Welcome to Picture Books for All

Children of all abilities should see themselves in the books they read. That's what makes reading fun. There are many picture books that include characters with disabilities; some are excellent in terms of their portrayal of these characters, some are pretty good, and some miss the mark. This blog features these picture books and evaluates them based on standards for quality in children's books that portray characters with disabilities. For more information, see the first post entitled "Welcome to Picture Books for All." (Click here) Welcome to Picture Books For All

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book #3 Looking After Louis

This book falls short with regard to the standards for good literature that portray characters with disabilities (see second chart below). While adults will understand, enjoy, and even be moved by the story, children may walk away with a narrow or unrealistic impression of autism and/or a neutral to negative feeling about the character. The author seems to be striving for a message about inclusion and tolerance of the character with a disability, and the professional reviews suggest that she has achieved her goal (see links to reviews in the first chart below). I would argue that we need to do more in picture books than show that tolerance is enough. We need to strive for real, reciprocal, meaningful relationships for characters with disabilities. We need to show their strengths and find ways to bring out the positive aspects of their personalities. We need to show that there is much more to them than their disabilities.

Read this book and leave your comments. Different people with different backgrounds have different opinions.

Related Information
Name of Book:
Looking After Louis

Lesley Ely
The author is a clinical psychologist.
Polly Dunbar
Illustrations are childlike, cartoon drawings. Louis stands out and looks somewhat different from the other students.
Albert Whitman & Co.

Year of Pub:


Age range

Type of Disability

Fiction or Nonfiction

Category:  B

A)books that provide factual information about a disability

B) books that provide information about a disability in a story format in which the character with a disability is integral to the plot

C) books that provide stories that have a character with a disability who may or may not be integral to the storyline and who has been added to the story to achieve diversity and reflect reality

Annotation:  Narrated by a girl in Louis’s class, Looking After Louis is the story of a boy who has autism and how he is received and perceived by the other students. On the playground, Louis darts in and out of the recess soccer game oblivious to the other students’ stares, giggles, and annoyance. In the classroom, he stares at the wall and repeats the ends of phrases uttered by the other students. A few very mature classmates include Louis in their play and look for the positive aspects in his drawings. The teacher, motivated by the desire to give Louis opportunity for positive social interaction, bends the rules and lets Louis play soccer during class. The narrator comes to understand that there are “special rules for special people,” and she herself feels special for her tolerance and mature handling of the situation.
Link to publisher:
Links to professional reviews:

There is a Spanish edition: Cuidando A Louis


Standards for Quality Portrayal of Characters with a disability
1. Promotes empathy not pity
Difficult to say

2. Promotes acceptance, not ridicule
Louis is clearly accepted by at least one of his classmates, who exemplifies maturity beyond his age by playing with Louis and including him in a soccer game.
3. Emphasizes success rather than, or in addition to failure
This character does not have any clear successes, like making a goal in the soccer game or having his artwork displayed.
4. Promotes positive images of persons with disabilities or illness
Realistic but not necessarily positive
Louis could have been portrayed more positively by smiling or making a goal or learning to reciprocate a nice gesture (like a high-five) to one of his classmates.
5. Assists children in gaining accurate understanding of the disability or illness
Louis has some very specific characteristics such as parroting (repeating others’ words), which is not one of the universal criteria of autism spectrum disorders. He does not display original utterances, which is typical of some children with autism but not all. We see only two activities he enjoys—playing soccer and drawing—which may or may not represent the extent of his interests.
6. Demonstrates respect for persons with disabilities or illness
Hard to say, although tolerance toward Louis does develop in the story.
The other children giggle, smirk, and display mild annoyance at Louis, and it is not clear from the story how they get over this and move to tolerance and acceptance. I'm not sure they really achieve respect for Louis, as respect requires some kind of interaction or reciprocity.
7. Promotes attitude of  “one of us” not “one of them.”
Despite Louis’s clear differences, inclusiveness is emphasized in the story.
8. Uses people-first language
9. Describes the disability or person with disabilities or illness as realistic (not subhuman or superhuman)
Limited portrayal of autism.
10. Depicts people with disabilities as more similar to than different from other people
Louis’s differences are very pronounced here.
11. Shows peoples’ strengths and abilities along with their disabilities
We see Louis’s abilities in drawing and soccer, but we are not sure how to evaluate those abilities.
12. Represents characters as strong, independent people who others can admire or learn from
13. Represents people with disabilities from different racial and cultural backgrounds, religions, age groups, and sexual orientations
Character is white. Classmates are culturally diverse.
14. Shows people with disabilities in integrated settings and activities
One of the themes of this story is inclusion.
15. Shows people with disabilities in valued occupations and diverse roles.

16. Shows people with disabilities in reciprocal relationships
Shows Louis playing and presumably enjoying soccer with another boy, but no real reciprocity.
17. Main character develops and grows emotionally as a result of what happens in the story
Not obvious from story

1 comment:

  1. I felt it realistically portrayed a child with autism. I also felt it celebrated the Little Victories. He played. HOORAY! He liked it and interacted. HOORAY!! (parent)