Teen blogger Megan The Book Addicted Girl kicks off a day of celebrating disabilities diversity in children’s books – and calling for more.
About a year ago, I wrote a piece for this site asking where all the wheelchairs were in children’s fiction. And I’m still wondering – but not just about wheelchairs. Now I’m also wondering where are all the people with other so-called “disabilities” – blind or deaf protagonists, protagonists on a wider range of the autistic spectrum, or even just children who are “different” and have learnt to see and travel the world in a different way.
You see, I’m not the biggest fan of the word “disabled”. I don’t think not being able to walk or see or anything else classed as a disability makes you unable. You just… adapt – you become able in a different way. Maybe you learn to read with your fingers or hear by signing. Or like me, learn to walk using your arms – which sounds more impressive than it is! You see, I’m in a wheelchair and have been for years, thanks to a neurological condition that has left me unable to use, move or even feel my legs – but don’t ask me about the condition I have: even the doctors don’t really understand it!
However, being in a wheelchair, being disabled, doesn’t define me. I’m a blogger, a vlogger, a daughter, a friend, a reader, a total book addict, a crime show lover, a crafter, a student, a multi fandom girl who mostly goes by the name The Book Addicted Girl and… I’m in a wheelchair. It’s just part of what makes me me.
James Dawson once confessed to “slipping” LGBT characters into his books under the guise that the books were horrors and not “LGBT issue” books – and I want the same for disabled characters! I want them to be slipped in casually.
I want you guys to think a moment. I don’t care if you can walk with legs or arms, if you see with your eyes or by touch, if you hear with your ears or with signs, if you are autistic or have ADHD or even if you’re a robot alien from outer space. I just want you all to think really hard about how many disabled characters you can name off the top of your head. How many did you think of? Probably not that many, am I right?
I will admit that things have got better since my last article. There are some really awesome books now with disabled characters – written mostly by authors without disabilities, which is awesome: if women can write from a man’s perspective, why can’t the same rules stand about disability? (author Susie Day explains this so eloquently here).
For example, the goddess Jacqueline Wilson recently released Katy – her version of the classic What Katy Did – but with a much more realistic and satisfying ending! (And here’s a fabulous review of Katy written by teen site member Writer On Wheels).
Chris Bradford has not just released books featuring my fave ever disabled character (the badass wheelchair-using Charley from his Bodyguard series), but he also has a disabled character in every single one of his series! Chris, you are my hero!
Marcus Sedgwick has published She Is Not Invisible, featuring the blind character Laureth as she goes on a mission to find her father – and Nick Lake’s There Will Be Lies is a fantasy-realism mix about Shelby, who is deaf.
Leigh Bardugo, my fantasy queen, now has Kaz – Six of Crow’s criminal mastermind and raven-headed cane user (which he uses like a badass in a fight).
Marissa Meyer’s Lunar series has Cinder – a cyborg girl with a mechanical hand and foot. Neil Smith has written Boo – a story about a 13-year-old boy in t13-year-old heaven, a boy who, we assume, is on the autistic spectrum and makes friends with another dead kid, Esther, who has dwarfism.
Rick Riordan is king of disabled characters – Percy Jackson has ADHD and is dyslexic, Chiron uses a magical wheelchair when out in the world and Grover uses crutches, in the new Magnus Chase series Magnus has asthma and Hearth is deaf… Not bad, huh?
Mark Haddon published the phenomenal The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time – featuring a brilliant autistic character. Leah Thomas recently released a brilliant story of friendship (with some minor sci-fi elements) between two boys who can never meet in person – because Ollie is allergic to electricity and Moritz, who was also born without eyes, is kept alive by a pacemaker.
Wow, I’ve written a lot… um, sorry about that. I get a little over-excited when talking about books! And this is a subject that is obviously very close to my heart – because whilst things have improved, there still aren’t enough books like these out there!
Which is why I’ve decided to celebrate authors and books with brilliant disabled characters on my blog – although I am using the word “disabled” in a very broad sense. You won’t just find wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf or physically disabled characters here. I’ve also asked authors who’ve written books about autism and even various mental health issues to take part too. Characters and people like these are often seen as “less normal” or “abnormal”, a view I want to change. I want the stigma surrounding mental health issues to go just as much as I wish it wasn’t strange to have a character with wheels or a guide dog in a book.
I’ve also been looking at a really interesting project on books in translation via the Outside In World report, and here’s a gallery of some of the great books out there in languages other than English that should definitely be published in the UK! The report says “disability” is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference’. So maybe by having a more diverse range of characters in kids’ and YA books, society will change and walking or talking with your arms and hands won’t make you different or ‘disabled’ anymore. It’ll just make you… you.
And so… my Diverse Disabilities Celebration coming soon to my BookAddictedGirl blog. Check it out for some awesome interviews, guest posts and videos – get inspired and maybe start considering where all the disabled characters are. Oh, and tweet using #DiverseDisabilities if you know of any books or authors I’ve missed!
Join in: send your thoughts and book recommendations on disability in books on Twitter @GdnChildrensBks or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Guardian