Tag archives: Letterbox Library

Monday, 12 May 2014

Little Rebels Book Award and children’s books that raise important social issues

After-TomorrowI very much enjoyed attending the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award ceremony on Saturday, and two fascinating panel discussions prior to it. The award celebrates children’s fiction on issues of social justice. It’s administered by the wonderful Letterbox Library. Gillian Cross was this year’s worthy winner for After Tomorrow. These were the other books on a very strong shortlist (the last two are picture books):

Deborah Chancellor, Real Lives: Harriet Tubman

Gill Lewis, Moon Bear

Geraldine McCaughrean, The Middle of Nowhere 

John Boyne, Stay Where You Are

Andrea Beaty, Rosie Revere Engineer, illustrated by David Roberts

Nicola Davies, The Promise, illustrated by Laura Carlin

IMG_0513Wendy Cooling interviewed shortlisted authors Gill Lewis, Deborah Chancellor and Geraldine McCaughrean. They spoke about the importance, and the difficulty, of transforming research into stories children will want to read. All are clearly driven to write books that alert children to important issues.

IMG_0522Ann Lazim chaired a debate on the characteristics of radical children’s books, and how to ensure children have access to books that expose them to big ideas and foster independent thinking. Authors Alan Gibbons and Catherine Johnson, academic Kim Reynolds and many audience members spoke passionately about the need for books in which all children can find people like themselves, still less easy than it should be, and for books that challenge stereotypes. Letterbox Library offered to set up a facility on its website through which people will be able to upload and to find sources of information. I’ll post a link to this once it is up.

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.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Children’s books featuring disability

For anyone interested in children’s books and/or disability issues, ‘Ten of the best children’s novels with disabled characters’ in the latest edition of Books for Keeps is extremely valuable. Some of the books on the list are renowned, such as the wonderful Before I Die by Jenny Downham, but Rebecca Butler also includes less well-known titles. The majority of the books portray physical disability. Most are aimed at readers of eleven or more.

Scope’s In the Picture campaign raises awareness of the need to include disabled children in picture books. Everything on the site is useful, especially Positive storybooks featuring disabled characters.

Letterbox Library supplies a wide range of books with disability themes for children in the early years and key stages 1 and 2 (five to eleven year-olds).

Bookmark: Books and Disability is another helpful resource.

Healthy Books, which I have blogged about before, has listings of children’s books on a number of disability topics.

Good children’s books featuring learning disabilities and other special educational needs are celebrated annually in the nasen Inclusive Children’s Book Award, won this year by The Pasta Detectives by Andreas Steinhöfel. The other nasen awards are also well worth checking out.