CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003
Zoom! is part of the growing number of children’s stories with a character that happens to have a disability, as opposed to a book written specifically to inform or educate readers about a particular disability. There is certainly a time and place for informing young readers about the needs, frustrations, challenges, and joys of children with various disabilities; however, a more holistic and inclusive perspective is also needed and welcomed.
Zoom! is about a young girl named Lauretta who needs a new wheelchair. She does not want a regular wheelchair because they are all much too slow. Lauretta manages to borrow the “92-speed, black, silver, and red, dirt-bike wheelchair” from the store on a one-day trial, but when she gets a speeding ticket, her parents insist it must go back. Then her brother has an accident, and the car won’t start and only Lauretta can get him to the hospital in a hurry on her amazing new wheelchair!
As someone who collects children’s books both about and including characters with disabilities and differences, I like to use the three guiding principles established by Sapon-Shevin (1999) in her book, Because We Can Change the World, to evaluate these stories:
In applying these principles to Zoom! the review is generally very positive. The first question may not be all that relevant because the purpose of this story was not to present information about a disability. The hilarious exaggeration, so typical of Munsch, may be somewhat misleading, if one was to interpret the story as “factual” rather than “funny.” For example, 92-speed, dirt bike wheelchairs do not exist! Parents would probably not allow children to drive wheelchairs on the road (but they wouldn’t let them fly airplanes, either!) What makes this book special is that the same crazy antics of Munsch’s other characters are applied to someone with a disability - people who are usually not allowed to do dangerous or risky things.
In terms of the second principle, it must be kept in mind that there is not much room for character development in a short, children’s story. However, in Zoom! the main character, Lauretta, is not defined by her disability, but rather by her need for speed. This is something to which many children can relate. The only slightly stereotypical event is that, in the end, Lauretta’s disability (or her need for a wheelchair) allows her to “save the day.” On the final principle, Zoom! gets a very high rating - this story is funny and entertaining throughout. Children will be thoroughly engaged by Munsch’s wonderful exaggeration, and the repetitive use of ZOOM (with continually more “O’s” added to the word to indicate the increased speed). The story works at a deeper level when presenting the irony of Lauretta’s getting a speeding ticket, clearly indicating that no one is above the law, including people with disabilities! And the ending has a bit of a twist, in typical Munsch style, that I won’t give away - you’ll have to read it yourself.
A few comments must also be made regarding Michael Martchenko’s beautiful illustrations. He does a wonderful job of embedding things in these pictures that further the “normalizing” of Lauretta and her disability. For example, the wheelchair store is depicted as a huge and glossy structure, just like a regular department store. When Lauretta returns from her adventures on the road, her wheelchair is covered with mud and dirt which is very realistic. Another realistic feature is the snow on the ground and all the winter clothing - how Canadian! Martchenko pictures Lauretta not only in a wheelchair, but also using crutches. This is probably the most “educational” piece about people with disabilities and how they use a variety of ways to get around.
I would highly recommend this book for parents, teachers and young children. The story allows children to see a character, who happens to have a disability, as someone with feelings and ideas they can understand. It also has the value of teaching them, indirectly, the importance of inclusion. For children who use a wheelchair for mobility, this story will validate their own experiences through situations they can relate to or see as humorous. These features make it an appropriate “educational resource,” but the book’s main value is that it is simply a lot of fun to read and will surely bring children tremendous enjoyment.
Charlotte Evans teaches inclusive special education at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, and conducts research on the literacy development of Deaf children.
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