Jon O, as the boy with Down’s Syndrome is called, is the main character of this children’s book. His parents, siblings, schoolmates, and friends were the other characters that made up the story. The story briefly sums up what Jon O is like and why he is a “special boy”.
Jon O was categorized as “retarded” by the family doctor before he was even born, and the book portrayed him as a “special” child that had many differences from all the “normal” people around him. Elaine Ominsky made very clear all of the child’s “differences” and made every accomplishment out to be nothing short of a miracle. The Wolfensberger’s Devalued Social Roles I saw in the book were many.
Object of pity, “His Mommy and Daddy cried! They were very sad that their baby was different.” This one was spotted in the first paragraph of the book. There was one part that can be seen as object of pity, object of charity/burden, and a subhuman portrayal. This part was talking about Jon O in the classroom setting, “Sometimes the children ask her, [the teacher] “Why does he [Jon O] act so funny?” “Why is he different from us?” The teacher tells them, Jon O has a special problem. He will not grow the way most children do. He will not be able to learn the way most children do. He is retarded.” This shocked me, what a huge thing, to think, to say. Why would it be so hard to say “Well kids, Jon O isn’t different he just has differences. Isn’t your hair, eyes, clothes, etc. different from other peoples? Differences are what make us unique and wonderful people.” Why couldn’t the teacher say something of that nature to not set him apart?
Another section that fell under that category was about his interactions with his brothers, which seem normal until Ominsky sets him apart. “But sometimes his brothers get angry with Jon O. He cannot do all the things they can do. They forget Jon O is different.”
Good! Great!! Why is it that he isn’t different, why can’t he be a brother capable of being one of the boys and be difficult, left out, included, and all. Then it continues, “Jon O never forgets he is different. Sometimes he is unhappy because he cannot all the things that people want him to do.” And why can’t he? Who told him he could not?
These negative roles were interspersed with some of the ‘six values.’ There were positive contributions that Jon O was portrayed as making. He “helps clean up after the art lesson-helps his brothers build a fort-his mother set the table-his fix the dune buggy.” He also shows inherent strengths, “-Jon O will keep trying-He’s lots of fun.” There are also many relationships that are positive he plays with his schoolmates, friends, and brothers. Jon O also has a healthy relationship with his teacher and parents.
I think children would understand that this child was special, but also different and that does not need to be the case. He is constantly said to be “different” and I’m not sure that that term is useful for a positive portrayal, because it was never said in the book that being different was good or even okay. The book reminded me of my cousin Christopher and made me glad that no one substituted his name for Jon O’s. I liked the book for its attempt and the pictures, but the message was confusing at times for the intended age level. I would recommend it to other students.
The pictures went along well with the text and did not support or deny the text either. I have included copies of the book attached.