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Characters with disabilities in contemporary children's novels: Portraits of three authors in a frame of Canadian texts Open Access


Other title
Canadian children's authors
critical literacy
Bakhtin's chronotope
children's literature
characters with disabilities
Radical Change
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Brenna, Beverley A.
Supervisor and department
Bainbridge, Joyce (Elementary Education, University of Alberta)
Examining committee member and department
McClay, Jill (Elementary Education, University of Alberta)
Rinaldi, Christina (Educational Psychology, University of Alberta)
Mackey, Margaret (Secondary Education, University of Alberta)
Dresang, Eliza (Information School, University of Washington)
Wiltse, Lynne (Elementary Education, University of Alberta)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This qualitative study explored influences on three Canadian authors who present characters with disabilities in children’s fiction. Portraits of these authors are framed by a discussion of contemporary Canadian children’s novels, offering curriculum ideas within the framework of critical literacy. The research questions were: What patterns in the depictions of characters with disabilities appear in the context of Canadian novels, published since 1995, for children and young adults? What motivates and informs selected contemporary children’s authors’ construction of fictional characters with disabilities? Portraiture was used as a variation on case study research. Methods for data collection and analysis included semi-structured interviews, personal narratives, and content analysis regarding three author portraits, including a self-portrait; content analysis was also applied to fifty children’s novels. Bakhtin’s conceptualization of the literary chronotope was utilized as a lens to explore aspects of time and space ‘internal’ and ‘external’ to these texts, and further delineated by aspects of time, social context, and place—three categories borrowed from the field of narrative inquiry. Research on classic fiction illuminates particular patterns and trends regarding authors’ portrayals of characters with disabilities. This dissertation has identified and explored contemporary trends. While disability figured in all of the children’s novels in the study sample, ethnicity was strikingly absent, as were books for junior readers ages eight to eleven. The inquiry utilized Dresang’s Radical Change theory to identify the landscape on which books about characters with disabilities reside, supporting the metaphorical conceptualization of the radical changes in children’s literature as a ‘rhizome’. The resonance of what has informed authors, in addition to the exploration of the children’s books in this study, offers perspectives that impact critical literacy classroom approaches delineated within Lewison, Flint, and Van Sluys’ four dimensions framework: disrupting the commonplace, interrogating multiple viewpoints, focusing on socio-political issues, and taking action and promoting social justice. The latter dimension, while not accomplished through reading the texts themselves, may be approached through attention to author influences. The implications of the study relate to curriculum development as well as promote further research in Education, English Literature, and Disability Studies. An annotated bibliography is included.
License granted by Beverley Brenna ( on 2010-04-14T19:55:08Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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