When Sharon Bascom, a teacher in the Nebo School District, approached Tina Dyches to learn more about children with emotional disturbance, Dyches gave her a research assignment. “I told her to investigate books about characters with emotional or behavioral disabilities, then write up a report for me,” Dyches said. After analyzing and reporting on literary characters with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Bascom used the reports to create lesson plans for teachers who might want to use those books for children who have OCD.

But when Bascom finished her project, Dyches didn’t want to stop there. “Together with my research assistant, Melissa Leininger [then a graduate student in the school psychology program], we decided to extend the project,” Dyches said. Leininger re-reviewed the books for reliability and then used a rating scale developed by Dyches and Mary Anne Prater to rate the quality of the books.

“Historically there have been many books that do not portray characters with disabilities accurately. Often these characters contribute very little other than their disability to the story,” Dyches said. She and Prater developed the scale to help to help school personnel select books that characterize individuals with disabilities as memorable and active participants in their communities.

The scale rates books on character and disability portrayal, social interactions of characters, and sibling relationships; it also rates literary and artistic quality. “There are two definite ends of the spectrum,” Dyches explained. “On the one hand, there may be a book with an excellent portrayal of a child with a disability, but the book has amateur writing, illustrations, and so forth. On the other hand, there may be a book written by a Newbery author with beautiful language and an engaging plot, but the character with the disability is poorly portrayed.”

Leininger and Dyches found ten books that rated high in all areas. The list includes two picture books, three novels, four autobiographies, and one self-help book. For example, Mr. Worry: A Story About OCD tells of a young boy named Kevin who repeats the same routine every night: He checks the closet; pushes the closet door closed; lines up his books, papers, and toy cars; then checks for a light that he thinks might be under his bed. Kevin’s counselor helps Kevin talk back to his OCD--which he names “Mr. Worry.” The story describes how Kevin works with his counselor to overcome some of his worries at home and in the classroom.

The List

  • Devil in the Details: Scenes From an Obsessive Girlhood
  • Kissing Doorknobs
  • Mr. Worry: A Story About OCD
  • Multiple Choice
  • Not As Crazy As I Seem
  • Passing for Normal
  • The Thought That Counts: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager's Experience With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Touch and Go Joe: An Adolescent's Experience of OCD
  • Up and Down the Worry Hill: A Children's Book About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Its Treatment
  • What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming OCD

With this top ten list, Leininger and Dyches hope that teachers, school psychologists, social workers, and parents can choose appropriate books for children suffering from OCD. “The main objective of this project is to help children with OCD understand that they’re not alone, that there is a reason behind their disability, and that although their disability does affect the way they live, it is not their fault,” Dyches said.

The article “Books Portraying Characters with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Top 10 List for Children and Young Adults” was published in the March/April 2010 edition of Teaching Exceptional Children.