Megan// As an aspiring children’s book illustrator, for my Pre Major Project, I knew that I would, of course, focus on children’s book illustrations. More specifically, however, I wanted to produce an inclusive children’s book.
High quality children’s books, which feature a character with a disability, are disappointingly few and far between. It seems that the vast majority of such children’s books are rife with stereotypes, loaded language, dull storylines and generally only aim to pass on information to able-bodied children. Some examples are even downright insulting. (It is worth noting that ‘Seal Surfer’ by Michael Foreman is a truly excellent example of inclusivity in children’s books, however).
Furthermore, children’s books which feature a main character with a disability can often be found in the ‘issue book’ section of bookshops, next to subjects like illness and divorce. What message does this sent to both children with disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts?
It is my view that disability in characters should be as unremarkable as a character having red hair. It should certainly not be something that the story should hinge around, or even worse, act as a tool for an able bodied character to better themselves, and learn to be ‘accepting’.
My story follows a little girl called Ida, who has gotten lost in the woods. With her, can be seen Hope, a physical representation of her hope, who gets bigger and bigger, brighter and brighter, as they find their way home, with the help of some forest creatures.
Ida has a physical disability and uses a walking frame. However, as to what the disability actually is, is left quite open for children to interpret in their own way. I have tried to ensure that no unnecessary attention is drawn to Ida’s disability, and it is not mentioned in the text, nor is it regarded as the ‘problem’ of the story (as so many ‘inclusive’ texts do).
Of course, I understand why many authors and illustrators choose to avoid it; it can be a particularly sensitive subject. However, as Jane Ray aptly put it, “I think part of the problem, is that we are paralysed by the fear of causing offence, of somehow making it worse. But what could possibly be worse for a child than not being included, being ignored, having your very existence denied?”.
However, hopefully with increased exposure, the presence of disability in children’s books will become quite unremarkable.
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