Disability Studies Quarterly
Winter 2004, Volume 24, No. 1
Copyright 2004 by the Society
for Disability Studies

An Examination into the Portrayal of Deaf Characters and Deaf Issues
in Picture Books for Children

By Isabel Brittain, M. A. (Children's Literature)
London, UK
E-mail: isabelb@ukonline.co.uk

Abstract: This paper examines children's picture books that either feature deaf characters or are aimed at a deaf audience. It is drawn from my Master's thesis An Examination into the Portrayal of Deaf Characters and Deaf Issues in Books for Children (2003), which examined 14primary texts that either feature deaf characters or are aimed at a deaf audience of young readers, those in later childhood and books for adolescents. My observations of books for the youngest readers are presented here. Two types of picture book are considered: those aimed at providing information about what it means to be deaf and those using a combination of pictures, sign symbols and words to tell a story. The methodology arises from two main critical perspectives. The first is Appleyard's theory of the needs of the reader in progressive stages of reader development and the second is based on a summary of the issues that surround the portrayal of "disability". My thesis acknowledges the political, social and cultural issues surrounding definitions of disability and looks at disability as a social rather than a medical issue. It also acknowledges the difference between having a hearing impairment and being part of Deaf culture. My analysis shows that those books that are most successful are shaped by the visual aspect of deaf culture and that these also reflect the narrative desires of the child reader as identified by Appleyard.

The illustrations discussed can be found at the website address listed throughout this paper. We are grateful to the University of Surrey, Roehampton for making their website facility available.

The picture book is a form in which the visual and the written world may come together. If the main mode of communication in the world of the "deaf" is visual, and that of the hearing world is written, then the picture book has the potential to bridge the "gap" between both worlds. The books that will be considered here represent a spectrum of different approaches to hearing impairment that range from picture books approaching the subject from the perspective of the hearing to those that are firmly centred in a "deaf" perspective.

The methodology through which the primary texts are explored arises from two main critical perspectives. The first is J. A. Appleyard's theory (1991) of the needs of the reader in progressive stages of reader development. The second is based on a summary of the issues which surround the portrayal of disability as described by Cumberbatch & Negrine (1992), Keith (2001), Quicke (1985) and Saunders (2000), which for the purposes of my thesis are categorised as "six pitfalls of disability fiction." Picture books are examined here largely in the light of Appleyard's theory, because, with the exception of Quicke, the majority of research into the portrayal of disability does not explore the significance of illustration.

Appleyard's study, Becoming A Reader: The Experience of Fiction from Childhood to Adulthood (1991) provides a detailed but necessarily generalised examination into how one develops as a reader from the childhood to adulthood of the title. The study is based upon his observation as an English teacher that:

Whatever their individual differences of personality and background, there is a somewhat regular sequence of attitudes readers go through as they mature that affects how they experience stories. (op.cit., p.2)

He establishes five categories for defining the different stages of reading. They are: early childhood -- reader as player; later childhood -- reader as hero and heroine; adolescence -- reader as thinker; college and beyond -- reader as interpreter and adulthood -- the pragmatic reader. Appleyard's study considers how different developmental stages in the course of a life correspond to trends in reading habits. His conclusions are, of course, generalised and as pointed out by Pinsent "no framework can be rigid about a subject which depends so much on the ability, development, and social situation of the individual" (1997, p.22). However, in the context of this study his findings function as a useful framework for measuring the extent to which fiction that portrays deaf characters reflects the narrative desires of the child reader as identified by Appleyard. He defines the child between the ages of 2 and 6 as "reader as player", which he explains as follows:

The term suggests the "as if" status of the fictional world, it suggests that to listen to stories and to tell them is to practice the culture's agenda, finally, it conveys something of the growing sense of autonomy and risk taking that the pre-school child acquires. (1991, p.54)

As the above indicates, he uses the term "play" since it is a notable feature of the child's life at this particular stage in their development. They play with toys, friends, family, at trying on the roles of the culture they inhabit. A key feature of the play adopted by nursery school children is the enactment of adult roles: children dress up as "mummies and daddies", "doctors and nurses", "policemen" and "firemen". More significantly in this context, they play with language, with the stories they tell or are told. A striking element of the nursery rhymes, songs and games for young children is the rhythm, the pattern of the words used.

The most successful stories for young children, although generally consisting of a basic plot structure of "threat-and-threat averted" (Appleyard, 1991, p.21), are highly imaginative in terms of their illustrations and language. For example, Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (first published in the USA in1963; and in the UK in 1967) has remained in print since its publication. The enormous success of this picture book is due to the weird and wonderful creatures Sendak creates to combine with his text which involves rhythmic repetition: "Oh please don't go -- we'll eat you up -- we love you so." Similarly the illustrations of the outrageous behaviour of the monster in McKee's Not Now Bernard (1980) and the satisfying repetition of the title phrase throughout the story contribute to the book's success.

Appleyard suggests that the stories children tell themselves are constructed from this basic plot structure and are similarly imaginative. (Appleyard, 1991, pp. 26-35). He characterises children at this stage as having a "proclivity for fantasy" (op.cit., p.34) and writes that "Children are marvellous fantasists in ways that to adults seem imaginative and creative." (op.cit., p.32) He also asserts that: "The most important circumstance of all is that children at this age do not read; they are read to." (op.cit., p.21) Being read to is not a passive activity for the child; it normally involves direct interaction with the text: pointing, holding, repeating words, phrases, clapping, singing, commenting, asking questions and close examination of the illustrations. "Using a book at this age is typically also a rich visual and even tactile experience of vivid images." (ibid.)

Appleyard refers to Piaget's summation of the key characteristic of the child between the ages of 2 and 6 as essentially egocentric; in other words, the child is only able to consider phenomena from his/her own perspective. In Piaget's view this is a great inadequacy in terms of cognition since he locates the ability to look at phenomena symbolically and objectively as "the basis of all remembering, inferring, inventing, fantasizing, and the foundation of language." (Appleyard, 1991, p.28). Piaget's interpretation of the child in infancy is not dissimilar to Freud's theory (1905) of the oral phase of libidinal development. At the earliest stage of infancy the child has not yet learnt to differentiate between his/herself and people and surrounding objects. In Freud's own words:

An infant at the breast does not yet distinguish his ego from the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him. ..In this way then the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it more correctly, originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive -- indeed, an all-embracing -- feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it. (Freud cited in Holland, 1989, p.34)

Holland's Dynamics of Literary Response (1989) examines the relationship between the reader and the book in terms of Freudian theory; and maintains that a work of literature "suspends our disbelief" in order for us to enter into its world, or to "introject" the book (1989, preface, viii). Holland suggests that the suspension of disbelief is made possible because in the book the reader is offered:

...the promise of gratification on the most basic oral level, of "taking in" in open mouthed wonder the fantasies it contains, of re-experiencing the undifferentiated fusion of ourselves and the world around us that we knew as infants before we learned to separate ego from external world. (cited in Appleyard, 1991, p.39)

Paraphrasing Freud, Holland writes that "the very young child does not distinguish 'out there' from 'in here'". (1989, p.35) Perhaps, then, it is a by-product of the essentially egocentric nature of the child and his/her inability, or slowly emerging ability, to make out the boundaries between "out there" and "in here" that at this stage there is little effort required to "suspend their disbelief". Young children tend to have a unique way of merging with the feelings of the characters in a text as if they themselves were experiencing the same range of emotions.

To summarise Appleyard, the young child is unusually open imaginatively and in consequence prefers highly inventive illustrations, plot and language and a strong element of fun in his/her stories.

From the analysis of portrayals of disability by Cumberbatch & Negrine (1992), Keith (2001), Quicke (1985) and Saunders (2000) it emerges that, regardless of the specific disability being portrayed, there are a number of features which remain common to the discourse embedded in texts that feature disabled characters, These "six pitfalls of disability fiction" are summarised here, although their principles are more easily applied to texts for older readers.

The Six Pitfalls of Disability Fiction

  1. Portraying the character with an impairment as "other" than human
      Otherwordly in a negative or positive sense—extremely "evil" or "good"
      Likening the character to vegetable matter
      Forging links between the character and animals
  2. Portraying the character with an impairment as "extra-ordinary"
      The character's ordinary humanity is not described but is represented either as a negative or positive stereotype
  3. The "second fiddle" phenomenon
      The character with an impairment is neither the central character within the narrative nor fully developed, merely serving to bring the central character/s to a better understanding of themselves or disability
  4. Lack of realism and accuracy in the portrayal of the impairment
      The author neglects to properly research a particular impairment resulting in inaccuracy of portrayal
  5. The outsider
      The character with an impairment is portrayed as a figure of alienation and social isolation
  6. Happy endings?
      The author fails to see a happy and fulfilled life being a possibility for a character with an impairment

The picture book is a form in which the visual and the written world may come together (although it is true that some picture books such as Briggs' The Snowman (1978) rely on illustrations alone to tell the story). If the main mode of communication in the world of the "deaf" is visual, and that of the hearing world is written, then the picture book has the potential to bridge the "gap" between both worlds. Picture books could offer the "best" of each in terms of language and illustration. Unfortunately, the majority of picture books that feature deaf characters or deal with deaf issues tend to do neither very well. They fall into the category of "quasi-fiction" (Quicke, 1985, p.135). Quicke explains this term as used for books:

...which are written in story form, but where the main aim is to convey factual information about the disability or difficulty. The plot in such books is usually very thin, sometimes almost totally non-existent, and they tend to rely on pictures. Most of them are difficult to classify as fiction or non-fiction. (1985, p.135)

Quicke cites Bloom's The Boy Who Couldn't Hear (1977) (1985, p.135) as an example of "quasi-fiction." Though he allows that there is an attempt to tell a story in this text in that it centres on the deaf character's love of fishing, he argues that such "stories" tend to contain "impoverished language." They lack the poetry and rhythmic language so often at the heart of successful books for children such as Sendak's, as previously discussed. It would seem that the factual element of such stories has a stifling effect on the author's creativity. Quicke concludes that "there is a danger these books may fall between two stools. In trying to impart information and tell a story they do neither very well." (ibid.) Unfortunately the same phenomenon applies to the accompanying illustrations, which tend to be black and white or, even when in colour, heavily lined drawings portraying generic people with no outstanding features or individual characteristics (Figure 1, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle).

The five books that will be considered here represent a spectrum of different approaches to hearing impairment that range from picture books approaching the subject from the perspective of the hearing to those that are firmly centred in a "deaf" perspective. They are: Peterson and Ray's I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf (1977), Lakin and Steele's Dad and Me in the Morning (1994), Orlof, Guldberg and Lytting's Octopuses Are Farting -- Signed Nonsense Verses (1996) translated from the Danish, Blaæksprutter Prutter -- Tosserier med Tegn, Nederby's Rikke is Sweeping (1987), also translated from the Danish, Rikke Fejer and Rankin's The Handmade Alphabet (1991).

Interestingly, the latter three, those approached from a deaf perspective, come closest to incorporating Appleyard's theory of the preferences of the young child. The former two might be classified as quasi-fiction in that they attempt a factual explanation (both directly and indirectly) of what it means to be deaf in a story format; and represent a departure from Appleyard's criteria since they lack a sense of fun and play. However, it will be shown that each moves away from the traps of quasi-fiction as they make steps towards more imaginative use of language and illustration.

I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf consists of text told from the perspective of an older hearing sister about her deaf sister and is therefore offering a hearing person's perspective on the world of a deaf child. The text does not form a story in that it does not have a beginning, middle and end, but works as a series of examples of how the deaf sister is "different" or the same as her hearing sister. The emphasis is clearly on explanation of facts rather than imaginative story telling though the language used is not altogether dull, but has a certain poetic rhythm. The text starts and ends with the same two statements, which are a repetition of the title. "I have a sister. My sister is deaf". This poetic repetition might appeal to a young child. Peterson's use of language evokes the sounds that the deaf sister will miss: "She will never hear the garbage cans clanging around in the street."[my italics] (no page numbers in publication). The hearing sister provides answers to some of the questions young hearing children would be likely to ask: "My friends ask me about my little sister. They ask, "Does it hurt to be deaf?" "No," I say, "her ears don't hurt, but her feelings do when people do not understand." Peterson also depicts the visual expressiveness of many deaf children:

My sister cannot always tell me with words what she feels. Sometimes she cannot even show me with her hands. But when she is angry or happy or sad, my sister can say more with her face and shoulders than anyone else I know.

Today, Ray's illustrations are somewhat dated, with characters dressed in outfits from the 1970s. The pictures, like the story, aim at factual realism, rather than an imaginative portrayal; had they been more abstract this might not be the case as again, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is still a popular book, whose illustrations are as fresh today as they were in 1963 when the book was first published in America. Similarly, the pictures in I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf make no attempt to tell a story separate from the text but act only as reinforcement of it. The deaf sister, just as she isn't named or focalised in the text (she doesn't tell her own story), is usually portrayed facing sideways, and only twice looks directly at the reader (on the front cover and the final page). This style emphasises her status within the book as marginal, defined by another. The illustrations, though black and white, are not made up of bold lines but soft charcoal grey tones. The overall effect is gentle as if the pictures are in soft focus. There is little movement or energy in the pictures, which give the impression of being viewed through a mist or from a dream-like state. The overall visual effect is hazy and undefined (Figures 2 & 3, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle).

It might be argued that by depicting the characters in soft focus and without clear definition Ray's intention is to make "disability" unthreatening and accessible to a non-disabled child reader. Also her avoidance of individual characterisation in the illustrations serves to emphasise the deaf sister as an example of any deaf child. It would seem that her intention, like that of the author, is not to bring an individual deaf child to life in the pages of the story, but to inform a hearing child about what it means to be deaf. However, the illustrations are bland and colourless, in terms of the materials used and of characterisation. Arguably, it is unlikely that a child would return to either text or illustrations or find either lodging in his/her memory as a source of fascination. As Tucker suggests, certain artists might:

...play safe and simply create stereotyped characters and scenery, and while children may quickly feel at home among easily recognisable visual clichés, it may be less easy for them to grow in understanding with such books. (Tucker, 1984, p.47)

However, this is not to deny the potential of the text as a starting tool for discussion on hearing impairment.

Dad and Me in the Morning takes greater steps in its move away from quasi-fiction towards a more imaginative story than I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf. This is, in part, because deaf issues are incorporated but not the main focus and also because of the colourful illustrations. The story is told through the eyes of Jacob, who is deaf, as he describes getting up to watch the sunrise with his father. The text concentrates on descriptions of the natural phenomena each of them observes and the way they make Jacob feel. In this sense the story is not imaginative or abstract. However, the language used is descriptive and visually poetic: " 'There!' I told Dad. I pointed behind us to the clouds. They looked like popcorn. They were turning pink and purple and orange and yellow. And the sky was getting more and more blue." (no page numbers in publication) It is also onomatopoeic, appealing to a child's sense of play with language:

I made Dad run over the hard sand, through the crunchy shells, and over the snaky seaweed, right to the rocks. "These wet rocks smell like old, stinky fish," I told Dad. Then something tickled my leg. "Hermit crabs!"

By concentrating on Jacob's awareness of the look and smell of the material world Lakin makes oblique reference to his hearing impairment -- he uses these senses well. Equally, she refers to it directly in the text. On the first page, Jacob is awoken when his "special alarm clock" flashes. He then puts on his hearing aids. Later on in the text she introduces the variety of communicative tools that may be used by someone with a hearing impairment when she writes "Dad and I have lots of ways of talking to each other, like signing or lip reading or just squeezing each other's hands." The illustrations however, although in colour, are conventional and unimaginative. Even though Jacob is named, he could be any boy and his father, a generic "dad" (Figure 4, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle). In only one illustration, of Jacob running barefoot through the cold water, is he depicted as animated and very alive (Figure 5, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle ). Steele's realistic photographic pictures constructed in pastel watercolours produce a similar soft focus effect to that in I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf; almost as if writing about disability is so bold it must be watered down with gentle illustrations.

Octopuses Are Farting, Rikke is Sweeping and The Handmade Alphabet were amongst those selected in Reidarson's catalogue Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities (1997) by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). The first two, both Danish publications, use a combination of pictures, signs and words to convey meaning. The preface to Octopuses Are Farting clearly states the book's intention:

Parents and Grandparents have often expressed the need for children's books in which sign language is the main element. We have tried to fulfil this need with the publication of this book. 'Octopuses are Farting -- nonsense with signs' is a groundbreaking and experimental children's book directed at very young deaf children and children who need sign supported communication. (Translated from Danish by Thomas Lindvig 2002).

The book is made up of 16double page spreads: illustrations on the right described by signers, using Danish Sign Language, on the left. Below each signer is written the word depicted, and centred below the drawings is the sentence. Placing the sentence underneath in the middle makes it unobtrusive and, unlike the signs, clearly not the main focus. A common feature of books with signed drawings is that the "signers" are generic people, not marked out in any individual way and are portrayed in black and white. Unusually, here, the signers are not only in colour but individualised; they are sometimes male, sometimes female and of different ethnicities (Figures 6 & 7, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle).

The illustrations on the right are not only brightly coloured and vibrant but also anarchic. Again, unusually for a "disability book", the pictures are surreal, in many cases absurd, and as such are likely to appeal to the subversive in the child. On page 17, a teacher is depicted as romantically absorbed in kissing an ostrich at the zoo while her young pupils look on in amusement. On page 37 a pig and a dog are seen playing football with a car, on page 27 a giraffe is depicted staring at an angry potato. The book has an overall sense of what the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin terms as the "carnivalesque" a term he coined in his book Rabelais and His World (1984). Social modes are turned on their head as people and animals behave in ways that are out of the ordinary. Bakhtin sees the carnival form as characterised by expletive, blasphemy and frequent references to parts of the body, bodily functions and orifices. In keeping with this definition and the young child's preoccupation with body parts and their functions, page 23 depicts a rat and a frog jumping over a steaming turd, page 39 illustrates a young boy gleefully peeing on a plot of carrots and, of course, the cover depicts the title (Figures 8,9 & 10, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle ). The illustrations contain enough detail, colour and humour to captivate any child, deaf or hearing. The cover picture depicts the taboo image of a group of pleased octopuses being propelled forward by their farts, made visible because they are underwater. Also in this underwater image are shown some unsuspecting fish, far enough away from the fart to be unaffected by it, an angry crab in the octopuses' pathway and a lobster, directly behind the main octopus, covering its "nose" with its claw.

Rikke is Sweeping follows the actions of Rikke as she eats a sandwich, spills crumbs and sweeps them up; a simple and seemingly uninteresting plot which is brought to life by the illustrations. These are deceptively simple, black and white line drawings of Rikke at varying stages of the story that convey movement and character (Figure 11, http://www.ncrcl.ac.uk/ibarticle ). The illustrations (on either side of each spread) and text work together to form one meaning. The text alone would make a rather dull story; but Rikke's lively and expressive facial movements combine with it in a delightful way. This is possibly the result of the text and illustrations being conceived by one person, a combination that the author/illustrator, Edward Ardizzone, felt was essential in the creation of a great picture book:

The professional writer...not being visually minded, cannot leave out enough; he must elaborate; he cannot visualise how the picture will tell the story. And this, I think, is why the best picture books have been created by artists... (Ardizzone cited in Tucker,1984, p.48)

The text in these two Danish picture-books echoes the illustrations rather than the other way round as is common to a number of picture books -- thereby placing the emphasis firmly on the visual. This is reinforced by the space given over to the portrayal of the Danish Sign Language symbols being almost equal to that of the illustration on the right hand side of each spread, and the comparatively small area given to the text. In a similar vein to Octopuses Are Farting the signer on the left hand side of each spread is individualised -- in this case it is Rikke who is signing her own actions rather than a generic face. Tucker asserts that:

...the economy that can arise when pictures complement rather than repeat a text is a valuable one, not least because it is giving the young reader the chance to learn to use pictures as an essential part of the story, rather than merely as an attractive elaboration of the already obvious. (1984, pp.48-9)

In these signed picture books the text repeats the image rather than, as suggested as preferable by Tucker, the text and image "complementing" one another. For example, in Pat Hutchins' Rosie's Walk (1968) the majority of the meaning is conveyed by the images rather than the words. Similarly, the picture books of Maurice Sendak and Anthony Browne convey depths of meaning through the images rather than the text. Certainly the visual image has the power to convey ideas, which, if written, would be beyond the comprehension of a young child, yet accessible in picture format (Graham, 1990, p.17). However, the purpose of these signed picture books in which the text and the image echo one another is to introduce or familiarise the child with signs, so the repetition is part of the purpose. However, it is worth noting that some teachers of the deaf are skeptical about the effectiveness of signers in a text, believing that the hand movements and facial expressions depicted are not always clear or easy to follow (Frank Barnes School for the Deaf, London, NW3, UK.).

Like the two Danish publication's, Rankin's The Handmade Alphabet locates itself within deaf culture as it depicts the American Sign Language (ASL) Alphabet. The book uses no text (other than each letter of the alphabet), only portraits of the hand shapes (the ASL alphabet is conveyed using only one hand) that correspond to a particular letter of the alphabet. Rankin's images are stylistically photographic and as such are easy to mimic. In the top left hand corner of each spread is the written letter that corresponds to the hand-shape. Rankin uses a variety of hand types: different gender, colour and age, thereby embedding within her book an ideology of racial and sexual inclusiveness similar to that conveyed by the multi-ethnic signers in Octopuses Are Farting. Rankin makes use of the traditional format of alphabet books that combine the written letter with a picture of something that begins with that letter by giving it a deaf slant. The visual emphasis here is on the hand-shape rather than the word the letter corresponds to. It is combined with a depiction, interwoven into the hand, of an object starting with the same letter. Occasionally this is visually subtle and requires thought and searching to decode. For example, the word she links to the hand-shape for N is "nails". She does so by painting the nails of the hand pink. Similarly the visual association (valentine) with the hand-shape for V, is not at first obvious. Tucked inside the hand making the shape for V is a small red heart. However, the book contains a "key" to each of the images thereby making them accessible to the hearing and the deaf child alike.


Although each of the five texts examined depart from the body of work which can be defined as quasi-fiction, it is only in the last three titles looked at, which are rooted in deaf culture, that the images become more imaginative and the main focus of the texts, thereby satisfying the young child's desire for a strong creative element. The criteria of fun, play and creativity that Appleyard suggests young children seek in their reading are met in The Handmade Alphabet, Octopuses are Farting and Rikke is Sweeping. The visual aspect of deaf culture shapes these texts; the emphasis being on "pictures", both of the signers and the scenes described, rather than words. Equally, young children's love of word play is addressed by the authors' use of sign language. The reader learns to use sign language to understand and describe Rikke's facial expressions or the surreal and anarchic images of Octopuses are Farting and to interpret the subtle visual clues in The Handmade Alphabet. In these texts in which hearing impairment is viewed as a cultural difference rather than a "disability", the images and signs flow with colour and imagination. Conversely, Appleyard's criteria are less obviously present in those texts that are based in a hearing perspective. I Have a Sister My Sister is Deaf and Dad and Me in the Morning, whilst a marked improvement on bland factual texts about deaf issues, lack the visual and linguistic impact of the others. The aim in these texts, to provide factual information about what it means to be deaf, places them in the category of "quasi fiction" and as such they tend to disappoint in terms of imaginative storylines and illustrations. The fact that these particular texts do not adhere to Appleyard's criteria is perhaps a consequence of treating disability with an unnecessary degree of seriousness or else that the factual intention has an inhibiting effect on the imagination. Whatever the cause, I would argue that these latter two texts are less likely to tap into the unique capacity of young children to merge with text and illustration. If, as Susan Freemantle suggests: "Young children are naturally highly observant and probably rely more on the visual sense than on any other" (cited in Pinsent, 1990, p.7) then this is more acutely true of young deaf children. It would seem crucial, therefore, that storybooks for this audience adopt a highly stimulating visually imaginative approach. The delight of the first three titles is that they may be enjoyed by signers and non-signers, deaf or hearing children, whilst the latter two are less likely to appeal to such a diverse audience.


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Biographical note:

Isabel Brittain has a BA Hons in English Literature and an MA in Children's Literature. She has worked as a note-taker for deaf students in Further Education and with a Speech and Language Therapist working with a group of young deaf students in primary education. She has gained a stage 1 certificate in British Sign Language and is working towards stage 2. She has a certificate in Communication Skills from the Open College of Sign Language and a certificate in Deaf Awareness. She currently works for The Arvon Foundation, an organisation that runs residential creative writing courses. isabelb@ukonline.co.uk.