Tag archives: inclusive children’s books

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, 1 July 2015

The importance of inclusion and diversity in children’s and young people’s books

IMG_2294A big thank you to Anna McQuinn, creator of the wonderful Lulu books and Alanna Books, to Sufiya Ahmed, author of the fantastic Secrets of the Henna Girl, to James Dawson, who writes amazing books for teenagers, and to Barbara Ferramosca of CILIP School Libraries Group for inspiring me to return to the vital topic of inclusion and diversity in books for children and young people.

A couple of weeks ago Anna devised a fabulous set of inclusive children’s book laws. These are among my favourites:

  • All children would 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.
  • Anyone saying they don’t need inclusive books because their [delete as appropriate] library/shop/school doesn’t have children ‘like that’, will be invited to remove any other book featuring something they don’t have locally – so into the skip go any books with bears, tigers, elephants, penguins, camels, tarantulas, dinosaurs, mammoths, volcanoes, monsters, gremlins, hobbits.
  • Every collection of books (whether in a bookshop, library, school or playgroup) would include as wide a range of characters, settings and plots as imaginably possible.
  • Books whose main character has a disability/is from a minority group/is gay or transgender will NOT be in a special section or on a special shelf with ‘other issue books’.

IMG_2281That got me started. Then at the weekend I attended a brilliant meet-the-author afternoon organised by the SLG, and talked to lots of inspiring librarians and writers. I was delighted to meet up again with Anna and with Sufiya (flanked here by Tamsyn Murray and Paul Crooks). It was great to discuss inclusion with both of them, and with Barbara, who raised the issue of diversity training with me.

Just this week James Dawson produced an invaluable list of inclusive YA titles.

For more book recommendations, check out these suggestions from authors.

Letterbox Library‘s knowledge of inclusive books is second to none. They’ve been supplying them to libraries, schools and individuals for over 30 years, and have very useful themed book lists. I love working with them on training.

Inclusive Minds campaigns for inclusion in children’s publishing. Alex Strick, one of its founders, has recently written about attitudes to learning disability and how children’s books can help.

School libarians will find the School Library Journal issue on diversity very useful.

Finally, here is SF Said, author of Varjak Paw, in ‘Books showed me it was all right to be different’: ‘Today’s young readers come from so many different backgrounds. And they’re hungry for stories about this new world that’s coming into being: the world in which we’re all connected, in which we all have a stake, and in which difference can be a source of richness, not something to be feared.’