Portraying disability in a positive light: helping children form their views

by Dr Rebecca Butler


Every two years IBBY selection panels in different countries invite publishers to nominate books for inclusion on a list. The list will include those books which are judged to make a contribution to the literature about disability. There are three categories for submission, namely books produced specifically for young people with disabilities (e.g. braille books or books for dyslexic children); books produced for the general audience which, because of their text and illustration, are accessible to children with disabilities; and, finally, books for the general audience that portray young people with disabilities.

The books may appeal to young disabled readers. Or they may more generally depict disabled characters in ways that help young readers, both disabled and non-disabled, to a better understanding of disability.  Sometimes disabled readers may be led by certain books to a more profound understanding of their own situation.

Some books are nominated because a member of the panel has already read them. In other cases the publisher is asked to submit copies. I have heard that in past years some publishers have been somewhat unenthusiastic about submission. This year I must say all the publishers responded with enthusiasm. Sometimes we even received books we hadn’t asked for, because the publisher thought them worthy of consideration. Books featuring disabled characters are becoming a mainstream interest in children’s literature. Some might say about time.

The United Kingdom panel consisted of Clive Barnes, Carol Thompson, Suzanne Curley and myself. I have been a fulltime wheelchair user all my life, so that work of this nature is a vital interest for me. The books nominated by this panel would be forwarded to Canada for consideration alongside those of other countries.

The workload associated with membership of the panel is far from trivial. I personally read some 41 books as part of my duties, and wrote a brief report on every single book, with my recommendation for or against its inclusion in the list. Although the demand on my time and attention was considerable, I considered it a privilege to be a member of the panel and hope to be included in future years.

In the end the UK panel recommended 23 books for consideration by our colleagues in Toronto. We hope some of our nominations will appear on the final list. It’s like hoping to win an Olympic medal.