Newbery books represent quality literature that is likely to be used for bibliotherapy, yet these books have not been systematically evaluated for their portrayal of characters with disabilities. Thirty Newbery Award and Honor books from 1975–2008 were identified that contained 40 characters with disabilities. These books were evaluated using a rating scale that combines literary standards and standards relating to individuals with disabilities. The types of disabilities and personal characteristics such as gender, age, and race were documented and the personal portrayal of characters with disabilities and exemplary practices in these books were evaluated. This information was compared to the current school special education population. The most commonly found disabilities were orthopedic impairment, emotional disturbance, and mental retardation. The majority of characters were portrayed realistically and positively and the personal portrayal and depiction of exemplary practices and social interactions with others has improved over time. When comparing school age characters to students receiving special education services today, though, some discrepancies arise. While the most commonly portrayed disabilities for school-age characters in Newbery books were mental retardation, orthopedic impairment, autism, and multiple disabilities, the most common disabilities of students receiving special education services are specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, mental retardation, and other health impairment. Also, White school-age characters with disabilities were overrepresented while Black characters and Hispanic characters were underrepresented and other ethnicities were not represented at all. This study is relevant to parents, teachers, librarians, and school psychologists who are interested in selecting appropriate books to encourage understanding and acceptance of students with disabilities.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





Newbery, children's literature, adolescent literature, bibliotherapy, disabilities, special education