Sometimes one has a chance to do something big and good. Such a chance came my way in 2002 when my father died. As he was nearing the end of his life, he said “you’ll probably give your inheritance to some good cause, won’t you?” Since I had a job and no dependents other than a guide dog I said I would and started thinking what good cause would honor my parents. I came up with children’s book awards for good books about the disability experience. Toward the end of June we celebrated ten years of these awards being given by the American Library Association.
When I was young there weren’t many books about people living with disabilities other than The Little Lame Prince and biographies of Helen Keller and Louis Braille. So I started the Schneider Family Book Awards through the American Library Association. I drafted criteria (modeled on the Coretta Scott King awards but for disability content). I turned over the criteria and a big check to the ALA and awaited results.
A committee of librarians (all volunteers) puts hours into reading and discussing each year’s entries. They give three awards per year to authors or illustrators of children’s books about the disability experience. When children go into the youth area of their libraries now, librarians can recommend books to fit their situations, whether they are a child with a learning disability who can read My Thirteenth Winter or a blind child with a sighted parent who can read Looking out for Sarah printed both in print and Braille, they’ll know that they’re not alone.
Each year there have been more books for the judges to pick among. My hope that a well done award would attract writers is working! The publishers of the award winners also receive positive notice which makes them more likely to publish disability content.
Several years ago when I was looking for a publisher for my book for young children about living with disabilities, Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold I received several turn downs from publishers who liked it a lot (or at least said they did) but were unsure of the market. So I ended up self-publishing and hustling to publicize it. If publishers know there is a market because there’s a prestigious award, they’ll publish more in this area of diversity.
I usually don’t interact with the committee except at the yearly celebratory lunch. One year a graphic novel was chosen, which felt like a gut punch to me because just like when I was a kid, a large part of that book was not accessible to me. I shared my feelings with them and worked to try to figure out how to make it accessible for blind kids. The National Library Service had one of their great narrators try to describe the graphic sections. They did it in such a way that blind kids could pass a test on it, but I’m sure this is a situation where a picture was worth more than a thousand words.
The committee has missed a few worthy candidates for the award like Good Kings Bad Kings by Nussbaum and Accidents of Nature by Harriet Mcbride Johnson. Since my background is not in English those books may not have had the literary merit they look for, but this reader could tell that the authors (who both had disabilities) got the disability parts right. Too many good books for all to get awards is a good problem. In the next ten years, I hope for many more great books, increased quick access in alternate formats like Bookshare, and more authors with disabilities rising up to win these awards.
When I started this project, I had no idea how to do it. I just had fire in my belly for kids to have interesting and realistic books about disability life experiences to read. Moral of the story is: go for it and the details will work out somehow. The pebble tossed into the pond has widening ripples. This blog is part of a blog tour about ten years of the Schneider Family Book Awards. Read some more blogs and good luck winning free books!
Giveaway information –
One person will win a set of all 3 Schneider Family Book Award Winners from 2014. Participants must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address.
(Just an FYI: There is one winner total, but readers can enter from any blog participating in the tour.)
Here is the link for the giveaway. WordPress will not accept the widget code but the link should take them to where they can fill out the form to official enter into the giveaway. Your techie assistant can look at Nerdy Book Club to see how they included it.
Link for giveaway: