Gralinski, & Kopp, 1990). Some capacity for self-evaluating against external standards for characteristics such as appearance (e.g., pretty, dirty) or behaviour (e.g., good, naughty) is evident (Kagan, 1984) but young children do not generally make self-evaluations based on social comparisons. By preschool age, however, most have developed a more complex sense of self and the ability to reflect on their similarities to, or differences from, others. Initially dependent on the feedback they receive from parents and other caregivers (DiBiase & Miller, 2015), children’s perceptions of themselves become more influenced by peers and teachers, and they increasingly compare themselves against others. Their awareness of individual differences and similarities is expanded with increased exposure to less proximal influences, including the media. Contact with classmates with disabilities may contribute positively to the personalisation and acceptance of diversity; however, in poorly supported contexts there is a risk that exposure will lead to negative outcomes such as rejection, teasing, stereotyping and conflict (Putnam, Markovchick, Johnson, & Johnson, 1996). Features of supportive contexts include opportunities for meaningful contact with a diverse range of children, the presence of adult models of positive interactions, and the provision of accurate knowledge about disability (Brown, Odom, & McConnell, 2008). The capacity for inter- and intra-personal understanding continues to grow, becoming more complex and sophisticated as children develop. Increasingly they
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 5 recognise their own internal traits (cognitive and psychological) and make comparative evaluations with peers. By adolescence, the capacities for deeper reflection, perspectivetaking and hypothetical reasoning are usually evident. These advanced skills enable, but do not guarantee, more sophisticated understandings and acceptance of self and others. Compared with their typically developing peers, children with developmental disabilities are more likely to be teased, rejected or neglected, to have fewer friends, and to be perceived negatively by others (Chamberlain, Kasari, & Rotheram-Fuller, 2007; Symes & Humphrey, 2010; Taheri, Perry, & Minnes, 2016). Although some studies have found that children with developmental disabilities are socially accepted and able to form friendships with their typically developing peers, some of the characteristic features of “best” friendships may be lacking and more intimate relationships tend to be limited (Webster & Carter, 2013). Given that one of the most important goals of inclusive education is to provide opportunities for children with developmental disabilities to interact with, and form meaningful friendships with, students who are developing typically, numerous interventions have attempted to increase social acceptance within mainstream classrooms. Interventions include cooperative learning (Putnam et al., 1996), disability simulations (Hurst, Corning, & Ferrante, 2012), disability awareness programs (Ison et al., 2010; Moore & Nettelbeck, 2013; Rillotta & Nettelbeck, 2007), and multi-component education projects (de Boer, Pijl, Minnaert, & Post, 2014). Using strategies such as discussions, puppet shows, structured interactions and classroom activities, interventions aim to improve knowledge, attitudes and acceptance of individuals with developmental disabilities (see Lindsay & Edwards, 2013, for a systematic review). Outcomes from
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 6 these programs have been variable, with some showing positive effects, at least in the short-term, and others producing non-significant results. Only a few reports have been published about the use of children’s books to promote attitudes towards disability, and none of the articles we located provided any quantitative measures of change as a result of their interventions. In a qualitative study of primary school students, Adomat (2014) recorded children’s comments during discussions about books that featured differences and disabilities. Themes in the data included identification with characters and issues of equity. In interviews after the intervention, teachers reported positive changes in the ways in which students treated their classmates with developmental disabilities, and improvements in how the children with disabilities viewed themselves. The researcher concluded that exploring disability issues in depth led to children becoming better informed, more aware of the ways in which individuals with disabilities are similar to themselves, and more compassionate towards others. Similarly, Parsons (2013) studied children’s reactions after reading stories that featured children with disabilities and concluded that book reading helped students to identify and empathise with those with developmental disabilities. Ostrosky, Mouzourou, Dorsey, Favazza and Leboeuf (2012) described an intervention for young children called Special Friends. This program involved both direct contact with peers with special needs and indirect experiences of difference and disability using children’s literature. Five of the books we review in the current article (Don’t Call Me Special, My Friend Isabelle, Susan Laughs, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red and All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!) were among the 18 used in this six-week intervention. Program staff developed lessons to facilitate book reading and discussions, and children
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 7 were encouraged to take the books home for reading with their families. Unfortunately, the only support for program effectiveness came from teacher testimonials, rather than empirical evidence. Teachers reported positive changes in students’ treatment of their peers with disabilities. In addition, the teachers reported feeling more comfortable about discussing disability with their students after the program. Wilkins, Howe, Seiloff, Rowan and Lilly (2016) investigated the reactions of primary school children (from Grades 3 and 4) to the ways in which characters with disabilities were depicted in books. They presented books in interactive sessions and recorded student comments. Systematic analysis of themes in the data highlighted the tendency of students to respond in ways they perceived to be socially acceptable, rather than to provide deep and reflective comments on the issues depicted in the books. Using Children’s Books in Inclusive Classrooms Books are an important way in which children learn about themselves, others, and the world around them (Norton & Norton, 2010). As Prater and Dyches (2008) stated, “books provide windows by which children can look outside of their own experiences and live vicariously through others” (p.xiii). Prater and Dyches pointed out that books can be mirrors too, enabling children to reflect on themselves, possibly comparing their own experiences with those of characters in the book, and noticing similarities and differences. Good children’s books meet other important criteria as well: they must be developmentally appropriate, they need to deliver their message cleverly through wellchosen words and skilfully blended illustrations, their stories have to be relatable for children, as well as engaging and entertaining not only for child readers, but also for the adults who will be choosing books and taking part in story reading.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 8 Using the therapeutic process known as bibliotherapy, books can be used by trained professionals to help children cope with issues such as bullying, abuse, divorce and loss (Haeseler, 2008; Mendel, Harris, & Carson, 2016). The process enables children to connect with characters in similar situations, allowing them an indirect way of exploring their own thought and emotions, with the potential to develop important insights and resolutions. A distinction has been made between clinical and developmental bibliotherapy. The former generally addresses more serious emotional or behavioural issues and is undertaken in clinical settings by psychologists, psychiatrists or counsellors. Developmental bibliotherapy is defined as a guided reading process, one that can be undertaken by school staff, including educators and librarians, in order to address issues such as bullying or friendships (Cook, Earles-Vollrath, & Ganz, 2006). Books can also be a powerful tool for increasing awareness, knowledge, understanding and acceptance of oneself and others, including those with differences and disabilities (Prater & Dyches, 2008). Ultimately, children’s books have the potential to provide comfort and aid healing, to encourage reflection, counteract stereotypes, promote empathy, and create an appreciation of diversity. In this review, we present a wide range of books that are potentially useful for helping children to understand and appreciate individual differences and disabilities. Some specifically focus on developmental disabilities, but we have excluded books that are purely informational in nature. In particular, we are interested in books that convey subtle or indirect messages such as “in some ways we’re the same, in some ways we’re different” and “be happy with who you are”. Most of the books are aimed at a general audience, but a few are directed more particularly to children with disabilities themselves
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 9 (e.g., All My Stripes) or to their siblings (e.g., We’ll Paint the Octopus Red). Although the majority of the books we review are aimed at the early and middle childhood age groups, we include some that are suitable for older children and teenagers. Many of the books will be equally thought provoking and enjoyable for adults! Most of the following reviews were prepared by postgraduate students in Queensland University of Technology’s Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental) program, with editorial or additional input from us in some cases. The reviews were assigned as an exercise in a second year disability unit in 2015 and 2016. Each review was guided by the set of questions Blaska (2003) suggested should be posed when evaluating children’s books about disability. Specifically, we considered whether the book promotes empathy rather than pity; depicts acceptance not ridicule; emphasises success rather than, or in addition to, failure; promotes positive images of persons with disability; assists children to gain an accurate understanding of disability; demonstrates respect for persons with disability; promotes the attitude of “one of us” not “one of them”; uses appropriate language (e.g., person first); describes the disability or person with disability realistically (i.e., neither subhuman nor superhuman); and illustrates characters in a realistic manner. The books are grouped according to the age range for which they are best suited: under 3 years, 3 – 7 years, 8 – 12 years, and 12+ years. It is possible to find simple board books that convey messages about individual differences and acceptance and are aimed specifically at babies and infants. In addition, some of the books we consider for 3 to 7year-old children would also be enjoyed by children under 3 years, especially the ones featuring animal characters, and of course some of these would continue to be
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 10 appreciated by children older than 7. We begin our reviews by mentioning a few examples of books for very young children. Board books for children under 3 years All Kinds of People, by Emma Damon and Sheri Safran, introduces young readers to individual differences in characteristics such as height (some people are tall), facial appearance (some people have freckles), and interests (some people like to dance). The book has lift-up flaps that appeal to very young children, and ends with a “mirror” and a page for children to record their own details (e.g., height, skin colour and hobbies). Although we question the accuracy of the final statement “there are as many different kinds of people in this world as there are clouds in the sky and fish in the sea”, the book effectively introduces the notion of individual differences to very young children. Review by Linda Gilmore Hazel the Hedgehog is a board book with no mention of the author or year of publication. None of the other animals want to play with Hazel because she is too prickly. Of course this makes Hazel sad, until she becomes friends with a tortoise who is “special” too. Thus, the prickly hedgehog and the slow tortoise, both shunned by the other animals, find a friend at last. Although this little story is initially appealing because of its happy ending, the message is not one of acceptance and inclusion, but rather of rejection and exclusion. Review by Linda Gilmore I Need a Hug, by Australian author Aaron Blabey, is another book about a spikey hedgehog who is looking for affection: “I need a hug. Will you cuddle me, Lou?” But the response from another animal is: “What? With those spikes? Get away from me! Shoo!” All the animals run away from the little hedgehog, refusing to give her a hug … but then
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 11 along comes a snake who wants a kiss! This is an enchanting little tale that is suitable for even the very youngest child. The story embraces difference and highlights every person’s need for affection. Review by Linda Gilmore Percival the Plain Little Caterpillar, by Helen Brawley, is an eye catching board book with sparkly colourful pages, about a plain little caterpillar who wishes he could be colourful like all the others creatures that live with him. He would like to be red like ladybird, blue like dragonfly, green like frog, or yellow like bee. Frog teases him saying “Green is great. It’s a pity you’re so plain instead”. Percival feels sad and bad about himself saying “I’m not green or red, I’m just Percival the plain little caterpillar”. It does not make him happy comparing himself to others. In the end of the story he finds out that it does not matter what we look like, we are always beautiful on the inside. Even though he turns into a beautiful butterfly with all of the colours, he is still the same caterpillar. With vibrant pages shiny and glittering, this book can also teach young children about different colours, while showing them that whatever they look like they are special, they just may not know it yet. Review by Mikayla Howard (age 11) Books for preschool and early primary school children For children in the 3 to 7 age group, there is a wide range of picture books with potential value for enhancing children’s understanding and acceptance of diversity. The first two sets of books we review have the themes of individual differences and selfacceptance, respectively. The books about individual differences range from those that simply focus on pointing out that everyone is different (e.g., Whoever You Are) to those that present a collection of characters, each of whom has a particular disability, either implied or explicit (e.g., Siggy’s Parade). The main intent of these books is to highlight
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 12 for children that individuals are both similar to, as well as different from, others. This important message is the essential basis for understanding and appreciating diversity, and for developing empathy (Ostrosky, Mouzourou, Dorsey, Favazza & Leboeuf, 2013). As well as focusing on individual differences among people, some books highlight the fact that each person has his or her own personal strengths and weaknesses (e.g., A Rainbow of Friends) and indeed that characteristics which initially appear to be weaknesses can in fact become strengths under certain circumstances (e.g., Two Left Feet). We also include in this section on individual differences two books (Don’t Call Me Special and It’s Hard Not to Stare), where there is a more explicit focus on educating children about disability. Developing an understanding of individual differences and learning to accept those who are different to us goes hand in hand with developing an awareness of our own strengths and weaknesses, and an acceptance of ourselves as we are. Many delightful picture books have been written with the theme of identity and self-acceptance. Edward the Emu provides an exceptional example of a book in this category. Edward is bored with being an emu so he tries out a series of different identities in the zoo. When he eventually returns to being himself, he gets a big surprise. This book, with its clever rhyme from Sheena Knowles and stunning illustrations by Rod Clement, gives important messages about being happy with one’s own unique self. Another favourite picture book on this theme is David McKee’s Elmer about an elephant who tries to change his brightly coloured patchwork appearance to fit in with all the grey elephants in his herd. But when he eventually manages to conceal his appearance with the help of berry juice, Elmer feels something is wrong. None of the other elephants recognise him until the rain washes away the dye and he shows his true colours again. Everyone is happy to see him, and they
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 13 decide that once a year all the elephants will decorate themselves in bright colours to celebrate Elmer’s Day. After reviewing the two sets of books about individual differences and selfacceptance, we consider those that feature a character with a specific disability. The first group focuses on books about animals, and the second set features child characters who have a specific disability, although the disability is not necessarily labelled. Books about appreciating individual differences Whoever You Are, by popular children’s author Mem Fox and colourfully illustrated by Leslie Staub, takes young children on a vivid journey around the world, depicting the rich variety of geographical, cultural, linguistic, and physical differences that exist between themselves and other children. The book includes children of many different ethnicities in a variety of settings, emphasising the notion that, despite outward differences, children’s inner experiences are the same. They all smile and laugh, cry and hurt. The overall message is one of tolerance and acceptance. Our similarities are greater than our differences. While the book does not include depictions of children with a disability, the emphasis is on similarities amongst all children. Inclusion and mutual respect are promoted through increased exposure to and knowledge of other cultures. This book could be a valuable resource in teaching young children the importance of acceptance and respect for others. Review by Selina Dunn A Rainbow of Friends, written and illustrated by P. K. Hallinan, is a short picture book aimed at children aged 3 to 5 years. Using rhyme, it describes how our friends may be different from us and emphasises that we all have strengths and weaknesses. There are a number of positive messages in this book – for example, that everyone should be
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 14 treated with kindness and care, no one should be made to feel different, and we should all help and accept each other. Although there are colourful illustrations that include children in wheelchairs and children with vision impairments, disability is not explicitly discussed; instead, wording such as “challenged in movement or speech” is used. This is a likeable, easy to read book that teaches children that if we celebrate all of our differences, we will enrich our own lives and the lives of others. Review by Brodi Killen There’s a Cat in our Class! written by Jeanie Franz Ransom and illustrated by Bryan Langdo, is “a tale about getting along”. The story depicts what cannot be described as an average class, or can it? Through the story of a class of dogs struggling to accept a new class member, the book challenges obstacles to inclusion, not only gender and ability but also species, because the new member of class is a cat! The dogs are unsettled by the new and different class member but don’t stop to think about how the new student might feel. However, as they learn more about the cat, they realise that cats are not so scary or strange, and that they can actually do things that even dogs cannot do. They learn about the value of accepting others – even if cats do not wag their tales like dogs! But when another new member joins the class, who or what could it be? This is a clever little story teaching the importance of understanding to develop acceptance, and that valuing and embracing difference benefits everyone. Review by Glenn Howard Special People Special Ways, by Arlene Macguire and illustrated by Sheila Bailey, presents differences in people with disabilities in a positive way, while also highlighting the underlying commonalities all people share. The book points out that everyone is different – some people struggle with walking, talking, hearing or seeing, but everyone is special in their own way. The overall message is that everyone is different
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 15 and that, although some of us may struggle with certain things, we are all unique and special, and deserve to be cared for, understood and made to feel good no matter how different we may seem. The book conveys feelings of empathy and acceptance, rather than pity for people with disabilities. The text and illustrations depict realistic examples of people with disabilities for the most part (Plenty learn slowly when trying to read but everyone’s special at fast or slow speed), although there was an unfortunate (and incorrect) suggestion in words and illustration that trained monkeys assist children in wheelchairs in the same way that guide dogs assist those with vision impairments (Animals serve like dogs, as a guide; and monkeys well trained to help alongside). This is the only jarring feature in an otherwise engaging book that contains lovely watercolour illustrations. Review by Emma Fitton Two Left Feet, written and illustrated by Adam Stower, is an engaging book that takes us on a journey to meet a group of monsters who are all unusual in their own way: “Tweet Flaps, Poppy Wiggles and Sadie Shimmys”, because the monsters, who are just like you and me, are at a disco (of course). This is a familiar story of one monster who cannot dance and is excluded, until he meets another monster who has also been left out. They realise, to their surprise, that they can join in and triumph, not in spite of their disabilities but because of them. This is a fun and entertaining book that can open up dialogue about individual differences, unintentional exclusion and intentional inclusion, in a light hearted and safe way, in order to break down fear of others … even monsters! Review by Glenn Howard Siggy’s Parade, by Blanche Dudley (illustrated by John Hazard & Robert Blankenship), tells the story of Siggy, a little bird who was born with only one wing. On
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 16 national “I Like Me” day, Siggy rounds up a group of friends who also have a disability and invites them to join his parade to celebrate their unique selves. He invites Ruthie Raccoon who uses a wheelchair, Bernie Bear who is much taller than other bears and has a stutter, Timothy Squirrel who has asthma, Penelope Pig who wears hearing aids, and Bubby the Puppy who has diabetes. At the end of the story, Siggy and his friends are joined in the parade by some animals without a disability. Although characters who are accepting of those with a disability are included, they play a minor role in the story, potentially creating an impression of “us” with a disability and “them” without a disability rather than conveying a truly inclusive message. The strengths of this engaging book do outweigh any shortfalls. While the story conveys positive messages about strengths and uniqueness, it does not overlook some of the personal struggles the animals with a disability face, and it usefully acknowledges the issue of bullying via the inclusion of bluebirds who bully Siggy for being different. The book contains a set of tips for children that focus on feeling good about themselves, and accepting and enjoying their own special traits. There are also some general tips for parents and educators, including ways of encouraging a child to recognise and celebrate his or her uniqueness. Review by Jessica Carroll The Five of Us, written and illustrated by Quentin Blake, tells about the adventures of five friends, each depicted to have some form of disability as well as a particular strength that makes each “amazing” in his or her own way. Disabilities are not explicitly mentioned, but are implied through the illustrations that depict features such as glasses or a wheelchair. The five friends find themselves in an emergency situation on an outing when their bus driver becomes ill. Each friend contributes one ability, such as
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 17 acute hearing or vision, or physical strength, to help the group get rescued. The message of this book is about identifying individual strengths and recognising the uniqueness of each person. Although all of the individual strengths possessed by the characters are realistic ones, their descriptions are somewhat exaggerated. For instance, Ollie’s acute hearing means he can hear a sparrow sneeze from five miles away and Mario’s physical strength is demonstrated in an illustration of him holding a huge sofa and potted cactus above his head with one hand. These superhuman skills, while potentially creating a somewhat unrealistic picture of people with disabilities, are nevertheless likely to be appreciated by young children. Another valuable message in this book is the importance of working together and valuing each person’s unique contribution. Review by Kamellia Carr Don’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas aims to educate young children about disability. Compared with the books reviewed above, this one’s focus is more direct and educational. In addition to providing general information about disability, there is a strong emphasis on challenging the view that children with a disability are different. The book stresses equality and encourages acceptance, discussing the fact that children with a disability may have their feelings hurt if they are seen as different or labelled “special”. It communicates to readers the importance of social inclusion through statements such as “we all need to work and play together”. In addition, the book provides concrete and useful advice about how to help children with a disability sensitively and appropriately. Although some of the language in the book is not appropriately person-first (e.g., “disabled children”) we acknowledge that at the time of publication (2001) there was less awareness of the importance of using person-first language. This book is interactive and
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 18 engaging, encouraging children to analyse pictures and posing questions related to disability. There are also suggestions for activities that teachers can use in the classroom. Review by Natalie Morgan It’s Hard Not to Stare is another book that has an explicit focus on educating children about disability. Written and illustrated by Tim Huff, it is a lovely book that promotes awareness, empathy and inclusiveness. Rather than being a traditional story with central characters, the book uses general thoughts and questions to communicate positive messages about interacting and understanding people with a disability. It is written in a rhyming verse style that uses positive language to question thoughts (e.g., “are they ok?”) on seeing someone with a disability. It provides a nice platform for introducing differences and explaining the language of disability. The book promotes messages of acceptance and understanding to present a respectful representation of disability and how a child may think about disability. There is a strong emphasis on making disability “familiar” rather than scary or different. The title of this book draws attention to the difficulty of not staring at a person with a disability and, rather than explicitly saying that it is generally okay to respectfully ask people with a disability about their experiences, it weaves through the rhyme that wondering and asking is okay if done sensitively: “So look with your eyes, but then do your part, be kind with your questions, look with your heart”. The reading guide for parents and educators in this book is well written by Jan Fukumoto who presents a number of proactive strategies such as using person first language. There is also a guide to some questions children may ask about disability, and ways that these questions could be used in classroom discussions. Overall,
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 19 this book removes negative stereotypes around disability and demonstrates inclusiveness through understanding difference. Review by Chantel Levkovich Books featuring themes of identity and self-acceptance Leo the Littlest Seahorse, by well-known Australian author Margaret Wild and illustrated by Terry Denton, is the delightful tale of a baby seahorse who is different to his 100 twins. Not only is he the smallest, but he cannot master basic survival tasks as quickly as his siblings. His eyes will not swivel to enable him to watch for enemies and his fin will not flutter to help him swim. Although the storyline is not unusual in the way it unfolds (predictably, Leo turns out to have one important skill that he can teach to his brothers and sisters), the way in which the story is told in beautifully chosen words and engaging illustrations makes this little book very appealing. It contains all the necessary ingredients such as excitement, suspense, relatability, and sensitivity (e.g., the big hungry groper chases the baby seahorses for a few terrifying moments; and the caring seahorse parents, Potbelly and Polly, sway “sadly side by side, their tails entwined” when their babies are ready to leave home) that make this a book to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Review by Linda Gilmore The Octopuppy, written and illustrated by Martin McKenna, is a beautifully illustrated and humorous book about Edgar and his pet Jarvis. Edgar desperately wanted a pet for his birthday, but Jarvis the octopus is not quite the puppy that Edgar has in mind. Jarvis is a wonderfully quirky character, full of personality, with a variety of skills – just not the kind of personality or skills that Edgar is looking for. In preparation for a dog show, he tries to mould Jarvis into the kind of pet he had expected. However, on the day of the competition, try as he might, Jarvis can only be true to himself. After continually
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 20 disappointing Edgar, Jarvis leaves a note of apology and disappears. Edgar then realises what a wonderful pet he had all along and searches for Jarvis. Eventually Jarvis returns home and is greeted by a celebration for him, and for the wonderfully unique pet he is. This is a fun and engaging story that contains a number of themes related to inclusion of children with a disability. There are themes of failure when Jarvis struggles to behave like a dog – that is, to be something he is not. His difficulties are context specific much in the way that children with a disability may struggle to fit expectations for academic or social success that are set for typically developing children. However, there is also acknowledgement of Jarvis’s own set of unique skills and talents, promoting a strengthsbased, rather than deficit-focused approach which aligns well with positive psychology models of disability. When Jarvis disappears, Edgar realises he has treated him badly and learns to appreciate Jarvis as he is, conveying a valuable message of empathy and acceptance. The fact that Jarvis is missed when he disappears, not just by Edgar but also by the others who help in the search, speaks to his value and meaningful place in the community, an important message of inclusivity. This message is also conveyed in the final illustration of a vibrant and colourful welcome home party for Jarvis where many and varied characters are all having a wonderful time together. Review by Emily Tredrea Feathers for Phoebe, written and illustrated by Rod Clement, is a beautifully illustrated book about a little grey bird, Phoebe, who is unhappy with her appearance. She desperately wishes to be more colourful and grand, so that she will be more noticeable. Phoebe seeks the help of Zelda, a large extravagant bird, who Phoebe admires. Zelda gives Phoebe a set of large colourful feathers she can attach to improve her appearance. Unfortunately, all these feathers attract negative attention because they make Phoebe
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 21 clumsy. She attempts to gain positive attention by dancing and singing, but ends up tumbling to the ground, losing all her new feathers on the way down. Her fall is broken by another little grey bird who catches her, noting “Wow, you sure know how to be noticed”. The story ends with the two little grey birds becoming friends. This is a fun and engaging book, with bright colourful pictures. It promotes an important message about self-acceptance (“just be yourself”). However, despite all her attempts, Phoebe only finds acceptance with another little grey bird, someone just like her. There is no suggestion that she becomes accepted or appreciated by all the other characters and thus the story does not promote the theme of inclusion. Nevertheless, the positive messages about selfacceptance and the important qualities of friendships (acceptance and support, rather than popularity and attention) make this a useful book for young children. Review by Emily Tredrea Nobody Laughs at a Lion, written by Paul Bright and beautifully illustrated by Matt Buckingham, promotes the importance of self-acceptance through not comparing oneself to others. It tells the story of Pa Lion, who feels he needs to prove himself to be king of the jungle. So he tries to show that he is better than the other animals at many things, such as running - but he is beaten by Cheetah who laughs quietly; climbing trees – but he is outshone by Monkey who sniggers quietly as he swings from branch to branch easily and by his tail, no less; and being the strongest, until Elephant comes along leaving a trail of broken trees in his wake, while watching Pa Lion struggle to break down a small tree (Elephant trumpets quietly). Pa Lion hears the animals chuckling to themselves, which makes him furious and he lets out an enormous ROAR, which silences the rest of the animals, because Nobody Laughs at a Lion, who is certainly the best at roaring. This
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 22 clever book emphasises that boasting and trying to be better than others leads to unhappiness, and that valuing our own strengths is what is most important. Review by Glenn Howard Thelma the Unicorn, written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey, presents a clever and humorous little story that follows a similar theme about self-acceptance. Thelma the pony considers herself boring. More than anything in life, she wants to be famous and fabulous. Although she has a unique friendship with Otis the donkey who appreciates her just the way she is, Thelma has a deep desire to be special. One day, as the result of an accident involving a carrot and pink glittery paint, she is transformed into a unicorn. Suddenly Thelma is immersed in the world of fame and fabulousness that she had always wished for. But does her life change for the better? Is being a unicorn everything she dreamed it would be? Thelma’s story encourages young children to be happy just being themselves, and not to try to change in order to become more popular. Other possible, but unintentional, messages some children may derive from this book are that they should avoid venturing out of a safe paddock the way Thelma did because their feelings might be hurt, and also that people can be cruel no matter how fabulous you are. These messages, and the more obvious one about self-acceptance, provide lots of discussion opportunities for psychologists and counsellors. The author, Aaron Blabey, has recorded a truly delightful reading of his book which is available on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkL5O17z52U). Review by Nicole Wright Meep, by Brisbane writer and illustrator Andy Geppert, is the story of a bird with beautiful feathers that are the envy of all the other animals. One by one they ask Meep for one of his feathers so that they can become different. The various animals each have one
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 23 unique feature they are seeking to change, improve or camouflage with the help of Meep’s feather. For instance, turtle wants to be less shy, orangutan wants to be less orange, stick insect wants to stand out, and flea wants to be gigantic. But when Meep has kindly given each of his animal friends a feather, he has none left and feels sad. Then one by one the animals return Meep’s feathers because they realise they miss being themselves. This is an enchanting little book, with simple but effective text and engaging illustrations of the various animals. It conveys the messages that everyone is unique, and that even though there may be some things we do not like about ourselves, accepting and being yourself is “a very beautiful thing”. Review by Linda Gilmore Books featuring animals with a disability “Slowly Slowly Slowly” said the Sloth¸ by well-known author/illustrator Eric Carle, tells about a South American tree sloth who does everything very very slowly. One by one the jungle animals ask him why he is so slow, why he is so quiet, why he is so boring. The sloth does not answer them until the jaguar asks “Why are you so lazy?” The sloth thinks for a very long time before replying. Then he admits to being all those things the animals accuse him of … “but I am not lazy” he says, “that’s just how I am. I like to do things slowly”. This is a lovely short story that depicts a character who is slow – slow to eat, slow to move, and slow to process and respond to the animals’ questions. Individuals with intellectual disability, and some with learning disabilities and physical disabilities, tend to be slower in many ways than their typically developing peers. Sometimes their slowness is mistaken for passivity or laziness. Thus, this little book may be useful to help children understand that some people are slower than others – that’s just how they are – but they are not lazy. A pleasant side effect of reading this book may be
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 24 the very relaxed and sleepy state we found ourselves in by the end of the story! Review by Linda Gilmore The Higgledy Piggledy Pigeon, written by Don M. Winn and illustrated by Dave Allred, is the story of Hank, a young pigeon in flying school. Despite performing well on the theory part of his flying course, Hank’s sense of direction is in complete disarray during the flying assignment and his fellow pigeons make fun of him. The book uses rhyme and engaging illustrations of animal characters throughout, and a relatable school environment. Hank does manage to overcome his learning difficulty through perseverance and with the help of a compass. His teacher encourages him with comments that highlight Hank’s strengths and weaknesses (your takeoff and landing are truly outstanding … but your sense of direction could use some correction). This story highlights the importance of understanding individual characteristics, including strengths and weaknesses. It also emphasises how well-structured interventions and social support are important to overcome difficulties. The book includes an introduction for children, as well as final questions to facilitate discussion and reflection on core concepts developed throughout the book. Review by Azucena Velasco Leon All My Stripes, by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, is a wonderfully illustrated picture book about a zebra character who has autism. The authors, who are teachers, skilfully intertwine many of the common challenges children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may face in this engaging story. It begins with a very sad Zane Zebra looking out his window at a gloomy rainy day. He has just arrived home from school and he is telling his mother the struggles he has had at school, each event highlighting how different he feels from his classmates. His mother
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 25 listens and validates his feelings as he describes how hard it is for him at school. While looking into a mirror, Zane asks his mother “How come all anyone sees is my autism stripe?!” She replies: “When I look at you, I see many different stripes. If one were missing, you wouldn’t be the same”. She sees his honesty, caring and curiosity stripes, and explains that these are personal strengths. Zane runs out into the sun at the end of the story, exclaiming “There’s more to me than just my autism stripe … I love each stripe because without them, I wouldn’t be me!” This story promotes empathy for the differences that children with ASD may feel and reinforces the message that each child has strengths as well. There is, however, no mention of the similarities between Zane and his classmates, which may have been a useful additional message. Parents, clinicians and teachers will find the discussion notes helpful. The book also has a reading guide to make connections from Zane’s story to the real life challenges of children with ASD, making it an ideal teaching tool as well as an enjoyable story. Review by Samantha Archer Leo the Late Bloomer, written by Robert Kraus and illustrated by Jose Aruego, is the story of Leo, a young tiger cub who is late in acquiring skills like reading, speaking and appropriate eating behaviour (“he couldn’t do anything right”). Using concise language combined with bright watercolour images, the story suggests that Leo will eventually bloom if his parents are patient. Indeed, one day he can suddenly do everything, and his father who had been ignoring him (“a watched bloomer doesn’t bloom”) and his mother who had been waiting patiently give him a big hug. Although it is important to foster hope that a child with developmental delays will eventually catch up “in his own good time” (a view that may have been more prevalent when this book was originally published in 1971), most children require intervention and support, not just
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 26 time and patience. For children who believe that, like Leo, they “can’t do anything right”, the message that one day their skills will develop is a positive and encouraging one, although it may also have been useful to counteract the belief about not being good at anything by pointing out some of the things that Leo could in fact do, in addition to all the things he could not do. Review by Ruth Blackburn Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees, is the story of Gerald, a giraffe who can’t dance very well. At the jungle dance Gerald is upset when the other animals make fun of him (giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool, oh Gerald don’t be daft!). But a caring cricket helps him to find his own dancing style and to become the star of the jungle dance. This story is beautifully written with the use of poetry and entertaining images of animals dancing. It describes the thoughts and emotions of an endearing giraffe character who experiences social rejection and ridicule. Gerald learns that personal characteristics can be opportunities instead of obstacles. He finds his own unique dancing style (his hooves had started shuffling, making circles on the ground, his neck was gently swaying, and his tail was swishing round). The positive way of turning personal differences into opportunities, rather than obstacles, encourages readers to value their own individuality, as well as the individuality of others. Review by Azucena Velasco Leon. The Featherless Chicken, written and illustrated by Chih-Yuan Chen, tells the story of a chicken who was born without feathers. One day, the chicken sees some beautiful feathered chickens going on a boat trip and asks to join them. But, because of his unusual physical appearance, he is excluded (we don’t play with chickens without feathers). After he falls into a muddy puddle, however, the wind blows some leaves and
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 27 paper and other scraps onto his featherless body, giving the appearance of feathers. The other chickens have “never seen such a gorgeous chicken”. They invite him to join their boating adventure. But the trip ends in disaster when the boat tips over and all the chickens end up wet … and featherless. The story promotes the idea that, even if we all look different, underneath we are the same. Interestingly, before losing their feathers, all the feathered chickens look different, a fact that could have been highlighted to emphasise that difference is positive. The humour and unique artwork make this a very engaging book that is likely to appeal in particular to those who have experienced exclusion because of their differences. Review by Lisa Gabai Josh and the Little Wizard was written and illustrated by Peter William Rowe. This is the fourth book in the “Josh the Robot” series which recounts the experiences of a toy wizard who is brought home by a boy named Andrew. The other toys in the playroom quickly notice that the wizard does not speak or interact with them. Josh, a robot-car, leads by example and the other toys learn to be welcoming and patient with the little wizard, who is quite different in both his communication and behaviour. The wizard is revealed to be friendly and explains that although he may appear different, he can be nervous in new situations, so he appreciates being made to feel welcome. Through metaphor the book teaches that anxiety and communication difficulties can often be misinterpreted by others as disinterest or rudeness, and this can lead to anxiety and apprehension in others. The author/illustrator Rowe is a person with Down syndrome. Through the story, he demonstrates the values of inclusion, patience and kindness. Review by Selina Dunn Books featuring children with a disability
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 28 We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Pam DeVito, is a picture book written specially for children aged around 3-6 years who have a sibling with Down syndrome. The story follows Emma, a 6-year-old girl who is soon to be a big sister. At first disgruntled by the news of a baby sibling, Emma begins to imagine all the fun they will have together and eagerly awaits the birth. When Isaac is born, he is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Emma senses that her father is upset about the news, and questions whether Isaac will be able to do all the things she had planned for them. Her questioning makes her father realise that, with extra time and help, there is nothing Isaac cannot do. This book sends the message to siblings, and by extension to parents, that children with Down syndrome may take longer to learn but they can still participate in family activities and delight in childhood experiences. The emotions that families feel when a child is unexpectedly diagnosed with a disability are not overlooked, but the challenges for a child with Down syndrome tend to be downplayed, possibly appropriately for young siblings. There is a question and answer section at the end of the book with explanations that are suitable for young children, and the important note that children with Down syndrome are all different from one another. Review by Claire Fardoulys Just Because, written and illustrated by Rebecca Elliot, portrays disability positively and realistically, with a focus on the sibling relationship. Toby tells about his sister Clemmie who is his best friend, but who cannot walk or talk, or do many other things such as cook macaroni or pilot a plane. Toby does not know why Clemmie cannot do these things so concludes it is “just because”. The book celebrates individual differences and revels in similarities. Toby does not like storms and Clemmie does not
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 29 like her hair being brushed. Clemmie cannot cook or do maths, but Toby cannot do those things either. The author makes a subtle contrast between the thinking of adults and children. Clemmie does not mind when Toby makes a lot of noise or chases the cat. Adults do. But why? Just because. Toby and Clemmie are honest, genuine characters whose relationship appears unhindered by Clemmie’s disability. This brightly illustrated book is likely to be enjoyed by children and adults alike, and it will have particular value for siblings. A sequel Sometimes, now follows the two children when Clemmie has to stay in hospital. Review by Kristy Spencer Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, is a story that describes in simple rhyme all the things a little girl named Susan does and the emotions she feels. Young children will identify with Susan as she laughs and sings and flies and swings. She is shown working hard in school, swimming with her father, playing with friends, feeling happy, feeling sad. The book contains colourful pencil-and-crayon illustrations that portray Susan as a lively child in her everyday world. It is only revealed at the end of the story by one illustration without words that she uses a wheelchair. Susan Laughs sets out to promote positive images of disability, with an exclusive focus on encouraging the child reader to identify with Susan’s abilities, personality and sense of humour rather than on making them aware of any barriers she might experience as a result of her disability. The final illustration of Susan in her wheelchair stresses her sameness to other children: “That is Susan through and through – just like me, just like you.” Review by Lakshmi Dhushyanthakumar Looking Out for Sarah, written and illustrated by Glenna Lang, tells of a day in the life of a guide dog named Perry and his owner Sarah who is a teacher, dancer and
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 30 musician. The book is written from the perspective of the dog, and even the scene illustrations are shown from Perry’s perspective. The story relates the day’s routines and events such as walking to the shops, going to work, and meeting a friend for lunch. The reader is only explicitly told at the very end of the book that Sarah has a vision impairment. Rather than highlighting her difficulties, the emphasis is on showing that she does the same things as everyone else, provided that Perry is there to assist. The close bond between Perry and Sarah is a special part of this book. Overall, it provides a perspective on disability that is both positive and realistic. Review by Cameron Blade My Friend Isabelle, written by Eliza Woloson and illustrated by Bryan Gough, very gently illustrates the friendship between a little boy Charlie and his friend Isabelle. The story explores their friendship without explicitly stating that Isabelle has a disability (though at the back of the book an explanatory page reveals that Isabelle has Down syndrome). Throughout the book Charlie notices (realistic) similarities and differences between himself and Isabelle. Some of the differences are due to the fact that Isabelle has Down syndrome (for example, her words are hard to understand), while others are not (for example, they have different favourite toys and become upset when they forget to share). Charlie’s mum points out that “differences are what makes the world so great” and Charlie agrees with his mum saying “life is more fun with friends like Isabelle”. The message is not confined to people with Down syndrome and the book could be used for discussion about the many differences and similarities between us and others. Through the discussion of commonalities this book promotes a ‘one of us’ rather than a ‘one of them’ attitude. The differences describe all people and those with Down syndrome realistically, highlighting both strengths and weaknesses. The book cleverly introduces
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 31 disability as a difference like any other - being short or tall, girl or boy. My Friend Isabelle is beautifully illustrated and easy to read. The book is short and subtle, but provides a strong message of inclusion and valuing individuality, leaving the reader questioning whether Isabelle actually has a disability at all. Review by Ellen Anderson Looking After Louis, written by Lesley Ely and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, is a beautifully illustrated picture book for early to middle primary-school aged children. The story is narrated by a young girl who sits beside a new boy in class. “He’s not quite like the rest of us,” she explains, thus establishing from the very first page a theme of otherness that runs throughout this book and overshadows several positive themes around autism and disability. Louis has just arrived at the school, and the children notice he behaves differently. Sometimes he just stares at the wall. He does not speak much and, when he does, he only repeats the last words he has heard. The narrator reports that she and her friend look after Louis in the playground. They watch him join the boys playing football, but notice that Louis doesn’t seem to understand the rules. The boys get annoyed about this, but in class later on, Louis draws a complicated picture, and Sam, the class football expert, realises Louis has drawn a picture of the football game. This leads to mutual understanding, and Sam and Louis are allowed to leave class and play football. The narrator finds it unfair that Louis can play outside during class time but, after thinking about it, concludes, “I think we’re allowed to break rules for special people”. Looking After Louis portrays Louis’s strengths in visual perception and memory through his drawing of the football game, and ties this in with a lovely moment of connection with one of his classmates. Acceptance follows, with an impromptu football match. However, the general tone of the book emphasises Louis’s otherness. He behaves
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 32 differently, he is treated differently by adults, and the emphasis on his specialness remains throughout. The reason for Louis’s different behaviour is never explained. In fact, the teachers create an air of mystery around Louis, with secret smiles, asides and fingers to the lips. While Autism Spectrum Disorder is explained in a separate note on the final page, incorporating this into the story itself, and removing the emphasis on secrecy and specialness, may promote greater acceptance and a more positive understanding among child readers of this book. Review by Jane Wotherspoon Cherry Pie, written by Australian author Gretal Killeen and illustrated by Francesca Partridge and Franck Dubuc, is the story of two young girls, one of whom has difficulties with speech and language, and with motor skills. The story is told by one of the girls whose mother calls her Cherry Pie. When the other little girl moves in next door, Cherry Pie notices their similarities in facial features and, surprisingly, the fact that their mothers call them by the same unusual name. Cherry Pie then becomes aware of their physical differences and expresses her confusion and worry about these differences. At the end, the two girls are united by Cherry Pie’s puppy who slips through a hole in the fence and enthusiastically greets the new neighbour. Intended or not, the puppy appears symbolic of non-judgement and acceptance, and underscores the message that we are often scared of what we do not understand. During the story, there are some lovely moments of insight when Cherry Pie reflects on how her neighbour might feel and think, and touches on loneliness, an important social-emotional issue for all children, including those with a disability. Although some of the descriptions and responses to the neighbouring child (e.g., “stupid” and “she scares me”) may bother adults, they do reflect the kinds of reactions young children sometimes display towards those who are different,
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 33 and are offset by the subsequent empathy Cherry Pie develops. The mother who donated this book to our collection reported that it is a much loved story among her children, one of whom has a developmental disability. Review by Danica Warner My Brother Sammy is Special, written by Becky Edwards and illustrated by David Armitage, tells the story of a young boy who is struggling to understand and accept his brother Sammy’s disability. Sammy has autism, and his brother, the narrator of the story, reflects on his feelings about having a brother who is different. For example, Sammy goes on a different bus to school which makes his brother feel sad, Sammy prefers to lie on the grass at the park instead of playing with him and his friends which makes his brother feel embarrassed. The narrator’s mother explains that it is “because Sammy is special, and learns and likes to play in a different way”. In a pivotal moment, which many sibling readers will relate to, Sammy knocks down his brother’s block tower, leading the brother to cry angrily that he does not want a special brother. At that point, Sammy repeats “special brother” pointing to the narrator, and from that moment his perspective on being Sammy’s brother begins to change. Instead of feeling disappointed that Sammy will not meet his expectations and wishes, the narrator starts to join Sammy’s world by lying on the grass with him and enjoying sensory sand play with him. The language and illustrations in this book are well suited to a young audience. The colours change to match the mood of the scenario, which helps to communicate the emotional tone. The book aims to provide a balanced representation of the experience of having a sibling with a disability. Although perhaps not an intentional message, the fact that the sibling’s name is never revealed could suggest that siblings may feel nameless and unimportant in comparison to their special sibling who gains much attention. Whilst most of the
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 34 messages are positive, the repeated reference to Sammy doing things differently “because he is special” may lead some children to feel that all behaviours of their sibling or classmate with a disability must be accepted or excused, and that their own thoughts and feelings are not valid. However, the story ends with a message that many siblings will appreciate “sometimes I think I am lucky to have a special brother because that makes me special too”. Review by Lorilea Huon My Friend with Autism, written by Beverly Bishop and illustrated by Craig Bishop, is written with an emphasis on educating readers about what it is like for children to live with a diagnosis of autism. The book uses appropriate and sensitive language, portraying the common traits of autism and emphasising their functions. The strengths and difficulties of children with autism are described in a relatable and easy to understand manner. For example, the book discusses sensitivity to loud noises, but also mentions that hearing acuity means the child may be first to hear an aeroplane. The book focuses on lessening fears others have about autism, as well as increasing social acceptance and inclusion. The information presented is beneficial in assisting readers to make sense of, understand and interpret the interactions they have with children with autism. The story is educational and provides ideas and suggestions for how to engage with and assist children with autism. The illustrations are bright and engaging. Relevant information is included for parents and teachers, including 18 signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, strategies for helping children, and page by page explanations. Also included is a CD that provides opportunities for further interaction with the material covered in the book. Review by Natalie Morgan
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 35 All Kinds of Friends, Even Green! written and photographed by Ellen B. Senisi, is the true story of a young boy, Moses, who has spina bifida. The book depicts his acceptance and inclusion with “all kinds of friends”. Similarities, differences and friendships among the book’s characters (both people and animals) are highlighted. Moses truly has all kinds of friends, of all ages – some who are like him, in wheelchairs, some who are his age mates, some who are older children, some adults, and some animals. In the words of Moses, “I am lucky because I have so many friends.” He writes about one special friend for his school assignment – an iguana named Zaki who “may seem different to you at first because she is small and green and has little spikes on her back”. Zaki is missing some toes so, like Moses, she cannot move around easily. But, again like Moses, Zaki tries and tries so that now she can get to places she could not reach before. Moses conveys the key message of similarity and difference in his school assignment: “Even though she looks different than me, something inside her is the same as me.” This engaging book also contains some explanatory notes about disabilities, and about the individuals and animals in the story. Review by Glenn Howard Books for middle to upper primary school children (8 – 12 years) What’s Wrong with Timmy? by Maria Shriver with illustrations by Sandra Speidel, emphasises the similarities between children with and without disabilities. The book tells the story of 8-year-old Kate who meets a boy named Timmy at the park. At first, she sees only the things that are different about him and feels confused (she couldn’t stop staring … she felt funny inside … he somehow looked different). Over time though, she gets to know him better and to admire the positive personal qualities and strengths he has. She recognises the interests and characteristics they share, and she grows to
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 36 empathise with Timmy as he shares with her the negative impact of the bullying he experiences at school and the challenges he faces in life. Readers will learn that any discomfort they might feel around children with disabilities can lessen as they get to know them better and talk with their parents or other adults about questions or feelings they have. The role of parents in explaining disability, modelling respectful and inclusive attitudes towards those with a disability, and facilitating social inclusion is highlighted. Kate’s mother explains that Timmy has a special mission on earth just like she does. A strength of this book is the close and open relationship between Kate and her mother as they learn more about themselves and about disability. The innate value and worth of all children, with or without a disability, is a central message. The book frames some discussions in mainstream Christian language which may be useful for Christian families. Adults who read this book to children are encouraged to substitute alternative terminology (e.g., developmental or intellectual disability) for “mental retardation”, a term that is no longer appropriate, but which was in common usage in the United States when this book was published in 2001. Review by Peta Sharrock It’s OK to Be Different: An Amazing School Day, by Risa Peets and illustrated by Gary Sanchez, tells the story of Lance, a boy with Type 1 diabetes. Lance feels humiliated and rejected following an incident at lunch where friends point out that he is different. The book effectively promotes acceptance and inclusiveness by focusing on the message that It’s OK to Be Different. Empathy is illustrated through the reaction of the parent who acknowledges her child’s struggles with feeling different to his peers. The book also effectively and realistically illustrates the daily challenges for children with diabetes, promoting awareness and understanding. Lance is able to overcome various
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 37 insecurities and difficulties, demonstrating that success can be achieved. For some children with disabilities, this book may create high expectations about peer acceptance; however, it contains important messages about accepting difference that are applicable to any school scenario and any child who feels like an outsider because of his or her disability. Review by Johanna Hooijer A Boy and a Jaguar, written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Cátia Chien, is a beautiful real-life story narrated by the author. As a young boy, Alan has a love for all animals, including a special jaguar at the local zoo. Alan stutters and, as a result, he is often ignored or misunderstood at school, perceived by his teachers as “broken”. The only place where he feels heard and understood is when he is talking to his friend, the jaguar, or his pets (which include a hamster, gerbil, green turtle, chameleon and garter snake). One day, Alan makes a promise to his animal friends that if he can ever find his voice, he will be their voice and protector. The story then follows the life journey of Alan who goes on to university and receives speech therapy, finally learning to speak without stuttering. However, on the inside Alan still feels “broken” like he did as a boy. He travels overseas to protect jaguars, using his voice to set up the world’s first and only jaguar preserve. The undisputed heroes of this book are Alan’s animal friends who symbolise unconditional support and non-judgement, ultimately inspiring him to live his dream. This sends the powerful message that, with persistence, people can achieve their goals and make a positive contribution to the world. Review by Danica Warner Adam and the Magic Marble, by Adam and Carol Buehrens, is the story of Adam, a 10-year-old boy with Tourette Syndrome and his two friends, one of whom also has Tourette Syndrome and the other who has Cerebral Palsy. The boys find a magic marble
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 38 which has the power to turn bullies into frogs! But the marble’s magic is not ordinary and not always good – the boys discover it “could be so evil it would ruin the world”. The novel is written in the first person by Adam who provides detailed descriptions of Tourette Syndrome and describes candidly what it can be like to live with this disorder: “It is miserable, that is why sometimes I try to hit my head – to knock it right out of me … but I’m stuck with it”. Children will be able to connect with Adam’s thoughts and feelings about his own symptoms and the symptoms of his friends. His comments are blunt and unguarded, lacking the sensitivity that authors without personal experience of the condition might use to moderate their descriptions. Although tolerance between the bullies and the bullied is achieved at the end of the story, the magic marble is largely responsible for this outcome. The mixture of fantasy and realism in this book is intriguing. On the one hand, the impact of disability on children’s everyday lives is realistically and powerfully conveyed in words that children of this age group will relate to easily. On the other hand, the notion that magic may convert bullies or even cure some disability symptoms is obviously fantasy, yet it is this aspect of the book that is likely to be enjoyable and exciting for child readers. Although children need to know that there are valuable practical strategies for coping with bullying, they love fantasising about having magical powers, and those with developmental disabilities are probably no different. Review by Deanna Tessier and Nadine Missenden Arlene on the Scene, written by Carol Liu with Marybeth Sidoti Caldarone, is the story of a girl with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease who is beginning fourth grade. The book explains from a child’s perspective that this disorder is a neuromuscular condition which affects motor and sensory nerves. Arlene returns from school holidays wearing
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 39 purple leg braces and decides to run for the Student Government Secretary in her school. She campaigns, makes friends and meets obstacles along the way. The text does not ignore the difficulties Arlene has; however, it highlights what she can do and the ways in which she is included. She enjoys being treated the same as everyone else, even if it is when the boys throw leaves on all the girls, including Arlene. Her reflections on the ways in which she has judged others by their appearances in much the same way that people judge her, provide opportunities for readers to develop greater understanding and empathy. Overall, this is an entertaining and humorous novel with relevance to real-life issues for children with disabilities. Review by Angelique Gordon Keep your Ear on the Ball was written by Genevieve Petrillo. Based on a true story, this book describes how Davey is extremely independent despite his visual impairment. His classmates’ offers of help are politely rejected. Davey is perfectly capable of doing everything on his own, except playing kickball. Even though he is not successful in his kickball attempts, Davey still refuses help from his friends. They recognise his desire to be autonomous and devise a plan to allow him to be successful without losing his independence. The book attempts to show that even though we are bound by challenges, nothing is impossible as long as one tries and is prepared to accept some level of help from friends. An important message is that Davey is capable of doing many things on his own and does not necessarily want or need help from others. The book emphasises the importance of empathy, inclusion, respect and acceptance of individual differences. Review by Cherry Ko The Junkyard Wonders, written by Patricia Polacco, is based on the author’s childhood experiences. In the story, Trisha begins a new school, hoping that she can have
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 40 a fresh start where no-one knows that she was previously in a “special class”. She just wants to be a regular girl in a regular class. To her dismay, on the first day she is told that her class is known as the “junkyard”. But when she meets her extraordinary teacher and her classmates, she comes to realise to her surprise that the children are actually “Junkyard Wonders”, each with their own personal strengths. Trisha learns to overcome bullying and self-doubt. She emerges with new-found strengths, strong friendships and a sense of belonging. The story explores feelings and issues related to stigma and ways to overcome challenges by seeing the potential in everyone, even those once viewed as worthless “junk”. Trisha’s teacher promotes self-determination, and a positive sense of self and identity, telling the students “be proud of who you are”. The story explores issues such as bullying and loss, depicting the grief and sadness experienced by children at the loss of a friend with a genetic disorder, and highlighting the need to support each other in difficult times. Although this book challenges conventional ways of thinking about ability, it does not promote a message of inclusion given the segregation of those with difficulties and disabilities, and continual references to their placement in the junkyard. Nevertheless, it does promote other important messages and is a story born out of a real life experience. The book is beautifully illustrated and promotes understanding and appreciation of differences as strengths. Review by Chloe Joyce The Ability Gang, by Heide Kaminski, tells the story of a boy named Rudy who discovers a group of children with disabilities who have been imprisoned by the evil “Dr Abandony”. The children work together, and with Rudy’s help they escape. A happy ending tells of the children being adopted and given the care they need by loving families. There are some positive messages in this book – for example, that all children
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 41 have unique strengths, that children with disabilities are “just like the rest,’ and that working together can result in success. Most powerful is when Rudy reflects on his own mistreatment of a child with a disability, and makes a commitment to stand up for that child in the future. Unfortunately, the book presents some misleading stereotypes about disabilities. There are positive attributions toward able-bodied children and negative attributions toward children with disabilities. Rudy’s parents describe him as the “perfect child” and feel they are the “luckiest in the world” because he is smart, healthy, well behaved and sensible. The children with disabilities, however, are abandoned by their parents, imprisoned and need Rudy’s help to escape. Thus, the characterisations present the able-bodied child as “perfect” and the other children as abandoned, powerless and pitied. Review by Connie Reed Normal Norman by Tara Lazar, with illustrations by Stephan Britt, is a quirky story about an orangutan named Norman. The role of the book’s narrator, a junior scientist, is to define “normal” using Norman as her example because he is “exceedingly normal” – indeed, Norman has been found by scientists to be “The most average animal on earth. Regular. Ordinary. A common, everyday creature”. When the junior scientist examines Norman, she documents his normal head size, normal paws, and normal family. But, to her dismay, these normal attributes are soon overshadowed by all of Norman’s abnormal features – he eats pizza not bananas, he sleeps in a bunkbed instead of a cave, and his friends are creatures who should be his natural enemies in the wild. “Most. Certainly. Not. Normal!” the young scientist exclaims. As the head scientist records at the end of the investigation: “Results: “Normal” is impossible to define”. This enjoyable book provides the perfect springboard for interesting discussions around the themes of
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 42 “What does it mean to be normal?” and “Who is normal anyway?” Review by Linda Gilmore Books for older children and adolescents The Bus People, by Rachel Anderson, is the story of a bus driver’s “fruit-cake bus” that follows seven children and their experiences of living with varied disabilities such as Down syndrome and intellectual disability. Realistic portraits are drawn of each child’s experience, struggles and desires. The common themes of the characters are wanting to be heard, to have a choice and a say, to be included or involved, to have ‘use’ or purpose, and to be given a chance. The important message in the book is that these children are individuals, with their own preferences and abilities which are often beyond what is expected or assumed. The book shows how difficult it can be for people with disabilities to be understood, even by their own families. For instance, even though the parents’ intentions are positive, to protect their child and give them quality of life, the parents do not facilitate growth in their children. The book reflects the social theory of disability: being disempowered or limited by others in society rather than one’s own body or being. Even though the children in the book all have a disability, there are significant individual differences. The book highlights the importance of inclusion; however, some of the language may seem offensive or inappropriate today, with terms such as ‘spaz’, ‘mong’, ‘nutty’ and the ‘specials’ being used. When read in the context of the time in which it was written though, it is clear that these terms are not reflective of the opinions of those in the book. The non-emotive tone allows readers to form their own opinions. The book shows that disability does not define a person and that stereotypes can be wrong. This book is suited to high school students and could be used to gain perspective
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 43 on various disabilities and to show how views of disability change over time. Review by Maria Kazovsky Anything but Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin, is a fictional account of a preadolescent boy with autism. Through talks of past, present and imagined future, readers are given a glimpse into the everyday world of Jason, his family relationships, and his social dilemmas within a confusing social world, especially ones involving the opposite sex. Social faux pas at school are a routine occurrence, the ability to relate to family is an endless struggle, and those who offer compassion and understanding are rare. Jason finds relief in escaping through his beloved computer. He is able to express himself and acquire a sense of social acceptance and connection within the online world, and develops his first friendship – with a girl no less. The book highlights some of the common struggles associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These include a sense of belonging in inclusive education; managing bullying; negotiating family relationships and conflict; accessing universal opportunities in life; and addressing the misconceptions of others. The author assists the reader to develop a sense of “being on the inside looking out” by showing how some of the stereotypical behaviours (such as flapping) may serve an important function for the child with autism. As a result, the reader is left with a sense of respect, understanding and empathy for Jason. Review by Mirjana Meyer Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick, is a touching and sometimes challenging story of two boys with disabilities who form an unlikely but rewarding friendship. It is written in a fun, quirky style that uses young language such as “butthead” and “dingbat” to describe the characters. The protagonist of the story, Maxwell, is an “overgrown” boy who has a disability – all his life he has been called dumb or slow. He is aware that most
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 44 people fear him, due to his physical size and because he looks like his father, “Killer Kane”, who is in prison for murdering Maxwell’s mother. By contrast, his neighbour Kevin is small for his age and uses leg braces and crutches to walk. Kevin has “Morquio Syndrome”, a physical disability with a short lifespan. But Kevin is extremely clever, and with his brain and Maxwell’s body, the two become Freak the Mighty. Told from Maxwell’s perspective, this book addresses important concepts of friendship and disability, and touches on the impacts of childhood trauma, grief and loss. Key scenes enable children to become more aware of how those with cognitive or physical disabilities are affected by the reactions of others. In one scene, a schoolteacher regards Maxwell’s learning difficulties as an excuse, stating he is a lazy student who has a bad attitude. Elsewhere, people see only the physical weakness in Kevin rather than his strengths of intelligence and resilience. The book carries serious themes that are graphically violent in nature. Parent reviews state that it contains “unbelievably raw portrayals of blind rage and murder”. Therefore, teachers and parents need to exercise caution and ensure that young readers have the ability to understand and reflect on themes without emotional distress. The reader’s age and maturity will be important considerations. The violence in this book is countered by the positive themes, such as friendships and persistence in overcoming bullying, trauma and loss. The overarching message is that, no matter what physical or mental disadvantage you may have, there is something you can offer the world and there is power in strength and courage. For those who enjoy Freak the Mighty, it has now been released as a film, and a sequel Max the Mighty has also been written. Review by Erin Davis and Shanling Su
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 45 Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence was written by Luke Jackson, a 13-year-old boy who has Asperger syndrome. Luke shares many of the challenges of being a teenager with Aspergers syndrome, bringing a voice to the sometimes voiceless in an eloquent and humorous personal account of his life. He provides tips on how best to support someone with Aspergers syndrome and discusses issues of bullying, dating, friendships, sleep, diet, fixations and research about treatment. Luke encourages openness and honesty from parents and professionals. He bases the opinions and advice in the book on his own experiences and it is important that readers keep this in mind. The book is a great resource for children and adolescents who may be experiencing similar challenges and seeing that there are other young people who have faced these challenges and come out the other side. Review by Julia Gigante Wonder, written by R.J. Palacio, is a novel that follows the journey of a 10-yearold boy named Auggie who has a severe facial deformity (Craniofacial syndrome). He introduces himself by stating “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an Xbox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.” Auggie has been home schooled and is starting grade 5 in a mainstream school for the first time. Transitioning to a new school is often difficult for the average kid, achieving acceptance while trying not to stand out. Auggie has a challenge ahead of him as there is no hiding his appearance which he describes as “whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”. The novel documents the highs and lows of friendships, cliques, rumours, bullying, group dynamics and human
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 46 nature, and is a reflection of difference which invokes thought about how we treat people who are different. Writing from many perspectives (Auggie, his sister, his best friend, and the school bully), the author assists children to learn how to view the world from the viewpoint of others, particularly those who are different to themselves. The book realistically portrays the flaws and the strengths of both the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad’ and shows that everyone has a point of view. Review by Jesse Wearne Rules, by Cynthia Lord, is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Catherine who, like most teenagers, just wants to fit in and make friends. She finds this challenging as her brother David is not your average kid – he has autism. Catherine narrates the story, sharing what it is like to have a sibling with autism. David does not learn like most people, so Catherine tries to teach him everything. She has spent years trying to teach David the “rules” to help him understand how the world works and to avoid socially embarrassing situations such as when he takes his pants off in public. The story follows Catherine and explores two new friendships, one with the girl next door, where she worries if her new friend will accept her brother, and the other friendship with Jason who cannot talk. Catherine learns that she is guilty of judging people by face value, just as people sometimes judge her brother because of his disability. She begins to challenge her notion of what is normal resulting in overcoming her worries about being judged by her peers. The book promotes empathy rather than pity, illustrating that all people have strengths and weaknesses, which are portrayed realistically in all the main characters, not just those who have a disability. The reader gains a basic understanding of what it is like to have autism including some of the common difficulties. The story promotes an
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 47 inclusive picture of “one of us” not “us and them” by illustrating shared similarities amongst the characters. Review written by Chloe Joyce Of Sound Mind, written by Jean Ferris, follows 17-year-old Theo, the only person who can hear in a family where everyone else is deaf, through an emotionally charged journey exploring deafness and family relationships. The book portrays a realistic view of a Deaf community and how this community’s views and etiquette differ from those of hearing families. Theo feels like he is caught between two conflicting worlds. Initially he is very focused on his own problems and the “burden” of his family’s reliance on him, but as the book progresses Theo’s romantic interest challenges him to consider things from a different perspective. Readers are encouraged to examine their attitudes towards disability by following Theo’s development from egocentrism to empathy. The eclectic cast of characters are all deaf and have unique histories and attitudes. The book uses relatable developmental experiences common to teenagers (such as desire for autonomy, conflict with parents, and first romantic experiences) to demonstrate some of the complexities and challenges of being deaf. While the book has many advantages, it is now somewhat dated and much of the communication technology is superseded. In addition, the story conceptualises being deaf from the perspective of “hearies”, thus marginalising the lived experience of being deaf and suggesting deafness as a “problem” to be overcome by hearing protagonists. This creates rather than dissolves boundaries between those who are deaf and those who can hear. Overall, the book promotes opportunities for readers to question and explore what inclusion means. Review by Deena Cooper
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 48 Out of my Mind, by Sharon Draper, tells the story of the smartest student at school, Melody Brooks. Melody never forgets anything; she has a photographic memory where nothing is deleted. Words “swirl around her like snowflakes”, but Melody has never spoken a single one. She is almost eleven years old, but she cannot walk, write or speak. Melody has Cerebral Palsy. After she completed an IQ assessment, a doctor told her mother that she was “severely brain-damaged and profoundly retarded” and suggested her parents should send her to an institution and concentrate on having other children. However, those around her never give up on her. Melody starts using an electric wheelchair, begins inclusion classes, is given a talking computer and a mobility assistant. She is then able to communicate but not everyone is ready to hear her thoughts or accept how much she has learnt. The book captures Melody’s lows with the frustration she feels about not being able to communicate and be understood, the rejection by peers, and her teachers’ lack of understanding as well as her soaring highs of scoring top marks in a quiz. Melody’s descriptions of her peers with physical and psychological impairments are often harsh and her self-talk is self-depreciative, for example using language such as ‘broken’ and ‘spastic’. But this discourse changes when Melody learns to focus on her strengths rather than her limitations. The book powerfully demonstrates the negative impact of inappropriate and inaccurate assessments, the positive impact of educational inclusion, the importance of speaking directly to a person who has a disability and providing access to appropriate aids, and the need for a strengths based approach when working with any person, not just those with disabilities. As Melody says ‘We all have disabilities. What’s yours?’ Review by Amy Kate Isaacs Discussion
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 49 The children’s books we discuss in this review are very diverse. Some of the authors and illustrators are well-known in children’s literature, others are relatively unknown. A few write from their own experience of disability. A number of excellent books have been produced by Australian writers and illustrators – including Margaret Wild and Terry Denton, Helen Brawley, Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement, Andy Geppert, Mem Fox, Paul Bright, and Aaron Blabey. Around two-thirds of the books in our review target children in the 3 to 7 age range, but would still be enjoyed by many children older than that, and some of them are suitable for children under 3 years. The remaining books in our collection are aimed at older children or adolescents. Although we attempted to source as many relevant books as possible, our collection is not exhaustive; we may have overlooked other useful books. Indeed, it was difficult to know where to stop our search – right up until the time of publication of this article we were discovering more wonderful new books! Novels such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio are not included here, but would certainly be suitable for older teens. Throughout the stories there are important messages with relevance for children’s attitudes to disability. In varying ways, each book has the potential to increase awareness, knowledge, understanding and acceptance of those who are different. The messages include one or more of the following:
everyone is unique
we are all similar to others in some ways and different from others in some ways
each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 50
just being yourself and proud of who you are is the most important thing of all
there is no need to compare ourselves to others
if we respect others by valuing, embracing and celebrating uniqueness, we will enrich our own lives and the lives of others
even if we all look different, underneath we are the same
trying to change ourselves because of bullying or to impress others does not make us happy
it is important to become aware and make disability “familiar” because we are often fearful of what we do not understand
children with the same diagnosed disability can be very different from one another
children with a disability are “one of us”
all children have innate value and worth, with or without a disability
do not make judgements on the basis of appearances
societal attitudes can empower or disempower
we all have disabilities – what’s yours?
Some books focus on conveying only a single message, to the exclusion of others that could potentially have been included. We feel though that one powerful message can be sufficient to make a book of value, even if other important messages are not concurrently conveyed. Interestingly, a book that initially elicited discomfort and criticism ended up dominating our discussions. The Junkyard Wonders is unsettling because its message is not one of inclusion, but rather of segregation. Even more
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 51 disturbingly, the segregated setting is known as the junkyard! Yet the issues around societal labelling are realistic ones that need to be confronted, and segregation of children with disabilities still happens, albeit less often than in the past. In this story, the teacher’s positive perspective turns the children with disabilities into wonders and the junkyard into a wonderful place. We suggest that The Junkyard Wonders could potentially be used as the impetus for discussions that may produce positive and enduring changes in children’s attitudes towards those with disability and reduce the likelihood of bullying or rejection. Although we are naturally drawn to books that make us “feel good” it is possible that powerful messages causing discomfort and disequilibrium will ultimately stimulate deeper reflection and positive changes. At the very least, books with identifiable weaknesses or limitations may form the basis for discussions about issues such as stereotyping or historical changes in the ways in which disability has been perceived. The Junkyard Wonders is not the only book in our collection that fails to convey a message about inclusion. Books such as Hazel the Hedgehog and Two Left Feet depict characters with differences or disabilities who are excluded from the mainstream but make friends with another who is like them. Although the message about “everyone can find someone to love” is a nice “feel good” one, these books do send a message of “us” and “them”. We recognise that most people tend to form their closest friendships with individuals who share similar characteristics to their own; nevertheless, it would be useful for these stories to locate the best friendships of characters with disabilities within a broader range of friendships, and within an atmosphere of acceptance.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 52 Another message that provoked some discussion and disagreement amongst us was related to descriptions of superhuman qualities for characters with disabilities (e.g., The Ability Gang) or magical transformations (e.g., Adam and the Magic Marble) in some of the books. Again, this message led to some criticisms from our reviewers who suggested that super powers or magic create unrealistic expectations of and for people with disabilities. Although we agree strongly with Blaska (2003) that characters with a disability should not be portrayed as subhuman, any depictions as superhuman need to be viewed in the context of the story genre. We note that children’s literature contains many fantasy characters and situations, ranging from longstanding favourites such as Alice in Wonderland, Enid Blyton stories (The Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair Adventures) and Superman to Zac Power, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and that these stories appear to be much loved by children. It is important to portray those with disabilities as having the same traits as people without disabilities (Prater & Dyches, 2008) and if the genre of the text is fantasy rather than real-life, then super powers should be just as acceptable for characters with a disability as they are for those who do not have a disability. It is important to keep in mind that the book reviews presented in this article are written from an adult perspective and that, in certain ways, children may respond differently to some of these stories. Some children’s books that adults find boring or weird or confronting may be loved by girls or boys of particular ages for reasons that their parents or teachers may never understand. Even among adults there are likely to be different interpretations of, and responses to, the same story. Each person views a book through a unique lens that is the product of his or her different experiences, preferences,
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 53 values, and current life situation. Some people prefer to read quirky tales, others enjoy real life stories; those with experience of disability may interpret texts and pictures differently to those with little experience. The extent to which readers identify with the characters and scenarios in a book will also to some extent influence their reactions. Animal characters seem to have a particular appeal for children, as the popularity of Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, Charlotte’s Web and Harry the Dirty Dog demonstrate. Even adult fiction occasionally features animals in starring roles (e.g., Spencer Quinn’s dog character Chet who entertainingly narrates his adventures with detective Bernie). As mentioned earlier, there is a very limited empirical base to demonstrate the effectiveness of children’s books for promoting awareness, knowledge, understanding and acceptance of diversity. We were unable to locate any studies that employed quantitative methodologies using randomised controlled trials, over a sufficiently long intervention period, with subsequent follow-up to determine if program effects (if any) were maintained. Thus, despite claims that children’s literature has the potential to improve attitudes towards those with disability, the evidence to support such claims is extremely limited. Well-designed research studies are needed. It would be interesting to compare the benefits of informational versus fictional texts, as well as the impact of exposure to child versus animal characters. Most professionals emphasise the additional value of activities and discussions beyond just reading a book, offering another interesting comparison for empirical testing. How to use children’s books
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 54 School psychologists and counsellors can take the lead in recommending children’s books for inclusion in school libraries and classrooms. They can also suggest ways in which educators can use these books with children, irrespective of whether the class includes a child with a disability or not. Interestingly, Lea (2015) described some reluctance on the part of teachers to use books about disability in their classrooms. Whilst recognising the potential value of books, teachers reported barriers to their use. In addition to time constraints and issues related to integration of books within the standard curriculum, they reported feeling more comfortable with direct teaching methods. Some were not confident about using books that might elicit questions from students that they would be unable to answer, or emotional responses which would be difficult to manage. Most psychologists and counsellors have the necessary training and experience to be able to respond to children’s questions about disability, as well as to support them emotionally in discussions about disability and socially in their peer interactions. Thus, we suggest that psychologists and counsellors have a key role in the proactive use of books to promote children’s understanding of difference and disability, both through offering guidance and support for educators and through providing direct interventions with children. Finally, given the likelihood that children’s attitudes towards disability are strongly influenced by family attitudes and beliefs about disability, we would also encourage the inclusion of families in any attempts to produce meaningful and enduring changes. Some of the books we reviewed in this article contain reading guides, information and activities that will be very helpful. These include All Kinds of Friends, Even Green, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, Freak the Mighty, The Hiddledy-Piggledy Pigeon, Siggy’s
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 55 Parade, and Don’t Call Me Special. Particularly notable are the books published by Magination Press, a publisher affiliated with the American Psychological Association. Their books, which include There’s a Cat in our Class and All my Stripes, have notes for parents and professionals that explain issues covered in the stories and tips for how to use the books. It is also possible to access online guides, activities and discussion questions for specific books, and the article by Ostrosky et al. (2013) includes a structured checklist and discussion guide for students to use when reading All Kinds of Friends, Ever Green! In addition, two texts have been produced specifically with the aim of guiding parents and professionals in the selection and use of children’s literature for teaching about disability. Joan Blaska’s (2003) book contains general information about reading to children of different ages and the importance of teaching children about disability. She discusses books about similarities and differences, disabilities and chronic illnesses. There is also a useful chapter to guide curriculum planning. Throughout the book Blaska includes annotated bibliographies and lists that are cross-referenced by theme and disability. She also includes tools for reviewing books with characters with disabilities, as well as teaching activities. A few of the books we review in the current article are included but, given the book’s 2003 publication date, most are not. Another book about children’s literature and disability was authored by Prater and Dyches in 2008. Following a short introductory chapter on the use of children’s books to teach about disability, there is an annotated bibliography of books specific to disabilities such as autism, vision impairment, and traumatic brain injury. The remainder of the book provides lesson plans for selected books including The Bus People and Freak the Mighty.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 56 There are reproducible worksheets that could be used with a wide range of books about disability. These include a self-assessment of disability attitudes and a reflection journal. Our “starter kit” of children’s books Within each of the categories of books we reviewed there are some that seem to us to be particularly outstanding, and are thus the ones we recommend for a “starter kit” in homes, schools, clinical settings and libraries. For the very youngest children, as well as older ones, we cannot go past Aaron Blabey’s I Need a Hug. For the 4 to 7-year age group, the very best books about individual differences and similarities in our view are Cat in Our Class and Two Left Feet. All of the books we reviewed about identity and self-acceptance are very good, but we place Thelma the Unicorn and Edward the Emu at the top of our list. Among the books that feature animal characters, we particularly like The Higgledy Piggledy Pigeon and The Giraffe Who Couldn’t Dance. Two books about Down syndrome, My Friend Isabelle and We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, impress us the most in the group of stories that feature a child with a disability. For children in the 8-12 year age range, we suggest that Normal Norman is likely to be the most engaging and useful book. We note that it has the additional benefit of introducing the importance of scientific evidence when describing human (and ape!) behaviour. Finally, for teenagers, Wonder presents a compelling story that discusses disability by “telling it like it is”, making it a book that is very likely to stimulate reflection and discussion amongst adolescents. Conclusion Books have the potential to challenge some of the more negative images and prejudices that children inevitably encounter, ultimately leading them to be more aware,
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 57 understanding, and accepting of difference, diversity and disability. As Prater and Dyches (2008) point out, true understanding of, empathy for, and meaningful connection with individuals with developmental disabilities requires a deeper level of engagement than awareness and knowledge. The messages that are conveyed by the books in this article can potentially provide the necessary insights and inspiration for positive change so that schools and communities become more truly inclusive for all.
About the authors Linda Gilmore is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Professor at QUT. Her research, practice and teaching focus predominantly on developmental disabilities. She loves reading books to her baby granddaughter whose favourite is Peter Rabbit, and also occasionally to her two little dogs whose favourite is Hairy Maclary, Sit! by Lynley Dodd. Linda’s own favourite children’s books are Alice in Wonderland, Edward the Emu, and Robert Munsch’s beautiful story Love You Forever. She has just discovered the best grandmother book in the world: What Will You Be, Grandma? by Nanette Newman.
Glenn Howard is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist. She is Co-Director of the Caroline Chisholm Student and Family Support Centre at QUT and supervises Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental) students in their clinic internships. She has worked previously as a Guidance Counsellor in primary, secondary and P-12 schools. Glenn enjoys using children’s books in her work, and reading them with her 11 and 6year-old munchkins whose favourite book amongst the ones reviewed in this article is
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 58 Two Left Feet. Her daughter Mikayla contributed one review for this article. Glenn’s own favourite children’s books are Clancy the Courageous Cow and Noah Dreary.
The students who contributed reviews for this article are enrolled in the Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental) program at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. The program prepares psychologists to work in a range of areas including schools, hospitals, community settings and disability services. The applied focus of the course is reflected in this practical book review assignment.
The student contributors are: Samantha Archer, Ellen Anderson, Ruth Blackburn, Cameron Blade, Kamellia Carr, Jessica Carroll, Deena Cooper, Erin Davis, Lakshmi Dhushyanthakumar, Selina Dunn, Claire Fardoulys, Emma Fitton, Lisa Gabai, Julia Gigante, Angelique Gordon, Johanna Hooijer, Lorilea Huon, Amy Kate Isaacs, Chloe Joyce, Maria Kazovsky, Brodi Killen, Cherry Ko, Chantel Levkovich, Mirjana Meyer, Nadine Missenden, Natalie Morgan, Connie Reed, Peta Sharrock, Shanling Su, Kristy Spencer, Emily Tredrea, Azucena Velasco Leon, Danica Warner, Jesse Wearne, Jane Wotherspoon, Nicole Wright.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 59 References Adomat, D. S. (2014). Exploring issues of disability in children’s literature discussions. Disability Studies Quarterly, 34, accessed at http://dsqsds.org/article/view/3865/3655. Blaska, J. K. (2003). Using children’s literature to learn about disabilities and illness: For parents and professionals working with young children, 2nd edition. Troy, NY: Educator’s International Press. Braid, C., & Finch, B. (2015). “Ah, I know why …”: Children developing understandings through engaging with a picture book. Literacy, 49, 115-122. Brown, W. H., Odom, S. L., & McConnell, S. R. (2008). Social competence of young children: Risk, disability and intervention. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co. Chamberlain, B., Kasari, C., & Rotheram-Fuller, D. (2007). Involvement or isolation? The social networks of children with autism in regular classrooms. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 230-242. doi: 10.1007/s10803-006-01644 Cook, K.E., Earles-Vollrath, T., & Ganz, J. B. (2006). Bibliotherapy. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42, 91-100. doi: 10.1177/10534512060420020801 de Boer, A., Pil, S. J., Minnaert, A., & Post, W. (2014). Evaluating the effectiveness of an intervention program to influence attitudes of students towards peers with disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 572-583. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1908-6 Diamond, K. E., Hestenes, L. L., Carpenter, F. S., & Innes, F K. (1997). Relationships
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 60 between enrolment in an inclusive class and preschool children’s ideas about people with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 17, 520-536. doi: 10.1177/027112149701700409 Dyson, L. L. (2005). Kindergarten children’s understanding of and attitudes toward people with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 25, 95-105. doi: 10.1177/02711214050250020601 Haeseler, L. A. (2008). Biblio-therapeutic book creations by pre-service student teachers: Helping elementary school children cope. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36, 113-118. doi: Hurst, C., Corning, K., & Ferrante, R. (2012). Children’s acceptance of others with disability: The influence of a disability-simulation program. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 21, 873-883. doi: 10.1007/s10897-012-9516-8 Ison, N., McIntyre, S., Rothery, S., Smithers-Sheedy, H., Goldsmith, S., Parsonage, S., & Foy, L. (2010). ‘Just like you’: A disability awareness programme for children that enhanced knowledge, attitudes and acceptance: Pilot study findings. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 13, 360-368. doi: 10.3109/17518423.2010.496764 Kagan, J. (1984). The nature of the child. New York: Basic Books. Lea, B. (2015). Children’s books about special needs used as a mediating tool, the perceptions of inclusion classroom teachers in mainstream schools. Higher Education Studies, 5, 51-62. doi: 10.5539/hes.v5n1p51 Lindsay, S., & Edwards, A. (2013). A systematic review of disability awareness interventions for children and youth. Disability & Rehabilitation, 35, 623-646. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2012.702850
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 61 Mendel, M. R., Harris, J., & Carson, N. (2016). Bringing bibliotherapy for children into clinical practice. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 535-538. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2016.06.008 Moore, D., & Nettelbeck, T. (2013). Effects of short-term disability awareness training on attitudes of adolescent schoolboys toward persons with a disability. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 38, 223-231. doi: 10.3109/13668250.2013.790532 Norton, D., & Norton, S. (2010). Through the eyes of a child: An introduction to children’s literature (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Prentice-Hall. Ostrosky, M. M., Mouzourou, C., Dorsey, E. A., Favazza P., & Leboeuf, L., M. (2013). Pick a book, any book: Using children’s books to support positive attitudes toward peers with disabilities. Young Exceptional Children, 18, 30-43. Parsons, L. (2013). An examination of fourth graders’ aesthetic engagement with literary characgers. Reading Psychology, 34, 1-25. doi: 10.1080/02702711.2011.56676 Prater, M. A., & Dyches, T. T. (2008). Teaching about disabilities through children’s literature. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited/Teacher Ideas Press. Putnam, J., Markovchick, K., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R.T. (1996). Cooperative learning and peer acceptance of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Social Psychology 16, 741-752. Rillotta, F., & Nettelbeck, T. (2007). Effects of an awareness program on attitudes of students without an intellectual disability towards persons with an intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 32, 19-27. doi: 10.1080/13668250701194042
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 62 Sipe, L. R. (2008). Storytime: Children’s literary understanding in the classroom. New York: Teachers College Press. Stern, D. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant. New York: Basic Books. Stipek, D. J., Gralinski, H., & Kopp, C. B. (1990). Self-concept development in the toddler years. Developmental Psychology, 26, 972-977. doi: 10.1037/001216126.96.36.1992 Symes, W., & Humphrey, N. (2010). Peer-group indicators of social inclusion among pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in mainstream secondary schools: A comparative study. School Psychology International, 31, 478-494. doi: 10.1177/0143034310382496 Taheri, A., Perry, A., & Minnes, P. (2016). Examining the social participation of children and adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder in relation to peers. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 60, 435-443. doi: 10.1111/jir.12289 Webster, A. A., & Carter, M. (2013). A descriptive examination of the types of relationships formed between children with developmental disability and their closest peers in inclusive school settings. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 38, 1-11. doi: 10.3109/13668250.2012.743650 Wilkins, J., Howe, K., Seiloff, M., Rowan, S., & Lilly, E. (2016). Exploring elementary students’ perceptions of disabilities using children’s literature. British Journal of Special Education, 43, 233-249. doi: 10.1111/1467-8578.12138
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 63 Children’s Books Anderson, R. (1989). The bus people. London: Red Fox. Andreae, G. (1999). Giraffes can’t dance. London: Orchard Books. Anonymous (ns). Hazel the hedgehog. Bath, UK: North Parade Publishing. Baskin, N. R. (2009). Anything but typical. New York: Simon & Schuster. Bishop, B. (2011). My friend with autism. Future Horizons. Blabey, A. (2015). Thelma the unicorn. Australia: Scholastic. Blabey, A. (2015). I need a hug. Australia: Scholastic. Blake, Q. (2014). The five of us. London: Tate Publishing. Brawley, H. (2001). Percival the plain little caterpillar. Sydney: The Book Publishing Company. Bright, P. (2005). Nobody laughs at a lion. NSW, Australia: Koala Books. Buehrens, A., & Buehrens, C. (1991). Adam and the magic marble. Duarte, CA: Hope Press. Carle, E. (2002). “Slowly slowly slowly” said the sloth. New York: Penguin Putnam. Chen, C-Y. (2006). The featherless chicken. Alhambra, CA: Heryin Books. Clement, R. (2012). Feathers for Phoebe. Australia: Harper Collins. Damon, E. (1995). All kinds of people. UK: Tango Books. Draper, S. (2010). Out of my mind. New York: Simon & Schuster. Dudley, B. R. (2014). Siggy’s parade: Helping kids with disabilities find their strengths. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press. Edwards, B., & Armitage, D. (1999) My brother Sammy. New York: Sky Pony Press. Elliott, R. (2010). Just because. Oxford: Lion Children’s Books.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 64 Ely, L. (2004). Looking after Louis. Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman & Co. Ferris, J. (2004). Of sound mind. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. Fox, M. (1997). Whoever you are. Sydney, NSW: Harcourt. Geppert, A. (2015). Meep. Brisbane: Tiny Owl Workshop. Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. London: Jonathan Cape. Hallinan, P. K. (2005). A rainbow of friends. Nashville, Tennessee: Ideals Children’s Books. Huff, T. (2013). It’s hard not to stare: Helping children understand disabilities. Pickering, Ontario: Castle Quay Books. Jackson, L. (2002). Freaks, geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence. London: Jessica Kingsley. Kaminski, H. A-W. (2012). The ability gang. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Killeen, G. (1999). Cherry Pie. Sydney: Random House. Knowles, S. (1988). Edward the emu. Australia: Harper Collins. Kraus, R. (1971). Leo the late bloomer. New York: Windmill Books. Lang, G. (2001). Looking out for Sarah. Charlesbridge. Lazar, T. (2016). Normal Norman. New York: Sterling Children’s Books. Liu, C. (2010). Arlene on the scene. Austin, TX: Emerald Book Company. Lord, C. (2006). Rules. New York: Scholastic. Macguire, A. (2000). Special people, special ways. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons. McKee, D. (2015). Elmer. London: Andersen Press.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 65 McKenna, M. (2013). The octopuppy. Scholastic. Palacio, R. J. (2012). Wonder. London: Bodley Head. Peets, R. & Sanchez, G. (2012). It’s OK to be different: An amazing school day. Morgantown, KY: Heart to Heart Publishing. Petrillo, G. (ns). Keep your ear on the ball. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers. Philbrick, R. (1993). Freak the mighty. New York: Scholastic. Polacco, P. (2010). The junkyard wonders. New York: Philomel Books. Rabinowitz, A. (2014). A Boy and a jaguar. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Ransom, J. F. (2016). There’s a cat in our class! Washington, DC: Magination Press. Rowe, P. W. (2010). Josh and the little wizard. Brisbane, QLD: 3e Innovative. Rubio, G.H. (1998). Icy Sparks. New York: Penguin. Rudolph, S., & Royer, D. (2015). All my stripes: A Story for children with autism. Washington, DC: Magination Press. Senisi, E. B. (2002). All kinds of friends, even green. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House. Shriver, M. (2001). What’s wrong with Timmy? USA: Warner Books. Stower, A. (2004). Two left feet. London: Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Stuve-Bodeen, S. (1998). We’ll paint the octopus red. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House. Thomas, P. (2001). Don’t call me special. London: Hodder Children’s Books. Wild, M., & Denton, T. (2010). Leo the littlest seahorse. Melbourne, VIC: Penguin. Willis, J., & Ross, T. (2011). Susan laughs. London: Andersen Press. Winn, D. M. (2010). The higgledy-piggledy pigeon. USA: Cardboard Box Adventures. Woloson, E. (2003). My friend Isabelle. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.