Disability Studies Quarterly
Summer 2004, Volume 24, No. 3
<www.dsq-sds.org>
Copyright 2004 by the Society
for Disability Studies


BOOK & FILM REVIEWS

Byrd, Lee Merrill. The Treasure on Gold Street: A Neighborhood Story in English and Spanish. Illustrations by Antonio Castro. Translated by Sharon Franco. Cinco Puntos Press, 2004. 11_ by 8 3/4. 37 pgs. Highly Illustrated. Cloth 0-938317-75-X.

Reviewed by James T. Jackson, The George Washington University

Lee Merrill Byrd's The Treasure on Gold Street: A Neighborhood Story in English and Spanish is a bilingual narrative nonfiction children's book about friendship, love, family, and the support of community for a woman who has mental retardation, but is not limited by her condition. The book introduces the reader to the main characters of Hannah and Isabel. Hannah, a little girl who lives with her family, serves as the narrator and tells about life on Gold Street, in a town called El Paso. She describes the life that she shares with her brother, parents, and grandparents. She presents her friend, Isabel, as someone who is big like a grown-up but plays like a friend. Hannah tells the reader that she loves Isabel for special reasons – one being that Isabel does not tell Hannah what to do.

Isabel, the real treasure of Gold Street, is presented as a friend and playmate to many of the residents in the neighborhood. She is fluent in Spanish and English and enjoys taking walks with her mother, Bennie. She possesses a curiosity and excitement about living that usually does not characterize the lives of people with mental retardation in the contexts of mainstream literature and media. Rather, the author makes her an integral part of the community, choosing to depict her as being involved in the lives of most of the citizens of the neighborhood, caring about discarded items -- suggesting she has a sensitivity to things unwanted -- and possessing the ability to be responsible in the household that she shares with her mother.

The book is easy reading and uses Gold Street as a metaphor for life's riches. One of these riches is the beauty that is found when biculturalism (in this story, a Mexican culture interacting with a European American ethos) is celebrated in a manner as The Treasure on Gold Street presents. The author provides the reader with a glimpse of how two cultures harmonize to celebrate the life of Isabel collectively and individually – making certain that her intellectual disability is celebrated without overshadowing other themes. For example, the theme of love manages to permeate the book, but is especially evident during a scene in which community members gather to honor Isabel on her birthday, underscoring the important role she plays in the community.

The themes of acceptance and community support are enhanced by multiple colorful illustrations that are realistic and void of disfigurement. They serve to draw the reader into the life and culture of Gold Street – making it possible for one to feel the warmth and love of family and friends. Antonio Castro L. has done superior illustrations that complement the book, and is assisted by his son, Antonio Castro H., with both the design and the background drawings against which the story is set.

In its treatment of family, community, love, and friendship, Treasure provides a momentary sanctuary that demonstrates what is possible when difference is embraced in a loving and supportive manner. The fact that one of the central characters has mental retardation is a subtopic, but an important one nonetheless. The author's choice to present Isabel as an active part of the community allows the reader to see a person with a multi-faceted personality rather than to make presumptions about mentally retarded people as severely limited – a task that is sometimes difficult when differences are not necessarily appreciated in the larger context of today's society. Further, the author seems to sense that if society is ever to move beyond its present treatment of difference, then it must focus on the productive ways in which all people -- especially those with intellectual disabilities -- can contribute to their communities.

Although Treasure is a children's book, it offers many lessons to a larger audience. Among these lessons is the idea that persons with intellectual disabilities may in fact serve as a catalyst to bring others together. However, the larger society should not expect persons with disabilities to always serve in the role of teacher, if one views them for that purpose, but rather understand that they are whole people with capabilities. They can learn and appreciate many things – even learn to be bilingual. Finally, the larger society may discover that as it celebrates those with intellectual disabilities, without being obvious, it honors itself and speaks volumes about the inclusive nature that is needed to further its progress. These are the strengths of Treasure and it offers a positive example of what happens when one discusses intellectual disabilities in a much broader context – making it useful not just for children who like to read, but also for adults who like to read with them. The realism of the book offers practitioners, advocates, researchers, and others concerned with issues of people with disabilities a case study to be utilized in a plethora of forums.





Copyright (c) 2004 James T. Jackson



Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

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