The revelation and representation of disability in Two Mates and The Book of Colours enhances understanding of an individual’s differences and capacities.
Children’s literature can be traced back to oral-stories and songs, way before printing and publication was even invented. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, however, that authors began writing literature for a youth’s perspective based on their wants and needs. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, was a great push for this movement, and this new sense of realism in children’s literature opened the way for the characterisation and portrayal of disability (Gervay, 2004). Soon after, the Social Model of Disability was developed in 1966 by Paul Hunt, which identified “ways to establish social equity that do not depend on a medical response, but on modifying man-made societal arrangements” (Saunders, 2004). Since this, books with disabled characters have emphasised the reality of medical conditions, and have also highlighted the influence of social attitudes on a disabled person’s socialisation and sense of equality. This is particularly seen in Melanie Prewett’s Two Mates, and Menena Cottin’s The Black Book of Colours. Beckett refers to these examples as ‘inclusion literature’, which is “concerned, above all, with providing non-disabled children with accurate information about the lives of disabled people and promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people” (Beckett et al., 2010). In this research, we will look at these two works and analyse how disability is represented and revealed to children through characterisation and illustration to develop their understanding of an individual’s differences and capacities.
Melanie Prewett’s Two Mates was published in 2012, and is based on a true story of two young boys in the town, Broome. Written in first person, Two Mates follows the journeys of Jack, the narrator, and his best friend Raf. Together, the two boys search for hermit crabs, fish for salmon, explore markets and dress up as superheroes; they paint a picture of a perfectly normal friendship. However, it isn’t until the very end that it is revealed that Raf is in a wheelchair with spina bifida. This surprising revelation at the end allows children to relate to the stories of the boys, and compare their fun times with friends to theirs. It isn’t until after children make this understanding of the boys’ friendship that they are learn that Raf is ‘different’, and that his difference has had no impact on the friendship and the way that they first portrayed him; “I’m glad we’re mates” (Prewett, 2012). In fact, if it weren’t for the illustration with the text at the end, we would have never learned that Raf was even disabled; the text never alludes that he has an inability or difficulty in the activities with Jack. It isn’t until we look over the book again that we even realise Raf is illustrated as always sitting, and we understand this link to the ending. This focialisation on the boys’ friendship is counter in representing and teaching children about disability. Wetstein-Kroft and Vargo conducted research that involved 230 non-disabled children aged between two and six. Each child was shown two pictures, first a child with leg braces and then a child without leg braces, and were asked if they would play with them. Responses found that “four to five year olds perceived the disabled as ‘less likely to have fun at a carnival than the non-disabled… by age four, children perceived disabilities as a restrictive influence on one’s life” (Wetstein-Kroft & Vargo, 1984). With this in tow, it is vital to reiterate the importance of revelation. If Raf’s character was illustrated or annotated early as a disabled person it is arguable to conclude, from the results of this research, that a child would have a harder time relating to the characters in the story. Kurtts and Gavigan refer to Prewett’s form of ‘revelation narration’ as bibliotherapy, in that it attempts...
References: Beckett, Angharad, et al. "Away with the fairies? Disability within primary‐age children 's literature." Disability & Society, 25.3 (2010): 373-386.
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Cottin, Menena, Rosana Faría, and Elisa Amado. The Black Book of Colors. Toronto: Groundwood, 2008. Print.
Gervay, Susanne. "Youth Literature as a Powerful Tool in Understanding Disability." Disability Studies Quarterly. 24.1. Sydney: DSQ-SDS, 2004.
Kurtts, Stephanie, and Karen Gavigan. "Understanding (Dis)abilities through Children 's Literature." Education Libraries: Childrens Resources 31.1 (2008): 23.
Mohay, Heather, and Emma Reid. The inclusion of children with a disability in child care: The influence of experience, training and attitudes of childcare staff. Queensland: Early Childhood Australia, 2006.
Prewett, Melanie, and Maggie Prewett. Two Mates. Broome, W.A.: Magabala, 2012. 2. Print.
Saunders, Kathy. “What Disability Studies Can Do For Children’s Literature.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 24.1. Sydney: DSQ-SDS, 2004.
Wetstein-Kroft, Susan, and James Vargo. "Children 's Attitudes towards Disability: A Review and Analysis of the Literature." International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 7.3 (1984): 181-95.
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