Many people identify with fictional characters in books, television, and film, often looking to them for an emotional connection. How many people have felt a bond with Elizabeth Bennet or felt the struggle of George Bailey? But for those living with diabetes, especially children and young adults, finding a character who shares their disease is easier said than done. Now the diabetes community can add one more to their list. This September, Disney’s creative director John Lasseter revealed the movie Frozen’s main character Elsa from Frozen was directly inspired by those with type 1 diabetes.
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In the ABC special The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic, Lasseter explained that Elsa was originally conceived as a villainous queen complete with blue skin, spiky hair, and the ability to freeze hearts. But over the course of production, Lasseter started seeing Elsa in a different light. Elsa’s frosty curse reminded Lasseter of his son Sam, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10. “This little guy was being poked with needle after needle after needle and he asked ‘why me?’” said Lasseter. “And I thought of Sam as I was thinking of Elsa. She was born with this. Why is she a villain?”
Inspired, Lasster asked songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to write a sympathetic song for Elsa about her isolation. The song Let it Go was born and the entire story was rewritten.
Diabetes is not a visible disease, but it can have serious complications. It may not be apparent to others, except when doing certain self-care tasks like checking blood glucose, taking insulin or during an emergency like a severe hypoglycemic event. Fear of being different can affect how someone acts and what someone will share about their disease with others.
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Hopefully, knowing the parallels between Elsa’s powers and managing diabetes, youngsters may forgo the reflex to “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” as Elsa’s parents suggested. Her realization, “I don’t care what they’re going to say,” is empowering. Kids may be inspired by Elsa to start a conversation about their diabetes.
Debbie Butler, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., C.D.E., who serves Associate Director for the Pediatric Programs at Joslin, was surprised to learn the story behind Elsa’s character. “I wish I had known before I watched it,” she says. “I don’t think many people do.”
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Butler thinks that more children should know about the inspiration for Elsa’s character. “This is an important message to help create more awareness about type 1 diabetes,” she says.
Elsa is not the only fictional character out there. Butler and others in the Joslin Pediatric Program have compiled a short list of children’s stories featuring characters with diabetes or chronic illnesses. Don’t see you favorite story on our list? Recommend it in the comments!
Laura Takes Charge by Rocky Lang (ages 3 and up)
Lara Takes Charge has friendly pictures with lots of color that are used to tell the story of Lara, a little girl with diabetes. Lara tells all the things she does that regular kids do — run, swim, dance — and she talks about her insulin pump and doing blood tests. If you have a young child with diabetes, Lara’s story will help them understand that they’re not the only kid in the world with diabetes.
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Taking Diabetes to School by Kim Gosselin (ages 4 and up)
What’s it like when you have to explain your diabetes to your classmates? In this book, a little boy shares his experiences with his classmates. The language describing his condition is clear and simple, and he explains to his friends how he takes care of himself. This book also covers diabetes pumps.
Rufus Comes Home, Rufus the Bear with Diabetes by Kim Gosselin (ages 4 and up)
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After coming home from the hospital, Brian finds out he has diabetes. Brian’s mother decides to get a stuffed bear for Brian. And he’s an awfully special bear since he has diabetes too! The bear even has patches on the same places Brian has to administer his insulin and finger pricks.
Even Superheroes Get Diabetes by Sue Ganz-Schmitt (ages 4 and up)
Kelvin loves superheroes, but his dreams of becoming a super crime fighter seem hopeless after he’s diagnosed with diabetes. That is, until a mysterious doctor reveals Kelvin has superpowers. With his new name, “Super-K,” our hero sets out to help other kids with diabetes.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (ages 10 and up)
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Mary, a lonely orphaned girl sent to a Yorkshire mansion. She befriends the Master’s son Colin, who believes himself to be an invalid. With the help of Dickon, Mary gets Colin to come out of his dreary bedroom and out into the world. He discovers his body isn’t as broken as he once thought.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (ages 11 and up)
This classic story follows four sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War. Beth, thirteen when the story starts, is described as kind, gentle, sweet, shy, quiet and musical. She is the shyest March sister. Infused with quiet wisdom, she is the peacemaker of the family and gently scolds her sisters when they argue. After a bought of scarlet fever, Beth’s health is never the same.
(Parental -and SPOILER– Warning:
Beth ultimately dies from her disease, which could be upsetting for very young readers)
Sweetblood by Pete Hautman (ages 13 and up)
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Lucy Szabo thinks she knows where the myth of vampires came from. She’s sure that that the first vampires ever were dying diabetics. And she should know. She’s diabetic herself. When she gets involved with Draco, a self-proclaimed “real” vampire she meets in a Transylvania chat room, her world starts to crash down around her. Soon, her whole life–grades, relationships and health–are spiraling dangerously out of control.
Learn more about Joslin’s Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Programs.