Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Mind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion

One & StrikerMind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion was a fascinating and important a discussion hosted by Inclusive Minds and IBBY UK at the London Book Fair. Authors Sarah Crossan and Peter Kalu joined inclusion ambassadors Emily Davison, Heather Lacy and Megan Bane to explore representations of disability in children’s literature. Portrayals in the past were rare and where they existed were often negative. The Secret Garden was not the only book with an underlying message that disabilities could be cured with positive attitudes, fresh air and exercise. The ambassadors spoke of the distress this caused them as children with disabilities that did not go away. The panel agreed that the situation is improving but that there is still a long way to go. Publishers often think children will be put off by characters with disabilities, but it’s not the case. Children are very open-minded.

More nuance and understanding about disabilities is needed. For instance visually disabled characters in children’s books are almost all totally blind, whereas in real life the vast majority have some sight. Sensitivity readers can help authors with authenticity. Depicting every character with a disability as good and/or inspirational is neither authentic nor helpful. Children with disabilities need books that show them ‘it’s OK to be you’.

A character’s disability should not be the main element of any book. Many readers of Crossan’s YA novel One, a sensitive and deeply moving story about conjoined twins, are so gripped by the plot and the characters that they forget the twins are disabled. She never knows whether that’s a good thing or not. She did a huge amount of research before writing the book, and found she had to get rid of her own prejudices. It had not occurred to her that conjoined twins would want to stay together. In Kalu’s book The Silent Striker the main character’s increasing hearing loss is an important part of the plot, but far from the first thing the reader knows about him or the key issue they care about. Because Kalu himself has hearing loss the portrayal is very natural. (Having recently reviewed the book for The School Librarian, I can vouch for this.)

It was useful to be reminded of the IBBY catalogue of outstanding books for young people with disabilities. These were the UK books nominated in 2017. The asterisked titles were included in the international list.

Ian Beck, Grey Island, Red Boat
Cece Bell, El Deafo
Anne Booth, Girl with a White Dog
Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet?
Tim Bowler, Game Changer
Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish
Cocoretto, Getting Ready
Cocoretto, Off to the Beach
Sarah Crossan, One *
Vanessa Curtis, Baking Life of Amelie Day
Susie Day, Pea’s Book of Holidays
DK Braille, Counting *
DK Braille, It Can’t be True *
Amber Lee Dodd, We Are Giants
Julia Donaldson, What the Jackdaw Saw
Mary Hoffman, Great Big Book of Feelings
Kim Hood, Finding a Voice
Pete Kalu, Silent Striker
Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis
Cammie  McGovern, Amy and Matthew
Gemma Merino, The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Ann Rand, What Can I Be
Jackie Wilson, Katy