Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Dwarfism on Display

Analysing the Visual Rhetorics of Book Covers on Four Children’s Literature Chapter Books

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (2), 203–224.


Realistic children’s literature that includes characters who are dwarfs often draws on stigmatizing rhetorics which promote commodification of freakery for the gain of nondisabled readers while reifying dominant ablest understandings of disability. The article argues that this rhetoric begins with the cover art of the book and is directly supported by the text that follows in the title, peritext, and narrative content. Focusing on four children’s literature chapter books for middle grade (ages 8–13) and young adult readers (ages 14–18), Big Girl Small, The Thing About Georgie, We Are Giants, and Short, the visual representations that provide the initial interaction between reader and character are unpacked. Also investigated are the direct textual elements that support the messages which the images communicate. The analysis pays attention to current, problematic cultural representations of dwarfs through the foundation of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s (2002) structure of visual rhetorics, while also providing suggestions for change by analysing the work of Laura Swanson and Ricardo Gil, both visual artists and dwarfs. Their work provides the foundational framework for imagining possibilities for children’s literature and book covers that market stories to the children in society.

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Author details

Brown, Megan