Tag archives: inclusion

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspired by India

Inspired by India 2Lantana Publishing held an illuminating and thought-provoking event at the Nehru Centre in London last week, inspired by two of their recent picture books: You’re Safe With Me, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and Nimesh the Adventurer, written by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

The authors and illustrators each told us about factors that influenced them. Chitra’s love of story-telling dates back to her early childhood in India. She remembers hearing stories from a very young age. Enid Blyton, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree, inspired all the stories she told her friends and relations.

Poonam, also born in India, was always fascinated by Indian folk art, with traditional textiles a particular inspiration. Aboriginal art has been another major influence on her style of illustration, along with the art of William Morris.

Born and raised in Southall with parents from India, Ranjit said his real education came from the local library, his haven when truanting. Japanese and Bengali film directors, Shakespeare and Sanskrit epics taught him how to tell stories.

Mehrdokht’s interest in books goes back to her childhood in Iran. Her mother taught literature. She fell in love with illustration when an art teacher asked the children to illustrate a children’s story. She chose one of Andersen’s tales.

Both You’re Safe With Me and Nimesh the Adventurer have been extremely well received within the children’s book world, and more importantly by children themselves, both in the UK and internationally. We heard that huge numbers of parents in India want books in English that feature children with lives like theirs.

Alice Curry of Lantana asked the panel their views about ‘the diversity label’ and whether they felt pressure to reflect their backgrounds in their work. All had experienced such pressure, and all agreed that the label is limiting and unhelpful (although Ranjit pointed out its marketing value). Chitra told us she gets more rejections for books without Indian characters, and that publishers frequently request Indian folk tales. Poonam and Mehrdokht were united: ‘We are illustrators. We should not be defined by our ethnicity or religion.’ Alice said Lantana never imposes limits on their authors and illustrators. How refreshing to hear that Chitra and Poonam’s next picture book for them is set in the Arctic.

This piece was written for Armadillo Magazine.

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

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Supporting children with learning difficulties in museums and libraries – useful websites, blogs, case studies and videos

ss GBI loved giving training on special educational needs at the fabulous ss Great Britain earlier this week. I give lots of courses on supporting children with learning difficulties for people working in museums and other cultural and heritage organisations, and lots for library staff too. It’s one of my favourite (and most frequently requested) training topics. I feel very passionate about inclusive provision.

I have found the following websites, blogs, case studies and videos useful and illuminating, and it occurs to me that others might too.

ABC of Working with Schools: Special Educational Needs
Asperger, Heritage and Archaeodeath
Astro Plane Force
Autism-Friendly Game Masters
Autism-Friendly Libraries
Autism in Museums
Autism in the Museum
Bag Books in Kent
Chatterbooks for Children with Dyslexia
Dimensions Autism Friendly Libraries Training Video for Library Staff
Disability Co-operative Network for Museums
Engaging Children with Special Educational Needs in Creative Experiences and Art 
Five Things I’ve Learnt About Accessibility
Going to a Museum
How Can Your Museum Better Welcome Families and Young People with Autism?
How Heritage Embraces Autism
Inclusive Galleries and Museums for Visitors with Special Needs
Kent Dyslexia Friendly Libraries
KidsHub Library Sessions
Making Museums Autism Friendly
Manchester Art Gallery Open Doors
Museum of Childhood Quiet Days
Museum of Childhood Visiting with an Autistic Child
Orleans House Gallery Octagon Club
Secret Museum: Film Production with Autistic Young People
See Dyslexia Differently
Sensitive Storytimes
Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs
Tom’s Tall Ship of Stories
Top 5 Autism Tips for Professionals: Autism-Friendly Museums
Working with Special Needs in an Art Gallery

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Diversity and inclusion in children’s literature – with some great quotes on its importance

inclusive booksIt’s the UKLA international conference this weekend. The (wonderful and important) topic is literacy, equality and diversity. I’m giving a workshop on using inclusive books with 3-7 year-olds, and I’ve been packing up lots of great books. If space and weight weren’t at a premium, I would be taking many more.

I totally agree with Alexandra Strick of Inclusive Minds: ‘A good inclusive book is never issue-led, but is characterised by a great story; fully rounded characters; incidental, natural representation of issues; authenticity.’

Malorie Blackman says; ‘First and foremost, our children need and deserve great, entertaining stories. My wish is for a more diverse pool of writers, illustrators and poets catering to our children’s needs. Our children require a more varied selection of protagonists having amazing adventures.’

I love these quotes too about the importance of diversity in children’s literature:

‘All children have a right to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the books they read, as well as having books which open up new worlds, real and imaginary. This is not about political correctness, but about the need for books that reflect the reality of children’s lives.’ Anna McQuinn

‘When children see their lives reflected in the books they read, they feel they and their lives are not invisible.’ Malorie Blackman again

‘Children need to feel they belong.’ Beverley Naidoo

‘Let’s make our bookshelves reflect the diversity of our streets.’ Phil Earle

‘Books give a child a lever with which to prise open the world.’ Amanda Craig

‘A book is a place where children can try on all the lives they haven’t got.’ Margaret Meek

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Inclusion and diversity in children’s books and why they matter- recent articles

Harry Roberts NurseryI loved giving inset at Harry Roberts Nursery with Letterbox Library last week. There were great discussions about why diversity and inclusion are important in children’s books. As participants said, children need books that reflect their lives and experiences and help them understand themselves, and books that give them an insight into other people and their lives. Inclusive books are fabulous for personal and emotional development and for empathy. The photo shows some of the participants, and me, with a few of the wonderful books we explored during the day. (The nursery received a big boxful of inclusive books as part of the training package.) I’ve blogged about diversity and inclusion several times before. Lots of excellent articles have been published since the last time.

Do read author SF Said on whether children’s books can change the world.’Books can help transcend “us and them”. Fiction lets us experience another existence as if it was our own.’

Librarian and author Dawn Finch makes lots of excellent points in Why are we still talking about diversity and inclusion?.

Why do so many children’s books treat diversity as a black and white issue? is important and useful. ‘Writing more religious and ethnic minority characters in itself is not enough’, argues teen blogger Safah. ‘We need books embracing all aspects of these different cultures and lifestyles.’

In The many faces of diversity Candy Gourlay explores the issues she and other children’s authors face in attempting to be inclusive. ‘Are we doing it right? Are we offending anyone by not including/including a character who is ‘other’ in our stories? Who is allowed to write about other cultures/races/sexual orientations?’

It’s also well worth reading author Ravinder Randhawa on The challenge of writing British-Asian characters.

Have a look too at Julia Eccleshare’s suggestions for books that explore stereotypes and prejudice. (And don’t forget Letterbox Library for good books on all sorts of diversity issues.)

Teen author Non Pratt tells us no taboo should be off limits when writing for teenagers. ‘Violence, swearing, sex, drinking, mental illness… teen/YA lit has had it all for over 40 years’.

Gender representation in children’s books has been a huge issue for as many years as I’ve been involved with them, first as a librarian and then a trainer, and no doubt long before that too. Jennie Yabroff has written a valuable piece asking why there are still so few girls in children’s books, and looking at the implications.

Author Susie Day considers the lack of coverage of disability in children’s books. In the 80s, when she was growing up, ‘disability in books was a cautionary tale where you’d usually ‘recover’ if you were nice enough. Times have changed and children’s lit needs to catch up faster.’

Finally a picture montage of disability inclusive books that should be available in English.