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Disability & the Newbery

Review: The War that Saved My Life

Once again, a book featuring a protagonist with a disability received a Newbery Honor! This year I was especially excited both because I had reviewed the book for the Disability in Kidlit blog, and because it featured a girl with a clubfoot – one of my medical conditions!

Books were a powerful connection tool for me as a young girl with a bunch of medical stuff going on, in the pre-Internet, pre-support group world. I devoured anything remotely related to disability, hospitals, surgery, all that fun stuff. I’m so happy that these books are being written and getting traction from audiences and librarians. Need to find and read the other Schneider award winners now!

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Childhood “Favorites”: Medical Edition

 My parents are cleaning out the attic of their house, and I got an e-mail with this blast-from-the past: Mister Rogers medical books!

 

I still remember these books well. And that’s kind of sad. I think I took “working through past medical procedures” a bit too intently… we also found my favorite doctor’s kit. I donated a bunch of toys and dolls and books, but these I’m keeping.

I’m keeping them as much for what they represent than for anything else. These books represent my experiences growing up with doctors and hospitals and operations and casts and appointments followed by yet more appointments. They represent me trying to make sense of that reality, and the resources that were available to me do that. They represent the efforts of those around me to prepare and educate me about these experiences (apparently not only did I go on a “surgery tour” at the age of three, I actually asked questions of whoever was leading it. Precocious much?)

Certainly education about the impact of early childhood medical intervention has improved, and I’m sure there are more sophisticated preparation materials available to children and their parents now – but finding these books makes me grateful that at least something was available during my childhood.

This series was certainly well-read and well-loved.

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Disability in the ALA Youth Media Awards: Separate and Equal

Of course I was excited last week when the Schneider Family Book Awards which “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences” were announced at ALA Midwinter.

I’ve only read the middle-grade winner – Rain Reign by Ann M Martin (Babysitter’s Club author, in case you lived under a rock or had no elementary-school aged children in the 90s), but thought the story of a girl with autism learning to love and let go when she encounters a lost dog was wonderful. I’ve requested and ordered the other two for my library system.

What really made me (literally) squee, however, was that Cece Bell’s El Deafo was a Newberry Honor book. This funny and touching graphic novel explores what it is like to grow up wearing hearing aids and attending a mainstream school. I am so, so happy for this book that it was recognized.

I am especially happy, however, that it was recognized separate from the Schneider category – because while it is important to recognize marginalized groups and create recognition for works exploring them, the ultimate goal is to de-marginalize them and not have to limit “disability literature” to one category. It is great that the nominating committee saw fit to see beyond genre boundaries and pre-conceptions in this case.

I highly recommend reading through these books and the others that have won in past years.

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What if there aren’t “Ten little fingers and ten little toes”?

When I was choosing my books for storytime last week at the library (due to some staffing changes, I am now doing the occasional storytime! Slightly petrifying but satisfying when it goes well and toddlers and caregivers leave happy!) I found a classic on the shelves: The Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

The refrain of the book, told in rhyme, is

And both of these babies, as everyone knows,
had ten little fingers/and ten little toes.”

Upon re-reading this time, I was struck with the conundrum of… what in the world would I do if a child with a hand or foot animality came into this storytime? What rules do you follow when dealing with truly exceptional uncommon differences?

I do not have the hand anomalities sometimes associated with Moebius syndrome (although I do have rather crooked index fingers!), and clubfoot and residual issues from that, but I kind of thought about this the way I think about the colloquial use of smiling in our lexicon. If I got truly offended anytime something – a song, an advertisement, a common phrase – mentions smiling, I would truly spend my life offended.

And honestly, there aren’t statistically that many of us who cannot smile (or have “unique” smiles) that it makes sense that it doesn’t figure into the scope of thought. While it’s great to point it out, and helps awareness and understanding, I have also learned to take a deep breath and look holistically at these things. But children usually don’t have that perspective. I know I spent a few years very offended when people mentioned smiling, no matter how innocuous. The last thing you want to do is offend someone from a simple book.

So this takes us back to the seemingly innocuous children’s rhyme… What in the world do you do? “And both of these babies, as everyone knows, had ten little fingers/and ten little toes… except for the ones with hand and foot anomalities, who may not!?” I didn’t say that this time, but it made me pine for some great very basic books about children with disabilities. It’s tricky to find disability literature for children that isn’t too saccharine or implausible – the Schneider Family Book Awards are wonderful, but they tend to award picture books for older readers (as well as middle grades and young adult) I have a ton of resources for middle grades and even late elementary, but a storytime appropriate book about those babies who may not have ten little fingers and ten little toes would be magnificent.

Young children are so receptive to differences and are sponges… I would love to harness this openness for awareness of differences both big and small. So that is my resolve in a few weeks when I next do storytime, to search for good books about differences that will teach that even though babies might not all have ten little fingers and ten little toes, they are all equally loved and special.

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