8 by Eight
Kids are Special
A few years ago, a parent in our store requested a picture book that included a character using a wheelchair. His child had seen wheelchairs in real life and had questions. The dad wanted a book to help facilitate a conversation. I'm a huge proponent of books as conversation starters, and was delighted that this parent asked. As I looked through our collection, however, I quickly realized that while we had picture books that included wheelchairs, we were lacking picture books that featured someone using a wheelchair.
This story is important to me, becuase it reminds me that I need to always be dilligent. I need to recognize the gaps in representation in our collection. Also, it is another important reminder that children's books function as both windows and mirrors (see Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's article on the importance of "Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors"). In this situation, parents were looking for a window book, an opportunity for their child to learn about an experience different than their own. I've also worked with a parent who has a child with Down Syndrome. It is important to this mother that her child find mirror books -- books that reflect and value a child's own identity -- in classroom libraries. Representation matters.
Lack of representation regarding ability was a failing in our store -- one I continually work to rectify. It is, however, also a failing in the publshing industry. Yes, it is possible to find books that represent varying abilities, but there are not nearly enough. Recognition of and conversations about this gap are continually occuring in the children's book industry. Librarian Betsy Bird addresses the conversation in her article "Down Syndrom and the Great Gaping (Longstanding) Children's Book Gap". Furthermore, it is difficult finding books from an #ownvoices persepective; often the story is told from the perspective of a sibling, friend, or parent.
This 8 by Eight list is a combination of my personal favorites as well as recommendations from other experts. Hello Goodbye Dog is adorable and has a lovely surprise twist at the end as does Susan Laughs. The Black Book of Colors is a fascinating investigation of how to talk about colors without using sight or visual descriptors, and instead focuses on alternative sensory language. Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers frames Isaac's experiences with his environment in superhero terms. The Sound of All Things is a gorgeously illustrated book based, on the author's experiences, about a family trip to Coney Island as a boy struggles to convey all the different subtleties in sounds to his deaf parents. The Alphabet War helps explain experiences with dyslexia. I learned about Mallko and Dad from Betsy Bird's article mentioned above, which was shared with me by a Falmouth Public Library employee. The four Falmouth elementary school librarians brought My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay and My Brother Charlie to my attention when they were actively working to increase representation in their own libraries. Thank you, Falmouth Librarians, for the great resources!
What is this 8 by Eight list missing? Are there more books you recommend? Does your family have favorite books that you would like to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's a New Year's challenge for all of us: review your home (and classroom!) libraries. Do you have window and mirror books? Are your children seeing themselves and learning about others? Are there any gaps that need filling? I'll do the same at the bookstore.
Nest steps: Do you notice gaps in your school or local libraries? Request books! Libraries -- and bookstores! -- are very responsive.
If you're interested in reading more and following conversations in children's literature, please see the resources listed below.
Disability in Kidlit is dedicated to discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult literature. We publish articles, reviews, interviews, and discussions examining this topic from various angles—and always from the disabled perspective.
On Tumblr: http://disabilityinkidlit.tumblr.com/ask
About the Schneider Family Book Award: The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.