This week I get to speak to the luncheon celebrating this year’s winners of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Awards for children’s books with disability content. This is the thirteenth year so I’ll reflect on thirteen signs of progress towards full inclusion in media I’ve noticed this year.
The first four signs are the books themselves:
- Fish in a Tree by L. Hunt
- Emmanuel’s Dream by L. Thompson
- The War that Saved My Life by K. Bradley
- The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by T. Toten
The children and teens in these three novels and one biography all show grit. They have the passion and persistence to deal with both their disabilities and people’s disabling attitudes. Much in each of them for young readers both with and without disabilities to emulate.
This year there were 135 books submitted for the librarian judges to choose among. When the awards started, there were a third that number. Since my goal in setting up the awards was more good realistic books about disability experiences, this makes me very happy.
Teachers, parents and librarians are key to children getting good books in their hands. I skimmed three textbooks on teaching children’s literature published since 2011 and each of them had a brief mention of disability-related books and how to pick the wheat from the chaff.
About ten years after I started these awards, the We Need Diverse books grassroots coalition got started. They do include disability in their efforts towards diversity.
There’s a wikipedia article about the Schneider Family Book awards. For those of us who consider Wikipedia a trusted source on the Internet, it’s good that it’s out there. Parents seeing a SFBA award sticker on a book might research it and be led to other winning books.
There’s an emphasis on intersectionality these days in dealing with diversity. Somebody is not just a Disabled Person. We all have multiple identities, gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. The winning books show these multiple identities in their characters.
If there was a Bechdel test for disability-themed books, these would pass it. The Bechdel test for women in film is that there are at least two prominent female characters and they talk to each other about something other than men in the film. Books with only one disabled character would not pass.
There’s now a Disability in Kid Lit website with reviews by people with the disability the book is about. “Nothing about us without us” as the slogan in the disability rights movement says. If you’re wondering if it really matters whether a reviewer has the disability, consider the difference in reviews of the movie “Me Before You” depending on whether the reviewer had a disability or not!
The good news for kids with reading disabilities and visual impairments was that all of the books were available on Bookshare when they won the awards and three out of four were available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The fourth book was subsequently made available by NLS. My local public library also had three out of four available in alternate format. If you can’t read the book, it doesn’t help much even if it’s a good one!
Out in the world, there is beginning to be better journalism about disability issues. One day I read headlines about “Blind Birder Recognizes Three Thousand Calls” and “Dyslexia Motivated Tommy Hilfiger to Try his Skills at the Fashion Business”. Both articles highlighted accomplishments but without the sickly sweet verbiage of inspiration porn still present in much journalism.
Realistic journalism and portrayals in children’s and young adult books move us toward less stigma and more inclusion for people with disabilities. Thanks to the American Library Association for the care and attention it gives to the Schneider Family Book awards every year, and to the teachers, librarians and parents who will share these good books with children and teens.