Other Diverse Groups Literature for Youth

LGBT spectrum, disability experience, ostracism, and/or religious diversity

Case-study
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

The book follows a summer in the life of Marcelo, an adolescent with some form of Asperger’s Syndrome. I say some form because the syndrome may have a wide range of manifestations. Some cases are more critical than others. Nonetheless, it is interesting and refreshing, in the realm of multiculturalism and inclusion, to see a protagonist who shows signs of the syndrome. 

Marcelo has been attending a school for differently-abled kids where he also takes care and trains the horses that are used by children for therapy purposes. In this environment, Marcelo feels at ease and protected. Nonetheless, his father wants to send him to a regular school for his last year of high school. Marcelo refuses to go but his father strikes a deal. Marcelo will be able to choose where to go as long as he spends the summer in what his father calls the real world. For that matter, Marcelo will work in his father’s law firm. This turns out to be an enlightening experience for the adolescent. He discovers friendship and love, what his father does for a living, the importance of family, his plans for the future, and he also takes action in order to protect a young girl who has been hurt in an accident. The latter places him in the midst of a legal battle, as well as an internal battle when he learns about some of his father’s past actions as a lawyer.

The characters in the story are varied and credible. In fact, Marcelo’s family is of Latin origin which adds extra layers of interaction and evolution. Additionally, Marcelo is the target of manipulation by people who consider -inaccurately- that autism is a form of mental disability which makes him incompetent to understand. Nothing is farther from the truth in Marcelo’s case. Although, he may not function in common routines the way the majority does, he handles himself with success in the so-called real world.

The author handles the character with delicacy, demonstrating that there are different levels of reality perception. Interestingly, those perceptions are to a great extent the result of social rules. Since the moment we are born, we are all subject to social normative, many of which we are not even aware of. They are instilled in us just by imitation, repetition, and simple commentary. For Marcelo, the rules need to be clearly stated and delimited. In his mind, there is less space for improvisation, as some of the musical conversations with Theresa would show.|

This week’s discussion of diverse experiences brings a common thread among all of them. I particularly find interesting that Marcelo in the Real World, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and, of course, Rules bring to the front stage our constant need to make sense of the world around us. Using rules -though restrictive- prove to be an important tool. Rules, in a major or lesser degree, help us find -or question- our place in the world.  In words of the main character, “The reasons as to why something is right and something is not seem arbitrary” (43)

Rules can either be the challenges that push us to move forward or they can be the safe havens that make us be at peace with our environment. Either accepting or rejecting them, we are all subject to rules. For that matter, people with different abilities or experiences may use existing social ones and/or create new personal ones to progress and succeed in society.

List of resources

Awards

Blogs and Websites

Reviews

Books

  • Multicultural Children’s Literature Through the Eyes of Many Children by Donna E. Norton
  • Multicultural Children’s Literature. A Critical Issues Approach by Ambika Gopalakrishnan
  • Hearing All the Voices by Mary Ann Darby; Miki Pryne
  • From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books by Kathleen T Horning
  • Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading by Jamie Campbell Naidoo; Sarah Park Dahlen

“Top 5 Books” list.

For disability, I chose “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper

Melodie, a girl suffering from cerebral palsy, is not able to talk or walk. She is, however, witty and smart but, except for her family and closest caretakers, nobody knows or acknowledges it. The world only seems to see her as a strange child that makes noises and weird movements. When she has introduced into a regular classroom away from the special-need ones, she finds out the difficult process of being accepted. Even when she gets a computer that allows her to communicate with the rest of the world, and she proves her talent to be in a school competition, Melodie will learn the hard truth of acceptance in a world that not always shows empathy for the one that is different.
Ages 10+

Physical Appearance: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

For the first time, August (Auggie) is going to attend a regular school. Until fourth grade, Auggie has been homeschooled because he suffers a syndrome that has made his face to look like “its features have melted”. He has had almost 30 surgeries already and he may still have more to undergo in the future. People in the streets avoid looking at him and small children cry out of fear. Auggie is scared and the whole year proves to be a hard experience but also an uplifting one. The author divided the book into several parts and let different members of Auggie’s world express their feelings and ideas. His family, his classmates, and his community at large is put to test on their ways to learn how to make room for him and embrace his presence. 
Ages: 8-14

For Siblings Views:
Views from our shoes: Growing up with a brother or sister with special needs by D. Meyer

In most children’s books related with disabilities, siblings play an important role. These are young individuals that experience up close the difficulties and also the pain, jealousy,  and even the anger of having a different-abled sibling at home. The inclusion of this book on the list is to help the closest relatives to deal with their feelings and understand that they are not alone. With more than 45 contributions by children ranging from 4 to 18 years old, this book covers a large number of issues and situations

Same Sex Relationships – P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy
This is a book that tackles many issues at once. Two of them converge in confrontation, though it is not frequently discussed in books: religion and homosexuality. After Evvie’s teenage sister (Cilla) is sent away to give birth to her child and give the baby for adoption, Evvie starts writing letters to her trying to understand why her Catholic parents are so embarrassed and angry with Cilla. Evvie starts questioning the idea of God, or at least a God who would consider a sin that makes us happy. In the meantime, Evvie discovers her feelings for June, which not only is a girl but is an atheist too.

Handled with care and compassion, the reading affirms two groups that historically have been rejected in society -nonbelievers and homosexuals- to try to find their place and most importantly self-assurance. It is about the right of believing and being who we are without shame or guilt.

It is a very emotional book and at the same time one that is not afraid of talking about difficult issues to young readers.

Poverty – The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

I decided to include a book tackling poverty because people who suffer from it are subjected to similar rejections and difficulties that can be described by LGBTQ+ and differently-abled individuals. As a matter of fact, many children might feel left out because in our society there is some kind of instilled shame for being poor. I believe we need to talk about this and let the kids feel incorporated into the conversation, not in a romanticized or stereotypical way but truly discussing the real disadvantages and prejudice from which they are victims. 

In this book, the protagonist, Seventh-grader Zoey Albro, wants to stay out of the spotlight avoiding her affluent classmates. She doesn’t want too much attention to herself. She has enough helping her mother by taking care of her siblings and studying for her classes. However, a teacher pushes her to enter the Debate Club and she finds an outlet for expressing herself. 

The author explores the class divide and gun debate in modern America through the story of a young girl who is looking for a way to succeed in a hostile environment.
Ages: 8-12

Two additional books

  1. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
  2. Ada’s Violin. the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport