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Childrens views on disability in books

A report into children's views on disab

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Childrens views on disability in books

  1. 1. The Quentin Blake Award Project ReportMaking Exclusion a Thing ofthe Past: Children’s Views onDisability in BooksADD RDF LOGO
  2. 2. 1. Background1.1. The Quentin Blake Award and BooktrustThis project is funded by the Roald Dahl FoundationsQuentin Blake Award.The Quentin Blake Award is made annually to a charity,supported by the Foundation in the previous calendar year.The Award is made to an organisation selected by QuentinBlake himself, which he feels has special merit and wouldbenefit from additional support for a new project.In this case, it was awarded to Booktrust in recognition ofthe success of the Foundation-funded Booktouch project,which extended the Bookstart scheme to children with avisual impairment.Other relevant Booktrust projects include Bookstart, the books for babiesscheme, of which the Roald Dahl Foundation was one of the original funders, andBookmark, an online facility providing support, information, reviews andsignposting on the subject of books and disability.1.2 This projectBooktrust chose to use the Quentin Blake Award to give children a voice aboutthe way disability is portrayed in books.In September 2005, an invitation was sent to every school in the UK encouragingthem to consult students on this subject and feed their views back to the projectmanager.In November 2005, a series of workshops also began in a selection of UKschools. Each workshop was led by a children’s writer or illustrator with a specificinterest or expertise in this field.Each workshop used a customised approach to give the selected group ofchildren a chance to tell us what is important to them about books.Discussions covered anything from images of disability to reading difficulties andaccess to the right books.The material generated has been collated into this resource to share with thepublishing/ writing sector and the wider community. Booktrust is now working toexplore appropriate means of building on this important activity.
  3. 3. 2. This report2.1 Report aimsThis document aims to document the progress of the Quentin Blake Award project andpresent some of the many views, concerns and suggestions voiced by those whoparticipated between Autumn 2005 and Spring 2006.2.2 Report contents1. Background2. Report aims, contents and approach3. Summary of workshop schedule and participants4. Key findings under the headings:- What is Disability?- Do enough books feature disabled characters?- Why are positive images important?- How has disability been portrayed to date?- How would you like to see things change?- Additional comments from non-disabled participants5. Workshops in detail6. Additional material and findings7. Conclusion and plans for the future2.3 AcknowledgementsBooktrust would like to express its sincere thanks toThe Roald Dahl Foundation, and all the artists andschools who have participated in this project. Thanksalso to Quentin Blake, Jacqueline Wilson, MichaelRosen, Jeanne Willis, Stefan Casta, Luke Jackson, thepublishers who have supplied books and indeed allthose who have leant the project their valuable support.See References and Further Reading at the end ofthe report for more information about Booktrust, theRoald Dahl Foundation, the Quentin Blake Award andother relevant initiatives.
  4. 4. 2.4 The Report approachWhilst this report can only represent the views of those consulted through theproject (namely 200 workshop participants and approximately 30 other schools,groups and individuals), additional widespread discussion suggests that it can beconsidered to be a valuable general representation of many wider views.Amongst its findings, the consultation carried out has affirmed that disability is avery subjective area, and the range of different conditions (and people’s views)diverse and complex. As such, this report aims to avoid over-generalising aboutdisabled people, what they like/want or what it is like to be disabled.Likewise, it is recognised that ‘pigeon-holing’ people as ‘disabled’ or ‘able-bodied’where this is not helpful or relevant should be avoided.The report does, however, on occasions acknowledge where views weresubmitted by people who specifically stated that they were ‘disabled’ or ‘notdisabled’. It is hoped that this is useful in illustrating and explaining the diversityof comments. It is also felt there are some additional learning points which canbe identified through the differences in views and language of those consulted.Likewise, whilst avoiding over-generalisation, a number of very clear, commonthemes emerged, which this report will aim to outline.Finally, this report aims to present the findings in the context of the ‘social model’of disability, i.e. recognising that people are disabled by society’s barriers, asopposed to their specific conditions.“I think this is an excellent, much-needed project. Its great news that thechildren themselves are being involved and consulted.”Jacqueline Wilson“I am really excited to have the opportunity to be associated once againwith Booktrust. This far-sighted project will enrich the lives of childrenas well as the lives of all those of us who work with books for them.”Quentin Blake
  5. 5. 3. The workshopsSeven workshops were held around the UKbetween November 2005 and April 2006:Pippa Goodhart, worked with 60students from Leicestershireincluding many with dyslexiaJackie Gay explored physicaldisability in books with 40 studentsin a Hampshire collegeHeather Maisner discussed disability in books with children of different ages andreading abilities in IpswichJane Ray and Joyce Dunbar worked with a small group of deaf and hearingchildren in London to discuss the portrayal of deafness in booksWriter/teacher Mark Roberts and storyteller Karen Tovell generated creativeresponses from representatives of 12 different Merseyside schoolsWriter Michaela Morgan worked with 20 Year 8 students in Surrey, focusing onbooks for less confident/enthusiastic readersWriter in Residence at the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire ran a creativeconsultation workshop with 16 students from a local school.In addition to the core workshops, a mailing to all UK schools has generated debate anddiscussion around the country, with many other schools and groups choosing to explorethis subject. This report therefore also includes some of the feedback from these 30plus schools and individuals, who gave their comments and views to the project, bysubmitting letters, drawings and creating writing.
  6. 6. 4. The messagesThis report now goes on to outline some of the many findings and comments of theproject.The report aims to use some of the discussion headings applied during workshops, andwherever possible to employ children’s own choices of language and terminology.Where the project uses a phrase or words used by one or more children, these arepresented in full (double) inverted commas. Where a direct and full quote from a child isgiven, it is also presented in a box.4.1 Key findingsThe overriding observation (from children consulted through the mailing and theworkshops, disabled and non-disabled alike) corroborated the belief that thereare simply not enough images of disability in books.Many of those consulted shared powerful comments and thought-provokingpersonal experiences illustrating feelings of isolation and often demonstrating theeffects of the absence of positive images when children are growing up.All those consulted agreed that disability is not a simple, ‘black and white’ subject.People cannot (and need not) be simply and easily categorized into ‘disabled’and ‘not disabled’.Everyone has “different needs and different challenges” in life.Books need to feature a wide range of children with different needs and differentabilities. Books should include protagonists who are disabled in some way butalso characters who just ‘happen’ to be disabled without this being a tool orplotline.Books should include the less ‘obvious’ sorts of disability and ‘invisible’ conditionssuch as dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild learning difficulties, AD/HD. Etc.Every disabled child is different – just as every child is different, and indeed everyindividual is different, and books should reflect this.Finally, it is worth noting that this project seems to have generated severaladditional benefits, for example challenging the attitudes to disability of those whohad not previously given the subject thought, and introducing disabled/non-disabled children from a wide range of different backgrounds who might nototherwise meet.
  7. 7. 4.2 What is Disability?Many of the workshops encouraged children to consider and share their views on theword ‘disability’. The discussions that followed drew out some common points ofagreement:Disability is not a black and white subject, but rather a ‘relative’ subject – one ofthe workshops tried considering it as a ‘continuum’.Whilst some people are ‘obviously’ disabled, there are many less visibleconditions which affect people in different ways.People tend to think of disability in terms of “wheelchairs and other physicalproblems that you can see straight away.”One group of students with no previous ‘direct’ knowledge of disability, concludedthat in fact each of them in the group could identify a way in which they could beconsidered disabled – for example, by poor eye sight, dyslexia, poor coordination,difficulty with maths, poor spatial awareness, etc.Participants tended to agree with the ‘social model’ of disability – in other wordsthat it is society and its barriers which disable people, not their conditions.Many people who, for example, happen to use a wheelchair or a hearing aid, donot see themselves as being “disabled”.Several of the workshops concluded that someone is only really disabled if theydo not have what they need to get on with their lives, for example a ramp, hearingaid or large-size font.4.3 Are there enough books featuring disabled characters?Many of the workshops and the consultation carried out with other schools/individuals,started by asking children to think of books featuring disabled characters.The majority of those consulted could think of one or two books featuring disabledcharacters. However, it should be acknowledged that many would have discussed thesubject in preparation for the workshop/activity.In two of the workshops, it was ensured that there was no preparation at all. Where thiswas not the case, many children/young people could not think of any disabledcharacters.
  8. 8. The overriding message was that there are simply not enough images ofdisability in books.Whilst this is hardly surprising, what is more interesting is the way in whichchildren/young people suggest that this can or should be redressed (this reportgoes on to illustrate some of these ideas).The head of department at a school for disabled children in Staffordshirereported:“I have talked to our children about your Questionnaire and they are not awareof any fiction book portraying children who are disabled, although there are afew – Oxford Reading Tree show a child in a wheelchair and we do have non-fiction books in our library which address both physical and emotionaldifficulties. The children felt that the message it sends to other people is thatthey are strange or different.”One (deaf) student said:“I love reading and have only read a book that involved a disabled charactertwice. Best of the two books that involved a disabled character is called TheCurious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”. It is about a boy withbehavioural problems but is also a maths and science genius, he found aneighbour’s dog lying dead covered in blood so he decided to investigate butit is difficult due to his behavioural problems but in the end he overcame allthe odds and did it. The book shows that disabled people are not stupid andcan achieve anything: like the boy in the story got A in Maths A-Level.”Also note-worthy was the fact that almost all the children (whether theyconsidered themselves to be ‘disabled’ or not) shared this view, although thereasons for (and ways of) requesting more positive images were very varied anddifferent.Comments included:“The world is portrayed in a different way from how it is”.“If I was disabled, I would feel that books are made for the rest of society andnot for disabled people.”“I would feel that books are avoiding the subject and not acknowledging thatpeople like me exist.”“I really think people’s stereotypes of disabled people need to change.”Another school in Staffordshire fed back to us that:
  9. 9. “Year 2 were able to quote two books on disability and said that it was a goodidea, as long as the plot was interesting. The books would also help us toknow how to treat disabled people... Year 6 quoted a considerable list andwould like to see more disabled characters in texts so that the latter would beseen as ordinary citizens. They also felt it would help to raise awareness ofpeople in the community and help to appreciate their skills and differences.”The vast majority of the participants who did not consider themselves to bedisabled in the obvious sense of the word admitted that they had not thoughtabout this subject before. These comments were typical of those whoparticipated in a workshop on the subject:“It has made me think more about the situations disabled people findthemselves in and the reality for disabled people.”“Today’s experience has opened my eyes to this subject.”Some recognised this absence of disabled characters as a positive opportunityfor the children’s book world:“There is a goldmine in this market, Mark Haddon has proven that! Itentertains as well as it raises awareness.”“I only today realised how little disability is touched on in books and TV.There is a whole new horizon of writing out there!”Only a very small minority of ‘non-disabled’ participants had some reservations,for example:“I think it is a bad idea, it might be odd to read a book with disabled people in. Ihaven’t ever read one before.”The report goes on to look more specifically at more views from non-disabledaudiences and the associated learning points later.4.4 Why is it important to include positive images?
  10. 10. The overriding response to this question was that the current lack ofrepresentation in books exacerbates the feeling that someone who is disabled is‘different’.Many children talked about feelings of being left out or isolated.Some told us that the subject of their impairment was never or rarely discussed.This was one of the most poignant responses:”Thank you for coming to meet us and chatting about what its like to bedeaf because not many people like talking about it. The day was special tome because I have been so desperate.”One teacher from a school for disabled children told us:“The children did think it was important that people with disabilities be shownin books because they feel very lacking in confidence when they meet otherchildren. They want other people to be interested in them but they sometimesfeel that they are treated with a lack of understanding and respect; sometimesmade fun and treated with abuse.”As already touched on, more positive images could also help to improvepeople’s acceptance of difference:“Disabled people should be illustrated and included so that we grow up morefamiliar and aware of people’s differences.”Another (non-disabled) participant stated simply that:“I think you should write more books about people with disabilities becauseit is an interesting subject.”4.5 How has disability been portrayed in books to date?Particularly with the older students, there appeared to be a general acceptancethat times have changed since books that they remembered from their earlychildhood and that there are far more books that now feature disability, and in amore positive way.Several workshops encouraged older participants to think about the messagespresented in traditional stories like Heidi and The Secret Garden. In retrospect,
  11. 11. participants commented that they found such titles to have subliminally negativemessages but they were not (consciously) aware of such messages when theyoriginally read the books.that the vast majority of ‘current’ books that they couldname were those such as Curious Incident, Stuck in Neutral, Stoner and SpazParticipants also observedand Sleepovers, where disability is featured as an issue, theme or tool in the plot.was a disappointment about the fact that there are very few books which featureWhilst the general view was that such books represent positive change, therea disabled character without comment.ut non-fiction. Books which wereobviously intended to inform people about disability were seen as being dull andComments were also less than positive abounattractive. One (deaf) student said:"I wo heelchairs because it is full of boringfacts but if a book was about for example a person who won a swimmingnt pick up a book about people in wcompetition I would pick it up and read it because it looked interesting at leastthen I would discover the character used a wheelchair and then Id learn aboutwheelchair people and how to use a wheelchair etc."Some students talked about disability on television, and commented on thefact that many programmes (such as Blue Peter and Newsround) are good atraising awareness of issues but less effective in promoting everydayacceptance.le tobook from when they were younger. One student mentionedOne group of Year 9 students could name current titles but were unabname a singlethat Spot the Dog’s Gran had a walking stick and several mentionedSpiderman and X-Men having characters in wheelchairs.anotherPositive images clearly need to start at an early age, a point raised bystudent:“Sloome ick on people because they are different. Perhaps if they areoking when they are younger they might appreciate the differences more.”people p
  12. 12. 4.6 How would you like to see things change?Whilst some young people consulted particularly wanted to see disabledcharacters ‘in the background’ others wanted especially to see disabledprotagonists:“I don’t like people feeling sorry for me or being sympathetic and giving mespecial treatment……It’s like you have a different religion and wear adifferent costume from everyone else. I would like to fade into the crowdmore.” (a teenage boy with cerebral palsy)“Impaired people can be heroes too.” (a deaf student who was asked for her‘message’ to publishers)Older students were often able to explore and discuss the question of howdisabled characters should be depicted in greater detail. For example, oneteenager (a wheelchair user) gave the following comments:“I think we need to see success in disability. For example, the fact that we canmake it to university and then go on to have very successful careers.I would like to see some humour as well. I am very sarcastic and find mydisability very amusing at times, even though i find things hard at times.Disability is too frowned upon, people forget that we are people too. They alsothink that we are all innocent, which is just so wrong.”Another child, a (deaf) student from Derby, commented:“I think more disabled characters should be included in books. It does nothave to be main disabled character, it can just be disabled backgroundcharacters. As for illustrator to include a disabled character in thebackground, the way to do this is draw the disabled character hangingaround with with normal kids.”A student from a Gravesend school commented:“Make sure the illustrations are casual. They mustn’t look like you have onlyput them in because you have been told to”.Many participants recognised the difficulties that this challenge presents for writers andillustrators:
  13. 13. 4.7 Additional comments from mainstream schools with nos stated at the beginning of this report, it is not generally helpful to ‘divide’ childrendisabled studentsAunder categories of “disabled” and “non-disabled”. However, this section adds someadditional material and comment from schools in which there were few or no disabledstudents, since there are some specific learning points on the subject.Many schools without disabled students chose to take up the challenge ofconsidering the subject of disability in children’s books.On the whole, non-disabled children who gave their views agreed with theirddisabled peers that there was an absence of disabled characters in books anthat this should be redressed.Sometimes the language and nature of comments sometimes suggested a limitedfther comments from a range of children/young people (the following being fromAlevel of familiarity with disability issues. This in itself suggests that books couldplay a key role in helping to promote positive understanding and confident use oappropriate language and terminology in relation to disability issues.This was a Year 4 student from a mainstream school in Oxfordshire:Oschools in London, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire), included:“I quite like the idea of reading books about with disabled people in thembecause it can teach me about their problems and how they feel.”n awareness of the need for disabled people themselves to see themselves in booksnd feel represented came through very strongly ina“I think that it’s a good idea that children with disabilities be included in booksbecause otherwise they might feel left out and one of a kind, it doesn’t matterwhat they look like its what is inside that matters. I don’t think they shouldn’tbe included in pictures otherwise they might think that they’re different fromother people.”“It would be good because then they won’t feel left out.”It’s easy to include someone with a physical disability in their illustrations.“I think they should be included in books because normal people are always inbooks so we should give disabled people a chance. I think you need to becareful about how you write down their feelings as they may disagree withyou.”More difficult with a hidden disability like mental illness but I reckon the goodwriters and illustrators could do it.”
  14. 14. “It could be a good idea to include disabled people in books because theymight feel left out”.Some noted that it might help to reduce bullying of disabled children or childrenwho are perceived as being ‘different’ in any way. Comments suggested that itmight help disabled children to find positive role models and to related tocharacters in books:“Some people pick on people because they are different. Perhaps if they arelooking when they are younger they might appreciate the differences more”“Those children with a particular disability can relate to the characters in thebook. They may even help with their understanding of the effect on their lives.”Others placed more importance on the need for non-disabled people to betterunderstand disability issues:“If we see more in books it will stop them being treated differently or at leastmake us understand.”‘It’s good to be made aware of disability’“It’s good to learn about peoples disabilities so that we understand more. WhenI read Joey Pigza I learnt a lot about ADHD.”Raising the subject of disability in books in the workshops themselves clearlyhelped to achieve this:“Although before coming here I wasn’t phobic of disabled people, this sessionhas helped me to understand people with disabilities and I want to read bookswhich have disabled heroes and heroines. Thank you!”Although many of the non-disabled participants stressed the importance ofpeople understanding disability, several children/young people instead stressedthe message that books need to remind people that disabled children are just likeany other children:“They should be treated like everyone else. People with disabilities are part ofthe world so should be shown in books.”
  15. 15. ““Just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t bein a book!”“We are all the same, really.”There appeared, however, to be some anxiety and caution on the part of non-disabled children about how this should be done, for example these commentsfrom some Year 3, 4, 5 and 6 students:“People might say what it is like to be disabled when they don’t really knowand offend disabled people.”“I think you should put disabled people in books because it doesn’t matter ifyou are disabled or different. But I am not sure about pictures – would they behorrible?”“I think that pictures aren’t such a good idea because it might make them thinkthat that’s what they are like and it might offend them.”One of the students from a London school made the insightful comment:“There shouldn’t be any difference. Although I think it might be hard toillustrate that without it looking like you have just plonked someone in for thesake of it.”
  16. 16. 5. WorkshopsThe report now goes on to describe each of the seven workshops held as part of theproject.5.1 Pippa Goodhart at St Crispin’sSchool, LeicestershirePippa Goodhart is a well-established author whohad already included the subject of Dyslexia inher writing.The workshop involved a full day’s activity foraround sixty children from years 3 to 7, alltogether for first part of the day, then splittinginto four workshop groups later.Like most of the artists involved in this project,Pippa found that it was impracticable to make(and adhere to) a precise plan for the day, notknowing the students and how long theirattention would last, or what they would ‘make’of the subject. So the workshop started with aloose plan but the exact programme evolvednaturally on the day and it proved to be a hugesuccess.The children began the day learning about Pippa’s work, the writing process and theQuentin Blake Award project. Then they worked with Pippa to start developing their owncreative writing ideas. A storyline started to form, which would be used as the basis foreach child to develop. The story described the plight of a girl with a third eye, sentaway from home by her parents to join a circus. They were then split into smallerworkshop groups to explore different ways of writing the story (e.g. through play scripts,diary entries, comic strip/graphic novels and newspaper articles). The workshop thusgenerated a huge selection of interpretations of the children’s basic story, delivered andpresented in a range of different formats and styles.Pippa, the children and project manager also spent time discussing different (published)books which the project manager had sent to the school prior to the workshop, includinga number designed for less confident readers. Several children had read books fromthis selection and gave their reviews/comments. Together, the group looked at somebooks for less confident readers and books for children with reading difficulties,discussing those that they felt were more (or less) effective.Whilst being extremely positive about reading in general, the children were less thanenthusiastic about some of the books created for low-level readers. It was clear that the
  17. 17. children strongly disliked the feeling that books had been “written down to them”, not interms of sentence length, number of pages or vocabulary, but in terms of storypresentation. As Pippa Goodhart commented, “these aren’t children who needthings spelling out for them.”The children might perhaps struggle to de-code words, but Pippa concluded that theylike the opportunity to “dig deep” and interpret and explore stories and complex issuesfor themselves. Having an ‘older’ topic (such as the question of smoking, theft orbullying) isn’t enough, it still needs to be handled in an entertaining, exciting andsurprising way.Feedback from the school was extremely good, and the children remained interestedand engaged throughout, a result which Pippa attributed to their very active involvementin the workshop and story generation. Pippa was also overwhelmed by the quality of thechildren’s work, particularly those with reading difficulties. She was astounded by howthe most “witty, insightful and entertaining” pieces of writing were in fact by a childwho was apparently not able at all to produce handwritten work because of Dyslexia. Itwas apparent that however much a child might struggle to read – and therefore perhapslack some reading experience – their understanding of story was at least assophisticated as other children.Pippa Goodhart said of the workshop:“My overall impression from tackling these issuesof disability in fiction is to realise what a verycomplex area it is, involving so many differentvariables in terms of audience and story and bookformat. What’s clear is that there will be no clearand neat conclusions from it all. But that doesn’tmatter. An appreciation of the children and themany different ways they want to be involved infiction will be very worthwhile.Pippa also made some interesting points about thehighly original (and potentially controversial) storygenerated by the children:“You never know what you’ll get when you playthat game, but I’d hate to feel that their storycontent was being censored in any way by adultpreconceptions – hence a pretty hard-hitting storyof big emotions!It was interesting that, while adults might well have felt uncomfortable with havinga disabled (was she? She actually had an extra ability rather than anythinglacking?) child being sent to a freak show, I think that’s refreshingly honest andstraightforward. It’s exactly that emotional situation that we would tackle in anovel, but we’d come at it by a more embarrassed and roundabout route.
  18. 18. And, actually, making the ‘disability’ something entirely fictional, that was anotherway of putting the issue at a comfortable distance and avoiding preconceptionsabout a ‘condition’ that would have been there if the story had featured arecognised disability.”5.2 Jackie Gay, Treloar College, HampshireJackie Gay is the author of Wist, a highly original and thought-provoking teenage novelpublished in 2003.Over 40 teenage students at Treloar College in Hampshire joined Jackie, andrepresentatives of Booktrust (in collaboration with a representative of the national charityWhizz-Kidz) for a workshop looking at physical disability in books.The students were keen to find out more about Jackie’s writing career and firedquestions at her regarding how and why she had become a writer. Then the workshopmoved on to the students brainstorming books featuring disabled characters that theycould remember from their childhood. Those named by students included Heidi,Pinnochio. What Katy Did and the Secret Garden.Jackie and the students noted that the memories they had of the books were in factgenerally very positive. For example, overriding memories of Heidi might be the book’sevocative images of mountains, blue skies and friendship, rather than any statements itmight make about disability. However, on closer examination, the group concluded thatthe underlying messages within the story were often not so positive. The students wereextremely vocal about the ‘subliminal’ messages that, as they grew older, they identifiedin many such books. They described them as:“Suggesting that disabled people are sickly”“Telling society that we should be hidden”“Saying that disabled people are weak andshould be taken away from the rest ofsociety.”The students also felt that many such storiespromoted the idea that disability was somethingthat could be cured by lots of fresh air or a positiveoutlook! They also felt that the books tended toconcentrate on the extremes, portraying adisabled person as either evil or bitter or angelicand a martyr (such as Tiny Tim).The group then went on to look specifically at fairytales and agreed with Jackie’s fascinating insightinto the subject. The group agreed that in a fairy
  19. 19. tale things are not always as they might appear. For example, people dramaticallytransform - ugly ducklings grow into swans, warty frogs turn into beautiful princesses,Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies. Baddies have one leg, one eye, a hunched back,a hook as a hand, or an ugly, twisted face. Thus fairy tales (in their various forms)create a sort of shorthand which can reinforce stereotypes and suggest that a villain iseasily recognised by his or her physical ‘deformity’. Disability or disfiguration can be apunishment or something from which one wants to be rescued.However, the students were quick to point out that contemporary films and books arestarting to redress this balance. They immediately gave examples of several films,television programmes and books which they felt gave a more positive message aboutdisability. Shrek includes some positive messages (although the prince is still ridiculedfor being short) and Tracy Beaker includes a disabled character. Interestingly they sawthe Little Britain ‘fake’ wheelchair-user character as being quite positive, due the humourand sarcasm the character demonstrated.The group then brainstormed ways to raise awareness and improve visibility of disabledpeople without making it an ‘issue’ or exacerbating stereotypes. Their ideas included:“Disabled people can be heroes or just ordinary characters”“Disabled people can be strong, healthy, intelligent and successful”“Make the hero ugly!”“Show that disabled people are just like anyone else”“Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t”“Don’t make us feel different”“I think we need to see success in disability. For example, the fact that we canmake it to university and then go on to have very successful careers.”The workshop was fittingly rounded off with an inspiring few words from a previousTreloar student who had come back especially to be involved in the workshop, and totell his former college of his achievements since leaving.The college later told us that the students were still talking about the workshop severalweeks later, and several had been inspired by Jackie to further develop their own writingskills.Jackie Gay herself said of her Quentin Blake Award experience:“My most lasting impression from the workshop at Treloar School was how muchthe young students had to say. They are strongly aware that their life experienceis outside of what is considered the norm and they - quite rightly - dont like itone bit. So the opportunity offered by the Quentin Blake project - that their viewsare important and can make a difference - must be followed through with vigour;
  20. 20. we must not let them down. The humour, resilience, mutual respect and individualsparkle of these young people is a cause for celebration in both life andliterature.”5.3 Heather Maisner, Thomas Wolsey School, IpswichHeather Maisner also had some basic prior knowledge of (and substantial interest in)this subject, and was therefore keen to volunteer for this project, recognising it as avaluable way to build her knowledge and understanding.The workshop comprised a small group of twelve students of various ages (from 9 to16), some of whom had reading difficulties.The workshop started with a brief introductionto the project and its aims. The children thendiscussed different types of books - horror,thrillers, magic/fairy stories, fantasy,adventure and war. The children discussedwhich sorts of books they liked best – themajority citing scary books and adventurebooks, and two of the girls preferring to readlove stories and romances.The discussion progressed onto what makes a good story and generated ideas for theirown book. Many of the children liked a ‘good ending’ although they agreed that thisdidn’t necessarily have to mean a ‘happy ending’. Some said that they liked bookswhich still included pictures. One student was particularly keen to see “someone getkilled” in the book!The workshop moved on to developing a storyand descriptions of potential characters.Without prompting, one of the very firstsuggestions was that at least one of thecharacters should be a wheelchair user. Therewere several debates about how many of thecharacters should be disabled and also aboutwhich characters should be disabled – just asthere were also debates about which should bemale or female, heroes or villains.The children also worked on illustrations, particularly creating the characters that theyhad envisaged.
  21. 21. The story created by the children was highly creative, reflecting the children’senthusiasm for spies, mysteries and monsters, whilst also including some love interestand successfully acknowledging the ‘practical’ considerations of including a wheelchairuser, such as how she might get dressed, when she might ask people for assistanceand whether she could propel herself or would need to be pushed.Facilitating the storymaking process, engaging all the participants and trying to includeall the salient ideas and challenges required without ‘spoon-feeding’ required huge skillfrom Heather. Although the story was still incomplete at the end of the workshop, thechildren were enthusiastic enough about the project to complete it and send it inafterwards, and the school reported excellent feedback from the day.Follow-up comments from the children included the following from one of the olderstudents:Heather Maisner’s comments on the workshop included:“The story isn’t how I imagined it, it’s very clever how she’s brought people’sideas about disability into a story.”“They were a really lively, imaginative group – full of enthusiasm and lots of fun.They hadn’t worked together before, there were several people watching them andwe didn’t have much time, and yet they managed to come up with a good plot andlots of fantastic ideas. It was great to work with such positive and creative youngpeople.”Heather was passionate about this project, and went on to take her involvement onestep further, by interviewing a set of twins she already knew, who both attend amainstream school, and one of whom has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.The twins shared their views on disabled characters in books with Heather. They feltthat there were not enough images, especially where a person in a wheelchair is theheroine:“it’s good when they just happen to be a passing figure, like in the TracyBeaker book that’s on TV”.They described how Cerebral Palsy can mean that you “walk in a funny way” or sit in awheelchair, and that this means people stare at you in the street. They felt that adults“are the worst” in this respect.At school, they described the tendency of some children to “try to smother you”.“They argue about who should push the wheelchair. Teachers treat you likeyou can’t do anything. They over-explain things even when you’ve understood.They treat you as if you’re brain isn’t working properly.”
  22. 22. The twin with Cerebral Palsy said:“I hate it when people ask mum questions about me when I’m sitting there. Idon’t like people feeling sorry for me or being sympathetic and giving mespecial treatment. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Everyone likespushing the wheelchair, saying, ‘I bagsy first.’ Teacher often advises me to sitout when really I would like to join in. It feels lonely at school ‘cause no one’sthe same as me. It’s like you have a different religion and wear a differentcostume from everyone else. I would like to fade into the crowd more.”When asked about what sort of story they’d like best, the twins agreed they’d like “amain character in a wheelchair but not make a fuss about it”.They also said that:“The story should be about someone being able to fade into the crowd and benormal. Perhaps one girl moves away and they miss each other’s company.”The twins were so inspired that they went on to develop their own idea for a storylineabout a girl at school who happens to have Cerebral Palsy.5.4 Jane Ray and Joyce Dunbar, Meridian School, GreenwichJoyce Dunbar and Jane Ray are a successful writer and illustrator respectively, andhave worked together on a number of titles. Prior to the workshop, both already had aninterest in this subject and a developing relationship with the school in question.The school, based in Greenwich, has a special unit for pupils with partial hearing andthe workshop involved a small group of both deaf and hearing children.Various factors created additional challenges forthe artists, for example the addition of ‘new’children halfway through the workshop, and thenumber of adults present in relation to the smallnumber of children. However the workshopsuccessfully generated some extremelyinteresting discussion and some poignant andthought-provoking feedback. As with many ofthe workshops, it was clear that the childrenhugely enjoyed the opportunity of meeting JaneRay and Joyce Dunbar, as well as author AnneColledge whose interest in the project inspiredher to attend the workshop too.
  23. 23. As with many of the workshops, the session was inevitably quite ‘organic’, responding tothe children’s personalities, reactions and interests. The day started by explaining theaims of the project and looking at some of Jane’s and Joyce’s respective books. Thechildren were very interested in the artists’ books, often asking questions about thecharacters, how they had been created - and what happened to them! Jane and Joycetold the children about their forthcoming title Moonbird and Jane read from Can YouCatch a Mermaid?Jane, Joyce and the children discussed the difficulty of trying to draw deafness. Aparticularly insightful exercise followed, setting the children the challenge of trying todraw a deaf character.Each child drew a character and then presented itto the rest of the group, explaining his or herinterpretation of the subject. Some children choseto draw themselves, others chose friends orfictional characters. One particularly interestingillustration showed a deaf girl (the child told us thatthis was a self portrait) positioned on the ‘margin’of the sheet. The girl’s comments suggested thatthis was not an intentional ‘message’. Anothershowed a very tiny character, taking up just a fewsquare centimetres of an A4 page. Interestingly,many depicted their hearing aids not in their ears but in their hands, or being put away inboxes. One showed it being accidentally broken! Some showed their hearing aids veryvisibly/colourfully, whilst in other pictures they were not noticeable.At lunchtime, the artists met a group of keen poets (interestingly all girls) who wanted tomeet the duo to find out more about their work.In the afternoon, the workshop resumed, with Joyce’s innovative way of helping thechildren to create potential characters, by drawing something with their eyes closed andusing their non-writing hand. The group then went on to write the beginnings of a fairystory.The day ended with the two artists attending thefull school assembly to outline their reasons forcoming.Feedback from the writer/illustrator team was verypositive, with Jane Ray telling us:“This was a fascinating and stimulating day.Neither Joyce nor I knew quite what to expectand came to the session with an open mind. Some of the imagery, both writtenand drawn, that the children came up with was extraordinary. The image of thedeaf children holding their hearing aids in their hands, for example, seemed toindicate how they saw these instruments - not as a part of them but as something
  24. 24. to be put in and taken out at the end of the day, necessary but separate. One girldrew herself only half on the page - very poignant. I felt this was a very excitingstarting point from which to develop a workshop or series ofworkshops exploring these ideas further. I was delighted by the amount ofmaterial that presented itself and feel there is scope to take these sessionsfurther...”Follow-up feedback from the children themselves was also informative and touching. Itwas particularly interesting that whilst the deaf children did not always specifically seetheir deafness as a form of disability, several described how refreshing it was to talkabout being deaf. Their extensive follow-up comments included:“Now I will look at books more critically about who the main characters andheroes are, whether they are deaf, blind or people who have a disability....thediscussion we had about what it’s like to be deaf was very important because notmany people like talking about people’s disability and most people do not writebooks about people with disability...”“We have finished the story about a girl called Blossom. She is a great characterand she is lame....Moonbird is one of my favorite books because it has got a deafcharacter and it is a loving book about a magic bird. If you were to read it, youwould feel loved.....Everybody likes to be seen in books as the main character. Weall have similar sentiments, it is only fair we should all be represented inchildren’s books otherwise it is as if they do not exist, this would be out of order.”“This is the first time we have written a fairy tale with disabled heroine. It is onlyright that every child should be treated equally because we (are) all important.”“Our favorite illustration in your book is when Orla is in the moon garden. Thegazelle is looking very gently. The silver monkey is kind of kissing him verytenderly. Orla seems to be in heaven”."’Mundo and the Weather child’ has fantastical characters which I love. My Mumread the book with me. The hero was a deaf boy. I like this because I am deaf andI feel that the writer is talking about me. There are not many books with deafcharacters. This is sad because I want to see myself in books as hearing childrendo. Please come back soon to have another workshop with us about fairy tales. “”Thank you for coming to meet us and chatting about what its like to be deafbecause not many people like talking about it. The day was special to me becauseI have been so desperate. I like Mundo and the Weather child because it tells mehow you feel for your son and his deafness. I will treasure the experience we hadtogether in my heart. “”The story that we are writing is doing great and we love it and we hopeyou will come back soon.””I did love the day. If I could do it again I would.”
  25. 25. Joyce Dunbar was struck by the emotive quality of the follow-up letters:“What struck me about the letters - apart from their general level of fluency whichIm sure is testimony to Natis (the head teacher’s) teaching - is that they seem soheartfelt. The workshop was obviously a significant experience for thesechildren.”5.5 Mark Roberts and Karen Tovell, Palmerston School,MerseysideWriter Mark Roberts is also a teacher in aspecial school in Liverpool. For thisworkshop, we wanted to collect (andpotentially challenge) views of non-disabledchildren who had no previous contact withor experience of disability, as well asproviding an interesting and enjoyableworkshop about books.Mainstream schools from acrossMerseyside were invited to take part in abooks and storytelling workshop atPalmerston School. Each of 12 different schools sent at least one representative.For all the mainstream children who attended, this represented the first time that theyhad visited a special school. Two students from Marks school joined the other children(and quickly made them very welcome!)The workshop started with an interactive session from storyteller Karen Tovell to get thestudents creative juices flowing. Only after her lively, participative story had come to anend, did Karen suggest to the children that the central character might actually bedisabled. She then encouraged them to think about how this might (or might not) haveaffected the plot or their interpretation of the story.Mark Roberts and project manager Alexandra Strick then moved the workshop on to talkabout books and disability, with Mark describing how and why he included DownsSyndrome characters in one of his books. The children were able to name no more thantwo titles of books that they had read which featured a disabled character.The children then split into groups to develop their own story maps with the storiesfeaturing a disabled and non-disabled character. Under Karen’s guidance, each groupwere asked to draw a giant treasure island and to illustrate their characters journeyacross the island to reach hidden treasure.
  26. 26. Some of the childrens ideas were extremelythought-provoking and showed that theirperceptions of disability already seemed tohave changed during the course of themornings discussions. For example, onegroup described how the treasure they wereseeking was a ‘cure’ for one girl’s disability,however after travelling across the island andfacing a series of challenges, the children inthe story agreed that the girl did not need tobe cured – she was actually perfectly happybeing a wheelchair user.In the afternoon the groups presented their maps to each other. The children then tookpart in a writing masterclass by Mark Roberts, helping them to understand the waystories are written and some of the tricks of the trade.The day finished with a brief wrap-up session and children gave their views on the mostmemorable aspect of the day. Each child was given one of Marks titles and anotherbook of their choice to read and review.Mark Roberts said of his experience:“The aim of the day was to raise awareness of disability issues both in fiction andin the real world. Particularly gifted and talented children from each school werechosen for the experience because it is hoped that in twenty years’ time they willbe in a position to fight the corner for disabled people. This workshop was thestart of what is hopefully a journey of growing awareness for the children whowere invited. Already these children have more real knowledge and disability thanmost grown-ups will ever have.”Karen Tovell echoed his views that the day had clearly had a genuine impact on thechildren involved in the project, expressing how inspired and impressed she was by theircreativity and enthusiasm. Feedback from the participants themselves was alsoexcellent, and many of the children from the various schools have since chosen tomaintain contact with each other and with the special school.Another exciting and unexpected outcome of the workshop was that Mark Roberts hassince been seconded for one day a week to work in other schools across Merseyside toinspire good literacy practice and raise disability awareness.
  27. 27. 5.6 Michaela Morgan, Glyn Technology School, Surrey:Michaela Morgan’s workshop took place in GlynTechnology School, a secondary school and sixth form forboys. The age range is 11-18 and there are over 1300students.Michaela Morgan has written well over 100 books forchildren, including junior fiction, picture books, poetry andnon-fiction.The workshop aimed to collect and then share the viewsof children with a slightly lower than average reading level,particularly in terms of their likes and dislikes. As a result,this section is rather longer than the other workshopreports.The boys in the group selected were from Year 8 and had a reading age of 8.3 to11.3years. The group included students with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, speech and languagedisorders, ADD (attention deficit disorder) and Tourette’s.After being introduced by Alex Strick, Michaela started the workshop by explaining that ahorse-shoe format had been chosen for the room and the students had been givenplace names, aiming to reflect the sort of conference or meeting which might take placeat a publishing house to discuss children’s book titles. The boys brainstormed thepeople who would usually take part in such a meeting (editors, writers, illustrators,design and layout, printers, marketing, sponsors, etc) and quickly agreed that the peoplefrequently missing from such a meeting about children’s books would be childrenthemselves. Michaela outlined how some publishers do involve children, with BarringtonStoke being a particularly good example, as young consultants read and comment on allpossible manuscripts.The workshop then introduced the boys to Michaela’s work. Some of them had alreadyread one or more of her books. Michaela gave them the unique opportunity of seeinghow books develop from start to finish. She showed the students how one of her picturebooks (Dear Bunny) book had first been developed two years earlier in the form of roughscribbles on the back of an A4 envelope and had progressed through many stages toreach its final form.She talked about the pleasures of picture books and the fact that such books should notbe regarded solely as the domain of the very young. Michaela is also a writer inresidence and has worked in prisons, where picture books can bring life, colour andpictures to a grey and cold environment.The workshop then went on to look at other titles by Michaela including The Monster isComing, Cool Clive, The Beast, Letter from America, Respect! and Invasion of the
  28. 28. Dinner Ladies. The boys gave their comments on these titles and books generally,highlighting their likes and dislikes.This report will now summarise their feedback on some of the specific topics:Blurbs and author biographies:• Most of the boys said they read the blurbs on books.• “I often read the blurb to help me decide whether I like the book”.• Information about the author is important – “it helps them understand why youwrote what you did and what you have been through”.• “It helps the reader to get to know the author and helps you identify more withhim/her and to look for other books by the same author”.• “It helps you associate with the author and feel like you have a connection”.Titles:• Titles should be “catchy”. (All agreed).• “Repetition”• “Short, powerful words”.• “Eye-catching colours”• Titles and the style in which they are written help you to work out what sort ofbook it is – bubble writing for a funny book and spooky writing for a ghost story.Favourite types of book:• Several boys agreed mystery books were their favourites, one particularlysuggesting a book with detectives.• One suggested cliff-hangers and all the others agreed.• Ending chapters on a really exciting bit “to make you read on”.• All agreed that suspense is really important.• It can be good to get to know the characters and then read other books about thesame characters.• All liked action and drama, and several said that sometimes a bit of violence (orat least some reference to violence) makes them read more.• Many liked war stories.• Interestingly, historical storylines appealed to them more than contemporarysettings.• All liked the ideas of reading stories about their favourite heroes, and they wenton to list the sporting heroes they would most like to read about, such asRonaldinio, Freddy Flintoff, Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee, Mohammad Ali andRivaldo.Fact or fiction?• Well over half of the boys said that they preferred fiction to books based onfact. “They stretch your imagination” said one boy.• One boy said he liked both equally, as “you can also learn from the past.”
  29. 29. • If choosing just one book from a library or bookshop, 12 said that they wouldchoose a fictional book, five chose fact and two chose books featuringrhymes.• If reading non-fiction, the majority preferred it to be told as a story rather thanchunks of facts.Choosing books• Most of the boys said they read the blurb on the back to help them choose books.• Sometimes it is on the recommendation of a friend.• The cover is also important.• Sometimes they have bought or borrowed a book because it was by an authorthey knew, but less often.Covers• The vast majority did not like the cover of Letter from America.• This shows a pensive-looking young teenage boy writing.• Comments included “it’s boring”, “he looks bored” and “there’s no realbackground”.• Only two or three liked it, one saying “I like it because it’s realistic”.• “I like the flags”.• “I like the way the American flag is in the writing”.• Only four of the 20 said they liked photos on the front cover, the rest preferringillustrations.• “You can create emotion better in a drawing of a person”.• One boy suggested computer generated graphics made for a more stylish cover,and the others agreed.• Almost all preferred the covers of Respect! and The Beast.Michaela then showed them the possible cover for the second in the series of Letterfrom America – this is called Buddies and features a photograph of a smiling girlwriting in a note pad. Interestingly, they were more positive about this cover thanthat showing the photograph of the boy, because:• “She’s pretty!” (All agreed).• “You can see what she’s writing”.• “She’s smiling – there’s more emotion”.• “It makes a nice set with the other one”.However, they also all agreed that they would be unlikely to buy or borrow it as it lookstoo girlish. Comments included:• “I wouldn’t buy it”• If I found it on the floor in the library I’d put it on the shelves with the girls’ booksas I’d assume it was for them.”• “It would be better to have two people on the cover – the boy and the girl”.
  30. 30. • “There’s no background”.• “If I was separated from someone I cared about I wouldn’t be smiling like that”.• “It’s too similar to the one before”.• 9 of the 20 said they would not even read it because it was too girly.Their ideas for improvement included:• “You should be able to see the room she’s in”.• “It definitely should have a proper background”.• “A split screen so you can see both the boy in one country and the girl in theother would be good”. (Many agreed).• “You could give her a thought bubble so she is thinking about him.”• “You could have a ripped piece of paper with them trying to reach each otherthrough it”.• “Hands writing diary entries or writing on the computer keyboard”.• “A split down the middle so you can seeboth the boy and girl”.• “Each one writing with a flag over theirheads”.• “A door between them and they are bothwanting to get through it”.• “Who are they?”• “Just change it!”Paper and fontThe boys looked at the paper type in Respect!• All except one agreed that they liked the cream paper and found it easier to readthan white paper.• One said he would prefer a “louder colour”.• Several said they liked the font and the others agreed.The workshop then ended with a group photograph and autograph-signing. Michaelaand Alex encouraged the boys to consider becoming consultants for Barrington Stokeand reviewers for Booktrust/Bookmark.Michaela drew the workshop towards a close by reading to the boys from Respect! Withmany following the story themselves in their own copy of the book.Michaela Morgan said of the day:“Year 8 reluctant readers can be a challenge... Especially when there are twenty ofthem - for a two hour session. A collection of dyspraxic, dyslexic, disengaged,attention deficit disorder students. All boys. But we all enjoyed the session. Ienjoyed talking with them, and they enjoyed being consulted, having theiropinions on books and reading taken seriously and noted down. They were full ofgood ideas and they listened wonderfully well – to me and to eachother…Apparently, they don’t often get the chance to have a whole story read to
  31. 31. them and they were captivated. I am sure they now feel a greater connection tobooks and the world of books.”5.7 Adam Guillain, Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre:This final workshop of the series was held, very appropriately, at the Roald DahlMuseum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. It session involved16 Year 8 mainstream students from a local school, all with no obvious experience ofdisability and all with no preparation, so coming to the subject cold.The session was run by the Museums Writer in Residence (Adam Guillain) and theproject manager. The group started by brainstorming the term disability. Many of thesuggested definitions suggested a lack of confidence/familiarity with the subject:“It means someone has a serious defect in one area.”“A person who is handicapped either mentally or physically.”“Unable to do things, struggling with work, hard to do sport.”“Physically and mentally challenged.”All agreed that trying to express what it is to be disabled was much harder than theywould have anticipated.The workshop then moved on to discussing the extent to which disability is a ‘black andwhite’ issue, or whether it is more of a spectrum or continuum. Having thought that theyhad no awareness of disability, many of the students started to talk about family/friendswith different challenges such as Autism/ADHD and some even talked about their ownproblems with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.
  32. 32. The workshop then moved on to introducing the social model of disability and adiscussion about disabled characters in books, with Adam giving the students a series ofdiscussion questions and statements to debate in groups.For example, the groups were asked to consider the statement: Readers will notaccept disabled heroes or heroinesMost of the children rejected this idea. Their comments included:“I would be more interested in reading a book about someone who was disabled.”“It would make the character more interesting and different – mostly they are justthe same.”Another statement was: People are more likely to accept a disabled villain.The views on this were mixed, with many analyzing why it might be easier to make thevillain disabled than the hero. Their responses included:“A disabled character can be seen as seeking revenge in a book.”“The hero is seen as being perfect and so the villains have to be the opposite”.“The writers perhaps don’t want us to relate to the villains so they use someonedifferent – someone in a minority.”After a lunchtime exploring the Museum, they then developed their own characters,each complete with backgrounds, motivations, etc., an illustration and plot ideas.
  33. 33. Each involved disability in some way. Their ideas were diverse and thoughtful -including conditions such as Autism and Epilepsy.The students were also asked what their final comments were of the day. Theirresponses included:“Today has changed my view about disability because I now see anyone can havea disability from not being good at maths to being in a wheelchair.”“Disabled people should be included in more books and films! They are just likeany other person, but they have a difficulty in certain things. Disabled people doread books and must feel very left out.”“Today has changed my views. I used to think I would never be disabled and thatdisabled people were different from me. Now I could say I’m disabled myself asI’m not confident in drama. I could be more disabled in the future, I could get anallergy or have to have a leg amputated. We are all the same really.”Adam Guillain himself also felt inspired by the day and described plans to share thefindings with writers in the Oxford area and to use the learning points to shape some ofhis forthcoming writing. He commented:"I came into the workshop feeling anxious and rather embarrassed that Id alwaysgiven the issues we were about to work through a wide berth. I ended the dayinspired."
  34. 34. 6 Additional messages from other schools, individuals,writers and publishers6.1 Other schools and individualsIn addition to the workshops, a mailing to every UK school generated an extremely goodresponse, with many teachers sending back their students’ comments, ideas, picturesand writing.Particularly note-worthy examples include:Year 9 students from a London based school who worked with their local libraryto take on this as a project, exploring how books feature disability. The childrenchose favourite illustrators and created artwork in their style, but featuringcharacters on crutches, characters in wheelchairs, blind characters andcharacters with hearing aids. For example:In the style of Lauren Child
  35. 35. In the style of Debi GiloriAnother school which has a childrens book group which meet every month.Following our mailing, they felt it would be interesting to discuss this issue.The children were asked if they could name a disabled character in anybook. Most named the series Tracy Beaker but could not name thecharacter.Another school held a book group on the subject and fed back the followingviews:“The students concluded that it is equally important for both non-disabled anddisabled children to see disabled characters in books. As many of children knowa disabled person either through school or home life they had strong views onthis subject. They felt by including disabled characters in books would raiseawareness of the experiences of disabled people, because they were disabled didnot mean they did not lead interesting lives. They also felt it was important forillustrators to draw disabled characters in everyday situations. Thank you for thistheme. This was a very interesting and stimulating meeting”.Another school, a small one in Lancashire with no disabled students, also choseto explore the subject. They have just 46 students and two classes, juniors andinfants. They have no disabled students at present but did have a pupil in thepast who was in a wheelchair then crutches due to a serious broken leg, so feltthat the children had some experience of this disability. Following the mailingabout the Quentin Blake Award seeking their views, they spent a lessondiscussing the themes of disability in books, reading a few stories with disabledcharacters in and came up with the following views:"You need to have more books with disabled characters in to promote betterunderstanding"
  36. 36. "...books or cartoons or telly programmes with disabled characters inhelps non-disabled people to be more aware"ve something to overcome"It doesnt matter if someone is in a wheelchair, its the person who iss, it would have feltood to be able to relate to it”We certainly got a lot of discussion from it and enjoyed hearing the children talkm writers, illustrators and publisherseye-opening."It is important for disabled people to feel part of a normal communityand see themselves in characters""Having characters with any form of disability in a book gives the storysome depth as it shows that they ha"The characters disability shouldnt be an issue to the story!""important and this should be the same in books""When I was on crutches it was hard and if I read a book with acharacter in who had to overcome similar problemgWhist their teacher told us:”so openly about it.”.2 Feedback fro6This project has also generated some feedback from children’s publishers, writers andillustrators on the subject. Views here have been equally interesting andAlmost all concerned have expressed interested in the project and welcome thechildren’s views and specific ideas for how to approach this issues.Only a small minority gave negative feedback, for example, one publisher statingthat there would be ‘no demand for such books’.Some publishers, whilst agreeing with the general principle, expressed concernthat a book featuring a wheelchair user (for example) would be seen as trying to“make a point” or be “too politically correct”.view and ideas/proofs forcomments.Writers and illustrators have been extremely interested in the work, with manysending the project manager their books for resMany writers and illustrators stated that they had quite simply not thought of thibefore.
  37. 37. One writer told us that he would have felt ‘self-conscious’ trying to include adisabled character, as though he was ‘trying too hard to tick every box’.Others felt that they felt that they did not have the knowledge or expertise to‘tackle’ the subject.Several writers and illustrators said that they tended to use animals in books,opposed to human chasaracters, and therefore this subject would not be relevant.One even suggested that one of the chief reasons for using animal protagonistswas to avoid concerns about ‘such issues’.nowledge of disability issues. Onewriter told us: "I came into the workshop fHowever, involvement in the project reassured them that there are many ways ofincluding positive images without extensive keeling anxious and ratherembarrassed that Id always given the issues we were about to workthrough a wide berth. I ended the day inspired."ortedthe6. Cof use and interest tod now action needs totaken to enable the book world to respond promptly and appropriately to this need.Almost all the writers and artists who took part in the project have since repback plans to develop books including some of the messages generated inworkshops.onclusion and Plans for the FutureThe project has clearly generated a substantial level of materialhe children’s book world. The messages are loud and clear, antbeThis should include:Practical support and guidance for the book world. A key development is thatof Scope’s “PuLottery funded scheme will raise furthertting Disabled Children in the Picture” project. This three-year,awareness of this important topic andprovide practical tools to support writers, illustrators and publishers in generatingmore positive images in picture books. An online ‘picture bank’ will provideexamples of good practice and a conference will share key messages.s.Facilitation and promotion. Booktrust and the Project Manager hope tocontinue to help and advise writers, illustrators and publishers and to ensureappropriate review and recognition of books that promote positive imageFurther consultation with children. Booktrust is now working to identify meaof continuing to consult and involve children in the positive representation ofdisability in children’s books.nsStarting young. Booktrust is working to still further enhance its Bookstart packand associated materials, to ensure the most positive messages continue to bsourced and included.e
  38. 38. Signposting to additional sources of expertise. Booktrust now plans to furthedevelop its “Bookmark” site (which provides support, information, reviews andsignposting on the subjrect of books and disability).Thi ewoulds r port ends with some of the final messages from children, when asked what theylike to say to writers, illustrators and publishers:“We are still children, but with a hearing impairment”ks and learn people toare”I think it would be better to have more disabled children because the onlyGo to a disabled school and find out about the people there, and if you areroubles and publish their story.”r“Don’t make us feel different.”“Include others so they can have their moment”“It would be good to put more disabled children in booc“book I can think of is Tracy Beaker”“still uncomfortable writing about this subject, then ask a teenager or adultwho is disabled to wrote about their t“If you don’t write about disabled people then you are missing out on a majopart of reality. People want to know about this and want to read about italso.”“Through this project, hopefully in years to come you’ll see more media onthe market involving more disabled people.”“
  39. 39. References and further reading:The Roald Dahl FoundationThe Roald Dahl Foundation is a grant making trust which aims to helpchildren and young people in practical ways and in three areas that wereparticularly important to Roald Dahl during his lifetime: neurology,haematology and literacy.www.roalddahlfoundation.orgThe Quentin Blake AwardThe Quentin Blake Award, now in its fifth year, is made annually to acharity, supported by the Foundation during the previous calendar year,which Quentin Blake, our president, feels touches the lives of children in aspecial way. The Award is made to an organisation selected by Quentin whichhe feels has special merit and would benefit from additional support for anew project. The Foundation sees the grant as an annual reminder of theimportance of Quentins contribution to the Foundation and support to aparticular organisation as a means of providing additional help in a verypractical way by enabling them to undertake a piece of work which would nototherwise have been possible. The 2003 Award was presented in September 2004 toBooktrust recognising the success of their Booktouch project.BooktrustBooktrust is an independent national charity that encourages people of all ages andcultures to discover and enjoy reading. The reader is at the heart of everything thecharity does. Its many projects, prizes and activities include Bookstart, WritingTogether, the Booktrust Teenage Prize and Bookmark (books and disability issues).Alexandra Strick is the freelance project manager and consultant responsible formanaging this project for Booktrust. She has worked for/with Booktrust for over tenyears and has worked with disabled children and disability organisations for over fiveyears. The photographs in this report were also taken by Alexandra Strick.www.bookmark.org.uk – the resource on books and disability issueswww.booktrust.org.uk – Booktrust’s comprehensive book website.Scope and In the PictureScope is the disability organisation in England and Wales whose focus is people withcerebral palsy. Their aim is that disabled people achieve equality: a society in whichthey are as valued and have the same human and civil rights as everyone else. In The
  40. 40. Picture is an innovative three year project which aims to promote the inclusion ofdisabled children in early years picture books. Booktrust is an active supporter of theproject and Alexandra Strick is a member of the project’s steering group.www.childreninthepicture.org.ukOther useful sources of referenceHappy Ever Afters – a storybook guide to teaching children about disability byKathy Saunders (http://web.ukonline.co.uk/happyeverafters/)Healthybooks.org.uk‘Of Both Worlds’ - Images of Disability in Fairy Tales – an essay by Jackie Gay,contact alex@strick.co.uk for details.

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