Reading the Way 2
Outside In World (OIW), the UK organisation promoting, exploring and celebrating books from around the world, has recently undertaken ‘Reading the Way 2’ (RtW2), an innovative workshop project supported by the Arts Council of England and the Unwin Charitable Trust.
RtW2 involved working with a range of schools, artists and translators to explore a selection of inclusive and accessible books from around the world and give children a real voice.
UK and International artists involved in the RtW2 project included illustrator Jane Ray, and authors Julia Donaldson and Susie Day; Italian author Rosa Tiziana Bruno and Austrian author Franz-Joseph Huainigg; translators Daniel Hahn and Denise Muir and book creator and publisher Annie Kubler.
The workshop projects took place in five schools and one university (with students of children’s literature and translation) and students included deaf children, visually impaired students and children with communication difficulties. The workshops looked at ideas such as what makes the books identified by OIW particularly ‘inclusive’ and/or ‘accessible’ and how they might be improved or enhanced, particularly for UK audiences.
During RtW2, children were given the opportunity to explore deaf characters and how they are portrayed in books by Rosa Tiziana Bruno and leading UK author Julia Donaldson. Working with visually impaired students, book creator and publisher Annie Kubler of Child’s Play Books explored how a touch and feel book might truly represent the needs and interests of visually impaired children. Illustrator Jane Ray worked with children to identify ways in which a picture book could be made more accessible to children with different needs, particularly those with communication difficulties.
Key to RtW2 was that participants knew their input could have a genuine impact on ‘real’ children’s books, both those translated from other countries but also books which might be written or published in the future. Evidence from the schools involved showed participants felt empowered and their opinions/experiences respected and valued as a result of the project.
RtW2 generated unique material for the children’s book publishing sector by collecting valuable data and feedback from both disabled children and non-disabled children, and in mainstream settings and special school settings. Such material will help improve authentic inclusion and accessibility across the children’s book landscape and the chances of books from non-UK countries being accepted by UK publishers.
Discussing disability through the medium of children’s literature offers a valuable way to address issues of equality, respecting differences and developing empathy. This is a much-needed area of activity, yet in the PSHE curriculum there is only one line that refers to disability. Schools were able to use the books to develop whole-school plans for improving disability awareness.
The project identified the value of translating and publishing books with an inclusive message from other countries, as a way of enriching the UK landscape. It helped university students explore new questions that they might not previously have considered, such as whether some images of disability might reinforce stereotypes or some language stigmatise and the extent to which it is the role of the translator to censor, dilute or soften content for the target culture.
Commenting on RtW2, consultant Alexandra Strick of Outside in World comments:
“The project proved there is a great need for a more diverse variety of approaches to including disability in stories and pictures. The project highlighted the need for books that ‘usualise’ disability as opposed to either problemising or glamourising it as well as ones that empower disabled characters and show disabled characters as equals. We also identified that books should not shy away from the challenges that can be faced by disabled people.
It is vital that we see children in special schools being awarded access to a more expansive range of accessible mainstream books in as many formats as well as the inclusion of braille, British Sign Language and communication symbols within the mainstream book landscape.
The need to avoid stereotyping was very clear. Many of the most convincing depictions of disabled people identified through this project were written from personal experience or after having clearly undertaken extensive research. We advise that book creators undertake appropriate levels of research and consultation to ensure convincingly depicted characters and authenticity. Books need to avoid sensationalising conditions such as autism or showing only extremes. The landscape must reflect a range of different ‘experiences’ of any condition, to ensure that readers see a spectrum of different views and experiences, as opposed to a ‘single story’.
We encourage UK publishers to consider some of the titles identified by this project for possible publication. By doing so, the UK book landscape could be enriched both in terms of increasing the number of books in translation but also the number recognising and including disabled children.”
For more information, go to Outside in World’s website.