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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book #18 The Alphabet War, A Story About Dyslexia

This story meets all of the criteria for a quality piece of literature portraying a character with a disability. Most of the parents who reviewed it on Amazon.com reported that their children identified with the main character and that they were grateful for a book like this. In general, it is realistic in its portrayal of both the character and the nature of the disability. The pastel illustrations do a good job of depicting Adam over five or six years and help make Adam very likable. Still, there are a few things that don’t sit well with me. One is on the first page when Adam is a preschooler—he loves to listen to his mother read stories but already knows that he can’t read. This seems like an error and is a strange way to start the story. The other minor detail that sticks out for me is when Adam is much older—in third grade—and the text reads, “Adam mowed the lawn, spent money on candy at the corner store (and could count his own change), built another fort in the backyard with Walter, and went to summer camp, just like the other kids.” If only the author had cut out those last five words. They are totally unnecessary and in some ways reduce the quality of the story by unwittingly setting Adam apart when it would not have occurred to the reader to do so. After all, Adam is just another kid. Finally, the story is very long for a picture book. It would be more appropriate for an older child (7-10) than a younger one.
Related Information
The Alphabet War
A Story About Dyslexia
Diane Burton Robb
Gail Piazza
Albert Whitman & Company
Year of Pub:
ISBN:     (ISBN-13)
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

D) books that include a main character with a disability but whose focus is not necessarily the disability

Annotation:  Adam is having trouble learning to read. This story takes Adam from preschool through fourth grade and describes his often frustrating journey toward “cracking the code” of reading. The story emphasizes Adam’s strengths as well as his frustration and ends with his relative success at reading. Adam feels good about himself in the end when he realizes he is smart despite his problems with reading and spelling.
Link to publisher:

Links to professional reviews:
School Library Journal and Booklist from Amazon.com:  (Scroll down until you get to the reviews) http://www.amazon.com/Alphabet-War-Story-about-Dyslexia/dp/0807503029/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373390689&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Alphabet+War


Standards for Quality Portrayal of Characters with a disability
1. Promotes empathy not pity
2. Promotes acceptance, not ridicule
There is some bullying of the main character, but this is meant to show Adam’s frustration
3. Emphasizes success rather than, or in addition to failure
In fourth grade, Adam is the class expert on magnets and circuits.
4. Promotes positive images of persons with disabilities or illness
5. Assists children in gaining accurate understanding of the disability or illness
Goes into quite a lot of detail about how Adam experiences dyslexia (letters look alike, he sees them upside down, they float off the page and parade around the room).
6. Demonstrates respect for persons with disabilities or illness

7. Promotes attitude of “one of us” not “one of them.”
Adam is portrayed as being left behind, at least in terms of reading
8. Uses people-first language
9. Describes the disability or person with disabilities or illness as realistic (not subhuman or superhuman)
10. Depicts people with disabilities as more similar to than different from other people
11. Shows peoples’ strengths and abilities along with their disabilities
Adam is good at other things, like modeling with clay, playing hockey, knowing a lot about Abe Lincoln, and doing arithmetic.
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
Main character is white.
14. Shows people with disabilities in integrated settings and activities

15. Shows people with disabilities in valued occupations and diverse roles.

16. Shows people with disabilities in reciprocal relationships
Adam has a best friend throughout the story.
17. Main character develops and grows emotionally as a result of what happens in the story
Adam realizes maybe he is smarter than he thought. By the end of the book he is willing to take chances.