The Characters’ Gender Issues with the Role of Helpers In “Whispers in the Graveyard,” the author decided on a boy Solomon as the central character that she thought that more boys have learning problems (Breslin), same in “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler” that Kemp portrays the character Danny who deals with learning difficulties as a boy. Accompanied by Researcher Ayala’s investigations about characters portrayals, she identifies that male characters (52%) tended to outnumber the females (30%) as the main characters with learning difficulties while a growing number of books contain both sexes (18%) with disabilities (Ayala, 1999: 110).
Based on this research results, the reason is obvious that both authors chose to use a male character to represent children’s learning difficulties. Interestingly, some helpers always appeared to assist those characters with difficulties in children’s books. In both cases, the helpers tend to be female figures. In ‘Whispers in the Graveyard,” the protagonist Solomon luckily meets a special educator, Ms Talmur, who successfully wins Solomon’s trust and assist him in learning alphabets. Besides, Solomon’s best friend is a girl Amy, who is younger than him.
Amy and Solomon’s friendship is mutual that Solomon tries his best to save Amy’s life while Amy is an excellent learning companion. As to “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler,” the protagonist Tyke Tiler acts as an energetic and bold character who shows no fear to the animal remaining and even climb to the bell tower. Based on the context, readers often consider Tyke to be a boy figure who is strong and naughty, but not until the last chapter did the author reveal the true gender identity of the protagonist that Tyke is truly a girl.
She is Danny’s best friend who helps Danny to go through all the difficulties. Although Danny is a late learner and a trouble maker, Tyke keeps hanging out with him and becomes the one who understand Danny the most. The reason the helpers tend to be female figures may contribute to women’s sensitivity. As a special educator, Ms Talmur is much more sensitive to the students than the general education teachers. She not only identifies Solomon’s learning problem carefully, but also build up his confidence by inviting Solomon to ith the class induction day. By doing the activity that is making all the parents act like their first-year children, Ms Talmur tries to teach them how to understand their children with sympathetic attitude. This action also makes Solomon view Ms Talmur in a different perspective, thinking her a caring and gentle teacher. She feels maternal towards Solomon, treating him as if he were her child. The same feeling appears in Solomon’s heart that Ms Talmur makes him think about his mother who abandoned him long ago.
Different from being a teacher, as a female friend, Tyke has the sense of truth and responsibility for others especially to her best friend, Danny. They have a strong friendship that Tyke always helps translate Danny’s words when he gets stumble, solves all the problems Danny makes, and finds where Danny hides when he is too afraid of being caught as a thief. She even steals an exam paper and teaches Danny the answers, so that they can enter the same school together rather than her friend being sent to a special school.
Their school teacher also notices their strong friendship and once said that Tyke is the only stable influence in Danny’s life (Kemp, 1979: 69). Her characteristic has generated an enormous impact on children’s literature, challenging the gender stereotype in the 1970s. The author Gene Kemp devoted herself to changing the stereotype in children’s books of the generation by putting Tyke as a strong girl character, making readers confused about the character’s real gender. This trend finally influences the publishers, creating a new era of changing the stereotypes in children’s literature.
To conclude, the female supporting figures are easier to attract readers’ attention and sympathy for the main character’s situation, but at the same time, this feature becomes an indirect stereotype that indicating women are more caring and sensitive. So, the gender issue in children’s literature is still an important topic that worth further discussing. The Ways Characters Conquer Learning Difficulties The author describes Solomon’s inner struggle in specific details by using the first person narrative, well presenting this individual problem of the sufferer of learning difficulties.
Solomon encounters different emotional situations that he is not only troubled by learning difficulties, but is also deeply harmed by his broken family. His mother has left home and abandoned him when he was young while his father is addicted to alcohol, always getting drunk and beating his son. Because of his father’s drinking problem, Solomon has to find out a place to hide and escape his father’s bullying. A small corner of the graveyard where nothing flourishes except a single rowan tree then becomes his perfect place to hide out.
The broken-hearted scene in the book is when Solomon’s father is being indicated to have learning disabilities by Ms Talmur, showing both father and son’s frustration, anger, and despair. Diagnosing the characters’ learning disability is a major theme throughout many books (Prater, 2003:56). Some books describe parents’ unwillingness to accept their child’s learning problem while Solomon cannot believe his father’s learning problems, as well as he inherits the disabilities from his father in this plot. With the constant help of Ms Talmur, Solomon keeps reviewing and repeating alphabets.
Although to remember all the words is still hard for him, he gradually can memorise the spelling of his name Solomon. In the end, Mr Talmur’s kindness and love melt Solomon’s cold heart, making him believe he can conquer his difficulties. By saying “remember it’s a difficulty, not a disability (Breslin, 1995: 121),” Mr Talmur encourages Solomon to cope with this problem and get on with his life. Furthermore, Solomon forgives his father when the father shows his willingness to quit drinking too much alcohol. This ending indicates that the stability of children’s family could be a reason that influence children’s learning performance.
Similar to Solomon’s family background, Danny is being raised in a broken family: his father is in prison, and his mother is awful, but as a minor character in the book the detail of his family is not mentioned. All we know is that he is from a troublesome family, and they do not have enough money to take care of Danny’s learning disabilities. His neighbours sometimes take pity on him, giving him extra treats that make innocent Danny happy. Different from Solomon’s learning progression, Danny gains his confidence in acting as a role Sir Galahad in school drama.
Miss Honey, one of his teachers, tells him that “Galahad’s strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure. I think that is like you (Kemp, 1979: 84). ” Danny is pleased by the teacher’s encouragement and genuinely inspired by his character in the Arthurian stories, promising never to steal again (Vickery, 1993: 190). Even when he is accused of stealing a watch, he still keeps repeating the sentence Miss Honey told him which gives Danny the power to walk through the difficulties. Acting as the role Sir Galahad raises Danny’s confidence, “he is reformed by the power of myth and legend (Vickery, 1993: 190).
Because of his pure heart and his commitment to his promise of not stealing things, his mental retardation and learning weaknesses are being accepted and forgiven. Both of the stories mention the notion of healing power, adding hope into these two characters’ lives. The power of being healed plays an important role in children’s literature, especially when it comes to school stories and learning difficulties. The notion that Ms Talmur told to Solomon indicates what he faces is a difficulty, not a disability. To confront this obstacle, what our characters need to learn is to be independence.
Conclusion Reimer once mentions that texts for young people often feature child characters and child narrators, and the implied readers become the textual representations and manifestations of childhood (Reimer, 2010: 5). In these two books, the authors’ intention is to make readers transform the texts with personal images and experiences. Containing factual and educational information about the learning difficulties, the authors take the purpose to help young readers understand the origin, characteristics, and treatment of the disability portrayed in the books (Ayala, 1999: 109).
This type of school stories is often used as teaching materials by primary school teachers and parents, showing children that some students may need their extra support and help. The issue about learning difficulties may be too heavy for children to deal with in their lives when they first encounter the situation, and they can understand the characters’ thoughts and then apply in their lives through reading this type of books. Besides, the helping characters such as Mr Talmur and Tyke Tiler are great models for children to follow.