Monday, February 7, 2011

February's Awesome Issue!

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February, 2011
Another Book Giveaway!

Stuck in NeutralDon't forget to enter February's book giveaway of a copy of Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. To Enter is easy: Just leave a comment on the Spellbinder blog or email Kimberley at and you might win a copy of Stuck in Neutral, a Printz Honor book in 2001 and our guest this month here at Spellbinders Book News!

Feature Article


One of my favorite sessions at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Symposium this past November was "Beyond Good Intentions and Chicken Soup: Young Adult Literature and Disability Diversity: How Far Have we come?" I found this session of particular interest since I work as a therapist in the public schools with students with a variety of disabilities including developmental delay, cerebral palsy and Asperger's syndrome.

Terry Trueman, author of the Printz Honor book Stuck in Neutral, and parent of a child with a severe disability, served on the panel, along with Dr. Heather Garrison and Dr. Katherine Schneider who discussed a variety of topics including how to use books to promote acceptance and diversity.

Terry Trueman

(Pictured: Carolee Dean and Terry Trueman at the YALSA Symposium)

They began the session by introducing the idea that disability is a social construct and that cultural perceptions of an individual often change based upon social views. In other words, a person with severe ADHD may be considered a poor student in a school setting because of his or her inability to focus, but might excel at athletics or music. Within the family or peer group, a person may be a vital contributing member, but struggle to find his or her place in the larger world of academics and work.

The panel discussed early literary portrayals of people with disability and the attitudes that these stories convey. Some of the titles included Of Mice and Men, A Christmas Carol, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and To Kill a Mockingbird. In many cases people with disabilities have been depicted as outcasts or as having a bleak future with limited opportunities. The panelists contrasted these titles with recent examples from YA literature (see Kimberley's Book Buzz for a list) and gave several reasons to use YA literature to discuss disability diversity. Some of their reasons included the following:

1) These stories promote positive perceptions and combat negative stereotypes by portraying people with

disabilities realistically.

2) They create vicarious opportunities to experience the thoughts and perspectives of people

with disabilities.

3) They emphasize the similarities between all people.

4) They promote disability as a form of diversity and foster acceptance.

5) They create positive role models with whom readers with disabilities can identify.

For teachers and librarians looking for quality books exploring disability, the panelists suggested Five A's to remember when choosing titles: Attitudes, Accuracy, Appeal, Accessibility, and Awards. The Schneider Family Book Award given through the ALA recognizes high quality books about people with disabilities. Any of the books from their list would be excellent recommendations.

When evaluating the quality of books, the panel suggested looking for characters who have a role in the story equal to that of their non-disabled counterparts. At the same time, people with differences need not be portrayed as super-stars or "super-crips" with extraordinary powers related to their disabilities. Stories should foster the idea of acceptance of these characters and they shouldn't have to overcome their disability or prove themselves in some other way. The character should contribute more to the story than just being a person with a disability and should be multi-dimensional and believable. Most importantly, stories should avoid stereotypes.

Another important consideration when evaluating stories about people with disabilities is the author's credentials. Is the author a person with a disability or a parent, sibling or teacher of such a person? Do they have firsthand experience? Do they have the background to be able to provide accurate information?

Terry Trueman discussed how being the parent of a child with a severe disability influenced his writing of Stuck in Neutral, the story of a teenage boy named Shawn who is physically incapable of movement. He is totally dependent on others for his most basic care and can't even control his eyes volitionally. The world views him as retarded when he actually is quite intelligent, though he has no way to demonstrate this. In addition to his disability, Shawn also suffers from a violent seizure disorder which leads his father to believe tha Shawn is in agonizing pain when he is actually using the seizures to have out- of-body experiences. Shawn becomes convinced that his father is planning to kill him to put him out of his misery, and the contemplation of his possible demise leads him to appreciate what a rich inner life he truly has lead. Trueman effectively explores the world from the point of view of a teen with a severe disability, reminding us that no one can judge the quality of life of another. He also does a fabulous job of exploring the toll taken on the rest of a family and their relationships when so many emotional, physical, and financial resources must be spent caring for a disabled child.

People who are disabled, or differently-abled, which is a fairer term, are important contributors to society and are visible in our schools and work force in ever growing numbers. Understanding how to relate to people who are different and to celebrate their uniqueness is a skill that can be enhanced by experiencing unique world views through characters and stories.

Special Column
Interview with Author Terry Trueman by Carolee Dean
Terri Trueman, bio picTerry Trueman took time away from working on the rewrites for his upcoming novel Shifting Gears to talk with me by phone about his work and about being the parent of a child with a profound disability. Watch for Shifting Gears, coming in 2012. It's a genuine sequel to Stuck in Neutral, a 2001 Prinz Honor book and its companion book Cruise Control.

Stuck in Neutral is the story of Shawn McDaniel's, a teenage boy who is so severely disabled that he has no volitional control over any part of his body. In spite of this fact, or perhaps because of it, Shawn leads a rich inner life that no one is aware of, especially his father, whom Shawn believes wants to kill him to put him out of his misery.

Carolee: How has being the father of a son with a profound disability impacted the writing of these three books; Stuck in Neutral, its companion book, Cruise Control, and its sequel, Shifting Gears?

Terry: I never would have chosen the material for my first book Stuck in Neutral on my own. You could say it chose me. I would have traded anything for my son, Sheehan, to have had a more normal life.

Carolee: In other words, you would have traded your achievements as an author, which have largely been related to the success of Stuck in Neutral, if it meant that your son could have had a normal life?

Terry: Yes, but I must also say that if Sheehan hadn't been born and injured at his birth, then hundreds of thousands of people would not have had the chance to read Stuck in Neutral and had their perceptions about people like Shawn and his father changed as a result.

Carolee: What impact do you think Stuck in Neutral has had on changing the perception of people with profound disabilities?

Terry: I've done hundreds of school visits as well as library and public events and received well over 50,000 emails and letters over the last decade. The vast majority of people have read Stuck in Neutral and have questions or want to comment on the material.

I've been asked many times about the ending of the book. Readers are highly interested in what happens next to Shawn. Not one person has ever thought that Shawn's father should have followed through with killing him. Everyone wants Shawn to live. Now, if before reading the book I had told you that by the end you would be deeply concerned about what happens to a boy like Shawn, you never would have believed me. But that is exactly the response I get from readers. They care deeply about what happens to Shawn and they worry for him and want to know that he's going to be okay-which also answers the question of why I ended the book the way I did.

Carolee: It's certainly a fabulous book, one that sticks with you long after the last page, and challenges your perceptions of all people, not just those with disabilities. I'm glad it got so much exposure from winning the Prinz Honor. How do you feel that award has impacted the book and your writing career?

Terry: I got a late start. My first novel wasn't published until I was 52. Winning the Printz Honor sky-rocketed my career. It also helped get the book into the hands of people who needed to read it earlier than might have happened otherwise. I'll always be enormously grateful to YALSA and the ALA for choosing the book and for sponsoring the Prinz and other awards. Honors like this are great supports for writers, and Stuck in Neutral has continued to sell well, through all the vampires and werewolves and other fads.

Carolee: Shawn is such a strong male protagonist, and yet he appeals to female readers as well.

Terry: I write from a teenage boy's point of view, but it was never my intention to write for a specific gender. I try to write for smart readers. To make them think. To change them.

Carolee: What type of books did you enjoy as a young boy?

Terry: I was never a book reader myself as a boy. The books that were offered to me just weren't of interest. I enjoyed comic books and Mad magazine.

Carolee: Yes, it's a shame that more of that sort of reading isn't encouraged, or at least acknowledged, in schools. Your books contain so much, and yet they are quite sparse. Stuck in Neutral is only 128 pages. I think that appeals to a lot of boy readers.

Terry: I wrote poetry for many years before writing novels. Also, I type with two fingers, so shorter forms work well for me.

Carolee: Have you ever thought of writing a novel in verse?

Terry: Yes, but I've got several other projects in the works right now. I do enjoy verse novels. Two of my favorites are Love That Dog by Cheryl Creech and Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones. Sonya actually mentions Stuck in Neutral in another verse novel, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. She has the protagonist reading it.

Carolee: I loved the long narrative poem written from the father's point of view that runs throughout Stuck in Neutral.

Terry: I actually wrote the poem first. It's called Sheehan and it's about my son. My main purpose in writing Stuck in Neutral was to get the poem out into the world.

Carolee: Well you certainly accomplished that. Thank you so much for taking time away from your rewrites to spend some time here with us at Spellbinders.

Terry: Thank you for having me.

Carolee: And here's a note to our readers, if any of you haven't read Stuck in Neutral, a deeply moving and life-changing book, pick it up today. It's available in most bookstores and on You can also win a free copy by going to our blog site at and posting a comment about Terry's Q&A. Terry's poem Sheehan: Heartbreak and Redemption, is also available on

Kimberley's Book Buzz
Kimberley Griffiths Little

Kimberley Little

Kimberley Griffiths Little

Here's a list of books, fiction and non-fiction, about various disabilities for your students and kids to read and discuss in the classroom or at home. Enjoy!


Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen (2008) about a boy with Tourette's syndrome.

Jerk, California
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (2009) Prinz winner about a boy with an Asperger's like condition.

Marcelo in the Real World

Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge (2002) a quirky romance about a stoner girl and a boy with cerebral palsy.

Thorn by Betty Levin (2005) set in prehistoric times, babies born malformed die early. Thorn, a young boy with a shriveled leg is left on a deserted island.

Read My Lips by Teri Brown (2008) about a girl who is deaf trying to go to a regular high school.

Read My Lips

Girl, Stolen by April Henry (2010) is about a blind girl who gets kidnapped and how she uses her wits to stay alive.

Girl Stolen

The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick (2000) futuristic look at genetic defects.
Last Book
The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry (2003) one of the main characters is a boy who doesn't talk.


A Different Life by Quinn Bradlee (2009) growing up with learning disability.

Double Take by Kevin Michael Connolly (2009) congenital amputee.

Double Take
Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities edited by Donald Gallo (2008)

Owning It

Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche with a forward by Anne Lamott (2008) about facial deformity

I'll Scream Later by Betsy Sharkey and Marlee Matlin (2009) about a deaf actress

Just Don't Fall: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made it Down the Mountain by John Sundquist (2010) about a skier with juvenile cancer.
Just Don't Fall

Thicker Than Water: Essays by Adult Siblings of People with Disabilities edited by Don Meyter (2009)

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of:

The Last Snake Runner (Knopf/Random

The Healing Spell (Scholastic Press)

Circle of Secrets (Scholastic Press, October 2011)

To find out more about Kimberley, her books, book trailers, and Author School visits, visit her website at

The Secret Language of Stories
Carolee Dean
Carolee Dean
Carolee Dean

Most of the students I work with in the public schools have severe deficits in reading and writing and getting them to produce any type of written work is an ongoing challenge. By using the twelve step story method I have been discussing in my column, I provide students with concrete symbols to represent the sometimes abstract concepts of story plotting. By providing examples from movies they have seen and stories they have heard, even kids with severe learning challenges can join in discussions about plot and character.

Since written language is built upon the foundation of oral language, students can often tell stories orally that are far beyond their written language abilities. We often begin by using random magazine pictures to represent the old world vs. the new world. One of my favorite activities is something I call Magical, Musical, Magazine Places. I place pictures around the classroom, play music and then ask students to walk around among the pictures. When the music stops, they sit down and tell the group about the setting depicted in the picture and explain whether this is a main character's ordinary world or the new and adventurous story world. After several rounds of this activity, students choose their favorite picture and write a paragraph describing the setting. For students with more severe learning challenges, we may write a group story with everyone contributing ideas while either I or the classroom teacher writes them down.

Finding the types of stories that interest particular students can be a big key to success. One student with severe dyslexia refused almost all writing activities. One day he told me he wanted to design video games when he got older. Instead of criticizing his career choice, I told him that video games contain fabulous stories and I asked him if he would like to write a story based upon a game world. He got so involved in a project called we've called Planet Maze that he now goes right to the computer whenever he enters the room and starts working on his story.

I also frequently use stories to work on social skills with students on the autism spectrum. Many of these students create main characters with no friends or mentors. We discuss the importance of allies and I give suggestions for what kind of supporting characters may be helpful in their hero's quest. Adding a friend or mentor to the story opens up challenging opportunities to explore how character's work together for a common purpose.

Throughout the ages stories have provided one of our greatest instructional tools. Philosophers, religious leaders, teachers, and parents have used stories, parables, and fables to teach morality, wisdom, common sense, and virtue. As we try to come up with new and inventive ways to reach our students with differing abilities, sometimes going back to the story is the best place to start.

For an interesting activity on how to create a story using a video game model, check out the monthly writing blog on my website at

Carolee Dean is the author of:

Comfort (Houghton Mifflin)

Take Me There (Simon Pulse)

No Way Out (Simon Pulse, 2012)

To find out more about Carolee, her books, school visits, and teacher trainings, visit her website at

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