Encouraging “children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own” is the main aim of World Book Day.
As part of its 22nd event it has also introduced a Reading is Power Manifesto created “for and by young people” – it highlights the benefits of 1. Growth, 2. Choice, 3. Power and 4. Knowledge and challenges you to add or write your own.
The explanation of point number one Growth: “When we find good books, we find ourselves” I find a particularly interesting one. What if you can’t find yourself?
Children’s authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo conducted bookcase experiment The Ugly Truth of Children’s Books highlighting under-representation of female characters. And last year the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) published their Reflecting Realities report a “study of ethnic representation in children’s literature” which found that only 4% of the children’s books published in the UK in 2017 featured BAME characters and only 1% had a BAME main character.
But what about children with disabilities, are they represented too? Oscar-winner Rachel Shenton and The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson are just two people who this year are calling for more diversity in this area too.
And, whilst many of us can probably name a few titles that feature a disabled character giving a chance for all to gain greater understanding and/or a “this is me” moment for those with the same condition, how many titles are there simply featuring the adventures of children where one or two just happen to have a disability rather than it being central to the narrative?
The illustrations in the early Bookstart books are one place to look but another local author who’s proved herself forward thinking is Lesley Berrington.
Following attending a course about the Disability Discrimination Act in 2004, the NNEB qualified former nurseries and kids’ clubs owner then began searching for story books featuring disability to use in her nurseries.
“It was very difficult to find any,” she writes. “The ones that I did find used the story to explain the disability, which was not what I wanted. I wanted the character with a disability to be part of the story, to introduce the disability to other children, but not draw attention to it. After some further research I decided to create my own books to meet the growing demand for inclusive resources.
“Hattie and friends was born in 2005 with the first title A Day at the Zoo on sale from January 2006.”
Since then another three titles have been added to the series and more than 8,000 books have been sold.
“Disability is part of everyday life and I believe children, from a young age, should see characters with disabilities in their story books,” says Berrington.
“Inclusion means accepting everyone and the differences we have, therefore the character’s disability should be entirely incidental, in my opinion. I didn’t want my characters to be special, have magic powers or appear different.
“If young children see positive images of disability and receive a consistent message of tolerance and acceptance I believe this would have many benefits to society. Unfortunately people with disabilities face daily struggles with disrespectful attitudes towards them. We can improve these attitudes, which have been developed over many years, be addressing how we present disability to our children.
“I regularly visit primary school to talk about my books and I don’t mention the disability aspect, intentionally, until the end. When I ask the children if they can see anything different about my characters they often can’t see any differences which is exactly the point!
“The important message is that all children can be friends and have fun, abilities are not important. All young children accept differences, their curiosity will raise questions and they develop attitudes from the answers they receive.
“We must show, through our attitudes and actions, that we value all children equally.”
Hattie and friends are celebrating World Book Day this year by showing off their newly released second editions which have an improved layout aiming to be even more inclusive – the text is now on a separate page to the illustration so it is very clear and easy to read for everyone.
Usually priced at £6.99 each or £24 for the set of four, to celebrate their new editions the set of four is available for £20 throughout March. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about ordering.
Click here to find out more about World Book Day or here to find out more about Hattie and Friends.