Reviews 2017

Stories for Every Classroom: Canadian Fiction Portraying Characters with Disabilities

Stories for Every Classroom: Canadian Fiction Portraying Characters with Disabilities. Beverly A. Brenna. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2015. 158 pages. £50.15 (paperback).

Beverly A. Brenna’s Stories for Every Classroom: Canadian Fiction Portraying Characters with Disabilities explores “the treatment of disability in Canadian literature for young people” (1) and was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Couched in critical literacy and Radical Change theory (Dresang, 1999), this book shares "the why, the what, and the how of classroom practice, concentrating on particular Canadian contemporary picture books and novels for young people and the authors who created them, as well as educational frameworks to support their use with students" (3).

The author, Beverly Brenna, explains her interest and expertise in this topic, citing her PhD research, fiction writing, and teaching experiences in both typical and special education classrooms. This combined identity of researcher/author/teacher enables her to tackle the topic of representations of disabilities in Canadian fiction from a robust lens. Hence the study is likely to interest scholars, pre-service and in-service teachers, teacher educators and authors alike.

Each chapter concludes with “3 essential questions to support preservice and inservice teachers interested in the combined study of children’s literature and exceptional learners” 6), providing opportunities not only for focused and thoughtful reflection, but also for classroom discussion and activities. For example, some of the Essential Questions for chapter one are "What is your own personal philosophy about the role of education? How might you envision the place of school resources, including literature for children and young adults, within this philosophy?" (22). These questions encourage the reader to focus on key concepts of the chapter and contemplate the text and its applications on a personal level. The Essential Questions and guiding questions/after-reading suggestions make the text especially useful for group book studies, teacher professional development workshops, and/or teacher preparation classes.

The first two chapters provide background information on the history of disability, discuss disability as a social construct, explain how disability is defined in this particular book, and share past and current trends in the representation of disability in literature in general, and in children’s literature in particular. These chapters set the stage for the examples provided in the subsequent chapters while offering research ideas for further exploration and a strong theoretical framework that scholars and researchers will appreciate.

The bulk of the text, chapters three through six, provides annotated bibliographies of the children’s books that meet the author’s selection criteria. They are categorized by target audience (picture books, junior novels, intermediate novels, young adult novels). In all, 132 titles are identified and annotated. Chapters four, five, and six also include "Read-on" sections. Perhaps the greatest strength of the study with regards to usefulness, the "Read-ons" are suggested titles that might pair well with the annotated texts due to similar characters, settings, references, and/or themes. For example, for Haworth-Attard’s intermediate novel Irish Chain (2002), Brenna offers a variety of companion book suggestions. From books that "also involve quilting as a life-affirming act" (82) to titles that share the theme of "growing up in transition," these comprehensive suggestions for each of the over 100 titles presented by Brenna are invaluable for busy teachers who may not have the time or energy to investigate classroom connections and therefore be hesitant to add a new book to their repertoire. The user-friendly format and plethora of suggestions provided by the author make the idea of incorporating texts that portray characters with disabilities seem less like a challenge and more like an exciting opportunity that will benefit all students in the classroom.

Chapters four through six also each contain an Author Portrait, which highlights one of the authors of a book mentioned in the annotations, including Brenna herself. The Author Portraits offer interview-like information including inspirations for writing about characters with exceptionalities, motivations, and writing processes, which not only adds to the understanding of the primary sources, but may also inspire others to explore the possibility of developing diverse characters in their own writing.

In the introduction to the book Brenna explains: "At some point, my contributions to literature portraying characters with exceptionalities will no longer be radical. And that is a good thing" (7). Until that time comes, books like Stories for Every Classroom: Canadian Fiction Portraying Characters with Disabilities are valuable resources for teachers, authors, and readers alike to highlight those books that do represent the disability experience, and as such, help to more accurately represent and celebrate the diverse society in which we live.

Janine J. Darragh
University of Idaho, United States

Works Cited

Dresang, E.T. Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age. H.W. Wilson, 1999.