Daily Archives: May 18, 2011

Room on the Shelf: Characters With Disabilities by Guest Blogger Cherylynne Bago

Special needs children have always been very close to my heart. I work in special education classroom, and I gotta tell you, Alpine School District is a bunch of suckers for paying me—I would do this for free.

So that’s why this article took me by surprise:

Newbery Books Lack Characters with Disabilities, Study Says

It seems like every Oscar is won by someone playing the part of a character with a disability, and I guess I just assumed that translated into every awards system. But apparently it doesn’t. The article, which was based on a study, claims that there are proportionally fewer characters with disabilities in Newbery books than there are children with disabilities in real life.  It is a call for authors to write “more inclusive characterizations in high-quality books, where kids with disabilities are being recognized for who they are and not just for the limitations of their disabilities.”


Well, first of all, I’m all for it.  Autism has become a hot topic in young adult literature, and I’d love to see it work its way down into middle grade.  I recently read a phenomenal YA  book called “The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin.”  Brilliant novel about a deaf boy that decides he wants to be mainstreamed into the public high school.  But it’s not focused on his disabilities. It’s focused on him.

On the other hand, writing a book with a disabled main character is difficult to do.  Every sentence has to be checked to make sure it’s politically correct.  And we all know that a main character must have flaws, but what flaws can you give a disabled character without coming off as insensitive?  Is it scientifically accurate or just stereotypical to have an autistic child with a temper?

Bottom line?  If you think you’re brave enough, I say go for it.  Because I think there’s room on the shelf for high quality middle grade novels with disabled characters.

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