Category Archives: reading list

Fiction Book List!

Almost, but not quite, a year ago today I put a call out on my personal journal looking for recommendations or lists of YA books that feature characters with disabilities.

From that call out, I got just under 200 books (many listed multiple times), as well as lists of book recs from other sources.

I’m still going through and sorting them, looking for reviews of the books, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss here any pros & cons of the books listed, and the books that are included in other lists.

Part of the reason I like books like this is that the response to pop culture criticism from a disability-rights standpoint often is met with “But, what sort of stories do you want us to tell?” or “Telling such stories is difficult!” I want to generate a list of fiction that shows that yes, people with disabilities have stories – and not all of them are magical cures or dreams of being non-disabled. (Certainly not all of the books below don’t fall into those various traps – in the document I’m finishing up right now, many are flagged up as problematic, so this is more a book list than a book recommendation list!)

So, share your thoughts! What books would you recommend? Do you see any books on this list that you want to gush about, or point out as a problem? Anything you’d love to discuss with other readers? Feel free to link reviews of the books (your own or someone else’s), especially if they specifically mention the disability-related aspect.

Please flag up any spoilers in your comments.

Schneider Family Book Award Winners List

The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

The Young Adult Library Association does lists of titles under certain topics every year.

Bodies: “They come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities…love it or hate it, you only have one body.”

What Ails You?

K-State Library Subject Guide: Disability.

Below the cut is the list that was generated from the comments on the above-linked post, sorted by author.
Continue reading Fiction Book List!

Non-Fiction Book Review: Signs of Resistance by Susan Burch

If you were lying awake last night thinking “You know what I need? I need to read a well-written, engaging book that deals with Deaf cultural history in the US, and that includes discussion of gender, race, and class distinctions. Gosh, if only I knew of such a book!”, I have exciting news: Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900-1942 is totally the perfect book for you!

Although the book is basically chronological, Burch divides the subject into overall themes and discusses them at length. She starts with the Oralism vs Sign Language in Schools issue, then discusses the growing Deaf community, Deaf-focused Associations and Clubs (including Deaf athletes competing in mainstream sports), barriers to Deaf people and working, and legal issues that Deaf people faced, including proposed bans on Deaf-Deaf marriages (think of the children!) and bans on Deaf people driving.

Throughout, Burch discusses intersectionality. While the chapters are primarily focused (due to sources) on white Gallaudet-educated men, she devotes time in every chapter to discussing how white women in the same situations were treated, and how Black Deaf people had almost entirely different experiences from white Deaf people, such as the segregated school system and racism within the Deaf community. I’m pretty certain this is Burch’s earliest work, and I know her later stuff focuses a lot more on these issues.

One thing I really liked about this book as well is that Burch puts a short sketch of the life of various Deaf people in every chapter. This gives us someone to “root” for, as well as someone to celebrate or make note of. It’s easy to look at a book like this, that talks about broad cultures, and forget that individuals were actually involved in it. I also like that, for the most part, these were people I hadn’t heard of. While Gallaudet and Clerc are discussed – they have to be, really, for any history of Deaf education in the US – the life sketches are of people like Alice Taylor Terry or Thomas Francis Fox.

I found the text very engaging, and not difficult to read. Like most people, I’ve groaned my way through dull prose that made me want to sleep rather than read, but Burch’s writing kept me wanting to stay up late reading.

I give this book 5/5 stars, and would totally recommend it to anyone. The only thing that makes me eager to put it aside is that I have some of Burch’s later books and edited anthologies in my To Be Read (TBR) pile.

[Signs of Resistance at WorldCat].

[Limited Preview of Signs of Resistance on GoogleBooks]

Non-Fiction Book Review: Woeful Afflictions, by Mary Klages

In one sentence: Woeful Afflictions discusses representations of blind women in Victorian American literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and by both blind and sighted people.

I had some difficulties with this book which may colour my review. Its primary audience is, of course, literary scholars and (presumably) people who read Victorian literature. I am, sadly, neither of these things, but even so I did manage to get a great deal out of the book.

Klages analyses a variety of textual sources, varying from Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop” to Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker”, from Cumming’s “The Lamp Lighter” to Annual Reports from the Perkins Institute for the Blind and various autobiographical works by blind women. I especially enjoyed the latter, as there are very few examples of writing of actual blind women from this time period, and Klages’ discussion of these (few) works made me want to seek them out to read for myself. It’s frustrating how rare such treasures are.

Klages makes two points which I think are most important. The first, evident throughout the whole book, is that representations of people with disabilities haven’t really changed all that much since Dickens. There are certainly shining lights, some of which we’ve talked about here on FWD, but mostly, people with disabilities in media and pop culture are still presented as tragedies, as poster children, or as lessons for the non-disabled. It grows rather tiring to read descriptions of books I’ve never read and realise that they’re basically describing books I have – because the tropes just haven’t changed that drastically.

The other thing that I think is important is in this paragraph:

To become a self… twentieth century disabled people have had to deny, forget, or erase the bodies that mark them as physically different. They have had to accede to forms of self-hood available through sentimental value systems, which construct them as both objects and agents of feeling and empathy, but not necessarily as capable of independent rational thought and economic autonomy. And they have had to renounce virtually all forms of physical sexuality, accepting the disabled body only as a site for feeling, rather than for production, reproduction, or pleasure. These factors, the result of more than one hundred and fifty years of sentimental representations of disability have over-determined the relegation of disabled people to the position of perpetual ‘poster children’, and prevented them from becoming recognized as adults, operating on the same terms, and with the same concerns and rights, as non-disabled adults. [1. Klages, Mary. Woeful Afflictions: Disability and Sentimentality in Victorian America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, 196.]

In essence, these representations are things we either attempt to fit ourselves into, or struggle to remove ourselves from, but they still impact us, no matter what choices we make.

For the most part, I enjoyed Klages work, although I think getting the full value of the read would require a bit more background than Klages puts in. That said, one could check this book out, review the chapter titles, and sort out which bits most interest you, as it reads more as a series of inter-connected articles than one ‘whole’ argument. The writing style felt very jargon-heavy to me, but I’m not a literary scholar and thus I’m not positive I was her target audience to begin with; I’m certain others would have no problems. I give it 3/5 stars.

Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

Announcing: Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm!

A banner that has an image of Helen Keller in the center.  On on side it reads: Political Activist.  Radical Thinker.  Suffragist.  Pacifist.  Journalist.  Socialist.  Who was she? On the other side it reads: Helen Keller Mythbusting Day 2010
Image Description: A banner that has an image of Helen Keller in the center. On on side it reads: Political Activist. Radical Thinker. Suffragist. Pacifist. Journalist. Socialist. Who was she? On the other side it reads: Helen Keller Mythbusting Day 2010″

I learned that Second Life and Virtual Helping Hands are hosting a Helen Keller Day on Second Life on June 19th.

Helen Keller Day is a day set aside for information acquisition, education, exploration of employment opportunities, social engagement, and enjoyment of arts and entertainment. There will be vendors, employers, presentations, and pure, unbridled fun.

I think this is awesome. If I played Second Life, I would be all over this.

It did get me thinking a lot about Helen Keller, and the way people talk about her and use her legacy – something I’ve discussed on FWD before, in Feminist Icons and Subverting the Narrative.

A few years ago someone on a feminist site posted a list of the top 100 historic women in the US, and the list included Helen Keller. A commenter mentioned being surprised to find that out, because… well, what did Helen Keller actually do?

The answer to that question is what this Blogswam is all about.

What’s a blogswarm?

On the appointed day (or there abouts) – in this case, June 19 – people post about Helen Keller. Ideally, they’ll link back to a master post (which I will be hosting here on FWD) and leave a link indicating their participation on the master post. Then, people will be able to see lots of posts about Helen Keller in a variety of places from a variety of points of view.

Okay, but I don’t know much about Helen Keller. Are there some resources so I can learn?


This is just a very short list. Your local library may have many books. I never resist the chance to push Lies My Teacher Told Me by James A Loewen, which talks about Keller in the first chapter. The American Foundation for the Blind has a selected Bibliography of books by and about Keller, but I have not read them so I have no personal opinion on them.

But there are other women with disabilities connected to Helen Keller’s life, and I don’t think they get enough attention either. Can I write about them as well as or instead of Keller and still participate?

Yes! In fact, I think it’s an important part of the mythbusting about Keller to talk about Anne Sullivan, who was blind for parts of her life, Polly Thomson, who was a companion and aid to both Sullivan and Keller in later years, and Laura Bridgman, who was also deaf & blind and was “famous” before Keller. And this list is pretty US-centric, and entirely white. Bust the myth that the only women with disabilities doing anything of interest in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were white women from the US! A very short list: Frida Kahlo, Jhamak Ghimire, Ragnhild Kåta, Theresa Ducharme…

I also think that it’s relevant to talk about Keller’s legacy, and how the treatment of her story – in productions like The Miracle Worker and the oft-repeated story of “the hand in the water” – affect perceptions of people with disabilities, especially blind and d/Deaf people, today. Brownfemipower linked to this discussion of Blind Rage and the Legacy of Helen Keller on TheGimpParade, as an example.

I’m really not up to participating, but I want to be supportive. What can I do?

Spread the word! Tell a friend! Read posts! Link others to posts! Bust your own myths, so that the next time someone says something ignorant about Keller or the work she did, you can gently (or not!) correct them.

I want to participate! But I don’t know if I can on June 19th.

Then write something on another day. The reason I suggest doing it all on the same day is because blogswarms will push across the blogosphere and people will notice them all at once. But please don’t feel obligated or that you’ve “failed” if you don’t write something about Mythbusting on the day.

Also, don’t feel you have to write something new. If you’ve previously written something about this and would like it to get some more attention, feel free to link it as well.

So, now what?

Well, on June 19th I’ll post up an open post about Helen Keller Mythbusting Day here on FWD. Folks can drop their links in right away – my goal is to have it open as early on the 19th as possible. Check back throughout the day to see what posts people have written!

I hope to see lots of awesome posts on June 19th!

Quoted: Audre Lorde

The supposition that one [group] needs the other’s acquiescence in order to exist prevents both from moving together as self-defined persons toward a common goal. This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie.

— “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” (1978), in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (The Crossing Press, 1984)

Jenny McCarthy & Autism Part III: Spokesperson

This is the third and final part of my discussion about Jenny McCarthy. Part I was If We Shame Parents Enough Maybe Autism Can Be Cured, and Part II was Let’s All Be Normal (Acting).

Writing this last post has taken me a very long time, both because of my anger at the way autistics are talked about rather than talked to, or with, or given the opportunity to talk for themselves; and because I keep going over what I have to say here and wondering what makes me think I’m qualified to say it.

I’d like to go back for a moment to the article that started me on this: Jenny McCarthy says her son Evan never had autism.

Actually, let’s just go back to the final sentence: “And though her son may never have had autism, Jenny insists, “I’ll continue to be the voice” of the disorder.”

The way I see it, one of two things is true:

1. Jenny McCarthy cured her son of Autism.
2. Evan never had autism in the first place, but may have had another syndrome, or have been developmentally delayed and “caught up”.

In either case, Jenny McCarthy is not currently the mother of an autistic child.

Tell me – why is Jenny McCarthy the “spokesperson” for “the disorder”? According to her no one in her personal life has it.

Not even delving into the bit where it’s incredibly different to be speaking for and about those who live with autistics and those who actually are autistic, I’m not entire certain what insight McCarthy is offering anyone. The idea that autism is like your child’s soul going away? That the best metaphor for autism is a bus accident? She describes a diagnosis of autism as the worst thing that could happen, and she’s going around and doing the talk shows and is the “spokesperson for the disorder?” How does that even make any sense?

That’s why this post has taken me so long to finish. Every time I start it, I wonder why the hell I’m writing it, instead of pointing people towards the writing of actual autistics.

[Here is a tiny sample:

Just a tiny tiny sample. Each one has a blogroll. There are lots of autistic bloggers, including kaninchenzero and s.e. smith here at FWD. This tiny sample is just meant to be that. I encourage people to leave more links, including to their own blog, in the comments.]

The Times article argues that Jenny McCarthy peddles hope.

Well, here’s my hope: That in the future, autistics will be invited to speak for themselves.

Reading List: Mental Health Diversion Courts

Yes, this looks like our daily Recommended Reading posts that Anna does for us every day – but it’s different. Reading List is a selection of links around a single issue or topic, as a start for those interested in exploring it further. The initial edition, on mental health diversion courts, was sparked when I came across the first article:

Susan Thornton, “A court for mental illness,” Denver Post, Nov 15, 2009

History will be made in Colorado’s 18th Judicial District this week when Colorado’s first districtwide adult Mental Health Court will convene to hear the case of “Robert,” age 37. Robert has bipolar disorder. He frequently goes off his medication, hasn’t followed through with treatment plans, has attempted suicide, and has been hospitalized three times. He has several prior convictions for shoplifting, violating restraining orders and resisting arrest. Now he says he wants to figure out a better way to live, and has volunteered for the Mental Health Court.

The court is a specialized treatment court designed to divert nonviolent felony offenders who have a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression, as well as those with a combination of mental illness and substance abuse. It is not open to those with violent behavior or to sex offenders.

Most of the people who’ll come before the court have been repeatedly in and out of jail. They’ve been charged with minor offenses that result from their mental illness, things like being a public nuisance, drinking in public, and shoplifting. They’re charged with a felony because of the cost of items they’ve stolen or damaged. Usually they have been off their medications because they can’t afford them, and live in and out of shelters.

Each participant will have an intensive treatment plan, including case management and medications, and will be closely monitored by probation officers and mental health professionals. Treatment addresses the mental illness, recurring substance abuse and criminal thinking. There will be incentives for compliance, and sanctions for non-compliance that may include re-sentencing.

This article by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law gives a good overview of why the current use of the criminal court system to address mental illness is so problematic, including these statistics on the scope of the problem:

  • Approximately a quarter million individuals with severe mental illnesses are incarcerated at any given moment—about half arrested for non-violent offenses, such as trespassing or disorderly conduct.” This does not include more than half a million probationers with serious mental illnesses.
  • Sixteen percent of state and local inmates suffer from a mental illness and most receive no treatment beyond medication.”
  • During street encounters, police officers are almost twice as likely to arrest someone who appears to have a mental illness. A Chicago study of thousands of police encounters found that 47 percent of people with a mental illness were arrested, while only 28 percent of individuals without a mental illness were arrested for the same behavior.

The same Bazelon article also has a nice outline of the role of mental health courts (as well as detailed analyses of different models of these courts and recommendations for improvements):

From the criminal law perspective, two rationales underlie the therapeutic court approach: first, to protect the public by addressing the mental illness that contributed to the criminal act, thereby reducing recidivism, and second, to recognize that criminal sanctions, whether intended as punishments or deterrents, are neither effective nor morally appropriate when mental illness is a significant cause of the criminal act. The goals of mental health courts, then, are: 1) to break the cycle of worsening mental illness and criminal behavior that begins with the failure of the community mental health system and is accelerated by the inadequacy of treatment in prisons and jails; and 2) to provide effective treatment options instead of the usual criminal sanctions for offenders with mental illnesses.

There’s also a nice overview of the mental health courts at Frontline, from their series “The New Asylums,” devoted to the stories and issues of people with mental illness in state prisons. The site lets you watch the whole program online and provides a separate complete transcript. There’s also an interactive state-by-state map so you can find information on specific states.

One reason these courts are becoming increasingly popular is because of their fiscal effect – it is more difficult and expensive to incarcerate a person with mental illness than a neurotypical inmate. For the super-wonky, here’s a detailed report from RAND on the fiscal impact of a mental health in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. It found that the costs of providing treatment and services was more than offset by the savings in jail costs. The National Center for State Courts also has a great list of resources on these courts, including lots of studies on fiscal impact.

This is a big part of why there’s significant governmental support for these courts. The Federal Department of Justice provides assistance and resources to communities who want to begin mental health courts. The Council of State Governments Justice Center provides technical support and information to communities working with the DOJ, including a list of essential elements in a mental health court and a practical guide to mental health court design and implementation.

I am not nearly as familiar with court systems outside the US, but even some cursory googling shows that these exist in some model in places including South Australia, England (although the report notes they’re not achieving their potential), Canada, and, um, some places in the European Union.

I also include the significant caveat that the ideas behind and goals of these courts are only as good as their implementation, and that can vary a lot. Not every court is great and even if they worked perfectly, there would still be a lot of problems with the criminal justice system’s relationship with people with disabilities overall.

If you have information on mental health courts in other areas or other great resources, please drop them in the comments!