Using Juvenile Literature about HIV/AIDS: Ideas and Precautions for the Classroom

By Prater, Mary ANne; Sileo, Nancy M. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2001 | Go to article overview
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Using Juvenile Literature about HIV/AIDS: Ideas and Precautions for the Classroom

Prater, Mary ANne, Sileo, Nancy M., Teaching Exceptional Children

Ideas and Precautions for the Classroom

Worldwide attention continues to focus on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease, which may develop into AIDS. The incubation period between first contracting HIV and possibly developing AIDS can be exceptionally long in adolescents and adults, averaging 8 to 12 years. Given that AIDS is currently a leading cause of death among U.S. residents 25-44 years old (National Center for Health Statistics [NCHS], 2000), many people acquired the disease while adolescents. Consequently, the existence of this disease has affected schools. Medical experts have joined with educators to develop preventive curriculum. Individuals in the legal profession have focused on school policy and legal issues related to educating students with HIV/AIDS in public schools and health experts and school boards have created school policy mandating the use of universal health precautions by all school personnel.

HIV/AIDS in the Curiculum

As educators, we need to be concerned with teaching students with disabilities about HIV/AIDS. Research suggests that students with disabilities may be more vulnerable to acquiring the disease because of the increased likelihood of sexual and drug abuse, as well as more vulnerability to peer pressures (Prater, Serna, Sileo, & Katz, 1995). We must not ignore students with disabilities as we design and implement HIV/AIDS prevention education programs.

When AIDS was first identified, writers published a preponderance of nonfiction and a few fiction books for both adults and young adults (e.g., Hancock & Carim, 1986; Kerr, 1986; Miklowitz, 1987; Nourse, 1986). Since that time, medical knowledge about the transmission and evolution of the disease has improved exponentially. In response to this increased knowledge and concern about the rising incidence of the disease, educators and other related school personnel have taken more responsibility for teaching children and youth about HIV/AIDS by creating many preventive curricula; and authors have written additional books for school-aged students that include characters with HIV/AIDS. Curricular Uses of Literature Educators have advocated the use of juvenile literature in classrooms as (a) a way to teach about specific subjects (Dyches & Prater, 2000; Prater, 2000), (b) integrated thematic units (Rothlein & Meinbach, 1996), and (c) bibliotherapy (Sridhar & Vaughn, 2000). All three applications are appropriate to using juvenile literature in the area of HIV/AIDS. This article, however, focuses on the use of fiction and nonfiction in the first two areas:

* To teach about HIV/AIDS in concert with preventive curricula.

* To integrate books that happen to have characters with HIV/AIDS within other curricular areas as thematic units in the classroom.

Here, we discuss a sample of biographical and fiction books that include characters with HIV/AIDS. In selecting these books, we sought juvenile literature through a computerized search of books available through local public libraries and electronic bookstores. No books located were deliberately eliminated from our analysis. First, we discuss the type of information included in juvenile literature that may be used to teach about HIV/AIDS. Second, we present ideas for integrating juvenile literature with HIV/AIDS curriculum, as well as across other content area curricula. Last, we present precautions to consider when selecting and using these books in the classroom.

Teaching About HIV/AIDS

Educators can use juvenile literature effectively in teaching about concepts and emotions surrounding the topic of HIV/AIDS. We present examples of books that discuss (a) transmission of the virus, (b) effect of the disease, and (c) emotional responses to those who have contracted HIV/AIDS. Table 1 shows a list of the books and the type of HIV/AIDS information discussed in them.


Many juvenile books address transmission of HIV/AIDS and can help dispel the myths that HIV/AIDS is a "gay disease" or that it can be transmitted through casual contact with an infected person.

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Using Juvenile Literature about HIV/AIDS: Ideas and Precautions for the Classroom


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