Tag archives: Inclusive Minds

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

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

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.’

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Diversity in children’s books

The Little Rebels Books Award ceremony last weekend and several interesting current Twitter discussions have made me realise a few links to organisations and articles promoting diversity in children’s books would be useful.

letterboxLetterbox Library is invaluable: booksellers who for over thirty years have provided schools, pre-schools, libraries, parents, carers and children with books that celebrate equality and diversity. They are true experts and their stock is amazing. Twitter users will find them at @LetterboxLib.

inclusive mindsInclusive Minds campaigns for inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature. Alexandra Strick and Beth Cox who founded it both have huge experience in this field. It’s well worth subscribing to their mailing list and following them on Twitter (@stricolo and @WException).

Last month Woman’s Hour hosted an important discussion about racial diversity in children’s books (11 minutes in).

Guardian Children’s Books is running a themed week on children’s, teenage and YA LGBT books. There are lots of great articles and discussions.

My older blogs on diversity issues can be found here.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Equal measures: ensuring equality and diversity in children’s books

I went to a great seminar at the London Book Fair on equality, diversity and inclusion in children’s books, chaired by Alexandra Strick, disability children’s book consultant.

Verna Wilkins told us the history of Tamarind Books, which she founded in 1987. At that time, it was all but impossible to find books with black children in, something I remember all to well, as a librarian in Brent then. She was horrified by the consequences of invisibility, and determined to redress the balance. She was a beacon then, and she remains a beacon now. It was wonderful to see her again. Dave and the Tooth Fairy is my favourite Tamarind book.

Beth Cox, children’s books consultant and co-founder with Alex of Inclusive Minds, Fen Coles of Letterbox Library and PhD student Erica Gillingham then shared their views on the extent to which children’s books are representative of the diversity of society.

Fen reflected on how far there is to go on this issue. This is the first year of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award. Some publishers submitted books purely on the grounds that they had a black character. More books feature black characters now than when Verna founded Tamarind, but not nearly often enough as chief protagonists. Gendered marketing is ubiquitous. (I am very aware of this as a children’s book reviewer, and have blogged about it.) Are books about football the answer to getting boys reading? Must gay and lesbian characters in picture books really be animals rather than humans? Where are the books that show the real lives of refugees and asylum seekers? Where are the books about transgender characters, looked-after children, mental health issues, different social and economic backgrounds, Traveller, Roma and Gypsy characters? I would add books featuring characters with learning disabilities.

Erica spoke eloquently about the paucity of books with LGBT characters in the UK. We are way behind the States, she said, and there are consequences. She is particularly concerned about the lack of books with bisexual and transgender characters.

Beth regrets the lack of understanding of the terms diversity and equality. ‘It is not enough just to put a wheelchair here and there.’ She highlighted the fact that diversity is important for all children. (Tamarind books have frequently been turned down by booksellers on the grounds that ‘we don’t have those sorts of children here’.) Beth assured publishers that there is a real demand for inclusive books, and urged them to be brave. Inclusive books will not earn them millions, but they make good business sense. Publishers were also urged to avoid promoting negative stereotypes, to think about the use of language, to be authentically inclusive, not to over-sentimentalise or sensationalise, and to ask for help.

I so agree with all of this, and I am delighted to be in discussion with Inclusive Minds about ways we can collaborate in future, and that Letterbox Library and I are working on training ideas.

In the light of this seminar (which will be available soon as a podcast on the Booktrust website), I was fascinated and saddened today by a piece on the Rhino Reads blog. Why are crocodiles only boys? is a useful exploration of gender inequality in children’s books.