When we talk about social justice, one of the most often overlooked populations are people with disabilities. The 2014 Disability Status Report for the United States from Cornell University reported that, “In 2014, the overall percentage (prevalence rate) of people with a disability of all ages in the US was 12.6 percent.” The National Health Institute of Mental Health reported in 2015, “Fully 20 percent—1 in 5—of children ages 13-18 currently have and/or previously had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.” These percentages are not reflected in publishing trends.
Representation of any marginalized groups accurately and sympathetically can remove some of the prejudice surrounding them, so including books and media with these characters in our collections is essential. Everyone deserves to see their experiences reflected, as well as studies have shown that reading literary fiction improves empathy. People with disabilities experience some of the highest rates of discrimination and microaggressions. Intersect being disabled with also being a person of color, First/Native Nations, LGBTQ, and/or female and the transgressions can increase. Activist and Vlogger Annie Elainey discusses here in a video Why is Disability Representation So White? #DisabilityTooWhite the many issues that people are experiencing because of lack of representation. (Also, be sure to check out her sources.)
Accurate representation can be a tricky thing, especially if it is not a story or experience that is being written by a person with a similar disability. In January, Lee & Low Books reported results of a 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey about the social makeup of the publishing and book reviewing in North America. In the industry overall, 92% identified as nondisabled, so we can assess that a good portion of the writing, editing, and reviewing books with disabled characters are being done by nondisabled folks. Alaina Leary wrote a great piece for The Establishment titled Why The Publishing Industry Can’t Get Disability Right that is also a must read.
I have watched and loved NCIS from the show’s beginning in 2003, and my favorite character has always been Abby Sciuto. She’s smart and funny and not afraid to be herself, even if “herself” isn’t what people expect when meeting a computer and science expert. Someone as accomplished and confident as Abby surely has developed her own taste in reading, but if she were to ask me for book recommendations, this is what I’d offer her:
The Martian by Andy Weir (2015 Alex Award) is a science-packed story about a failed Mars mission. Abby would understand the science behind Mark’s attempts to get himself back to Earth, and she might even have some other suggestions for things he could try in order to survive on the red planet.
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby (2008 Schneider Family Book Award) chronicles the life of Joey, a 13-year old who is missing out on a lot of things because she is deaf and her mother will not let her learn sign language. She meets a man who is teaching a chimp to sign, and through them Joey is able to find her voice. Abby’s mother was deaf, so Abby and Gibbs occasionally communicate using sign language. That, and the science aspect of this story, would appeal to Abby.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson (2012 Stonewall Honor Book) follows Ava as she trades in her anti-establishment goth persona for a “good girl” look involving lots of pink. Ava finds it difficult to maintain her good-girl guise, though, just as Abby felt uncomfortable when [temporarily] forced to follow a strict dress code at work.
3:59 by Gretchen McNeil features a science whiz named Josie who gets trapped in an alternate universe and has to use her knowledge of physics to return to Earth. The complex science discussed in this book, along with the paranormal/mystery aspect, would definitely appeal to Abby.
Last month I wrote about canines in YA literature. This month I want to give equal time to the felines. Firstly because I had the joy of growing up in a household of cats. Secondly, there are dastardly cat gangs out there which watch our every move, and I don’t want to get on their bad side. Or so goes the familiar negative image of cats in some popular lore. However, anyone who has actually shared their life with cats knows that this is not at all the reality. Each cat, like each dog, has its own characteristics, whether affectionate or independent, forgiving or wary. With that in mind, in the following list I’ve tried to include fiction titles which I feel are well-suited to teens and which include feline characters in a variety of roles and with a variety of personalities.
Blacksad (Blacksad series) by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido
The Spanish Canales and Guarnido originally created their Eisner Award-winning detective noir graphic novel series for French readers, but the setting is early 1950s U.S. This first volume collects the first three issues, which include a murder mystery and stories concerning the effects of white supremacy on individuals and the Red Scare. Private Investigator John Blacksad is an unforgettable feline. Lucia Cedeira Serantes, in her summer 2005 Young Adult Library Services article “¿Es un Pájaro? ¿Es un Avión?.…Spanish Comics for American Libraries” mentions two of the issues in this volume as being among the best in graphic novels and comics from Spain. (Adult Graphic Novel)
Book of Night with Moon (Feline Wizards trilogy) by Diane Duane
This is the first novel in a series which combines science fantasy, adventure, horror and even humor. There is a secret civilization of cats in Manhattan complete with its own language, a glossary of which is included in the novel. When the world is threatened with invasion by monsters from the “Downside”, four cats – Rhiow, Saash, Urruah and Arhu — seek out the wizard responsible for the dire situation. The cats make interesting observations about the differences between human and feline culture. (Adult Fiction) Continue reading For the Love of Cats: Felines in YA Fiction
Last week at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced. This list includes a wide range of types of media, ranging from the Andrew Carnegie Medal for “outstanding video productions for children” to the Alex Awards for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” You can find the full list of YA Awards in The Hub’s earlier post, but today I want to take a look at one specific award, the Schneider Family Book Award. This award “honor[s] an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Up to three awards are given each year: one for a children’s book, one for a middle grade book, and one for a young adult book. This year, Girls Like Us by Gail Giles won the teen book award. Continue reading Schneider Family Book Award Winner: Girls Like Us
Last week at ALA Midwinter, the 2014 ALA Youth Media Awards were announced (if you missed the ceremony, you can still watch it online). The Youth Media Awards encompass many different prizes recognizing media created for children and young adults, including the Schneider Family Book Award, which was established by Dr. Katherine Schneider and â€œhonors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.â€ This year, in addition to being named one of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults top ten titles, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein is the the Schneider Family Book Award’s teen award winner.