Highlights of the Three Categories of Books in the Collection

Specialized Formats, Universal Access and Portrayals of Disability — Leigh Turina

Every two years IBBY national sections are asked to submit their best examples of books for and about young people with disabilities. We asked Leigh Turina, Lead Librarian, to tell us more about the categories of books within the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities and highlight some of her favourites.

Category 1: Specialized Formats.

Books using different systems and designs can help to make reading accessible to everyone. These specialized formats include Braille, sign language and non-verbal communication systems.

Frank, Anne (original text). Coop. Accaparlante Assoc. Arca-Comunita L’Arcobaleneo onlus (adapted text). Il Diario di Anna Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank) Molfetta, Bari, Italy: Ed. La meridiana 2017. ISBN 978-88-615-3632-8

Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) give readers the opportunity to read a book by graphic symbols and simplified text. The IBBY Collection has some fine examples, but I was astounded by the submission we received for 2019.

A cooperative in Bologna, which included young people with intellectual disabilities, had abridged The Diary of Anne Frank into 20 diary entries, adapting her words into easy-to-read text and symbols. Since then, they have published an adaptation of Dracula; their work emphasizes the importance of passing literature and stories to everyone at an age-appropriate intellectual level.

Volunteers from Fukinoto Bunko, Nuno Group (design and tactile adaptation) Mushi (Insects) Sapporo, Japan: Fukinoto Bunko, 2003. No ISBN.

Our most popular books are the tactile ones, appealing to all readers, irrespective of limitations or abilities. Everyone wants to touch and explore them, particularly those made of fabric. Many assume that tactile books are designed for children with vision loss, though they are often not textured with enough contrast for such readers. However, for those young people who need additional reasons to engage with the book or increased reinforcement of the narrative, a tactile book fills that need.

A most creative submission was submitted in 2015 from Japan. Mushi is made of circular felt pages which show 3D insects, such as a grasshopper, butterfly and bee, hiding in pockets and zippered compartments. My favourite is a fat spider, attached to the top of a web wound from string and buttons. Unsnap the spider and you can discover how to create a web. This book was lovingly designed and created by a group of volunteer women for children who have vision loss, intellectual or learning disabilities.

Category 2: Universal Access.

The books in this section are from the mainstream production. They are understandable to all individuals, in particular to young people with learning, intellectual or developmental disabilities.

This category is particularly hard for people to understand and perhaps should be included as a specialized format. Young people with learning differences, intellectual and developmental disabilities, or secondary language acquisition, need books which are easy to read and understand. What they do not need are books created for preschoolers.

Gibert, Bruno (text and illustrations) Une feuille, un arbre (A leaf, a tree) Paris, France: Albin Michel Jeunesse, 2014. ISBN 978-2-226-25084-1

Un feuille, un arbre is based on the mathematical theory of fractals (e.g., the small is a part of the whole, such as a leaf is a part of a tree). For those of us who are mathematically challenged, this exquisite example reveals relationships in a comprehensible enjoyable way. A flame, a fire; a stone, a mountain; a puddle, a lake – all ideas which most of us have not considered, even though they are elemental ones.

Frankel, Yael (text and illustrations) Un hueco (A hole) Buenos Aires, Argentina: Calibroscopio Ediciones, 2015. ISBN 978-987-3967-06-1

A hauntingly beautiful picture book about loss and grief. On the humanoid figures, the loss of a person or even a teddy bear is depicted with a large hole. We all have holes in our hearts. We are reassured that we can live with them and that is alright. Again, a sparse simple text which develops a wealth of emotions for readers of any level.

Category 3: Portrayals of Disability.

This section includes general books that depict people with disabilities in picture books, fiction and nonfiction titles.

This category is the one where we receive the most submissions in novel, picture book, and occasionally non-fiction format. I have so many favourites that it is hard to choose one’s favourite method of transport into the lives of the characters.

Readers wishing to follow the progression of disability as portrayed in children’s literature will want to read the more recent examples selected as outstanding in our IBBY catalogues. Moving beyond characters created as objects of pity, and those created to “inspire,” we are receiving books with realistic characters, living their lives and taking us along with them, whether they have disabilities or not. I, personally, want to be swept away by plots and people who draw me in, allowing me to imagine myself in their world, thinking what would I do? Or, why did he say that?

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker (text) The War that Saved My Life. New York, USA: Dial Books (Penguin), 2015. ISBN 978-0-8037-4081-5

We have all read books about the children sent out of London to safety in the English countryside during WWII. Their journeys and the situations where they end up are sometimes bad, but often good. With 10-year-old Ada, the reader is focused on the start of her journey. She is stuck in a flat, unable to go on the street or to school because her abusive mother is ashamed of Ada’s club foot and screams that she is simple also. Ada, too, feels this way but dares to flee with her brother on the train with the evacuees, where they end up with Susan, a practical but complex single woman. There are more obstacles to surmount, though the reader, while aware of Ada’s doubts and fears, is often surprised by her struggles forward. A satisfying read, honoured by the Schneider Family Award and a Newberry Honor Book.

Wirsén, Stina (text and illustrations) Nej! (No!) Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier Carlsen, 2015. ISBN 978-91-638-8420-7

One of the featured author/illustrators in the IBBY Exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library from November 16, 2019-January 26, 2020, Stina Wirsén has produced the first board book I have seen with a main character in a wheelchair. Unlike more recent preschool board books which throw into the illustrations an occasional child with visible disabilities, Nej! has a complete story highlighting the energetic Lucia, who plays the more active role as helper and problem solver for her friends.

The reader may wonder at her spiky hair. In a play on the traditional custom of choosing the most beautiful girl to wear candles on Saint Lucia Day, Stina has chosen a non-traditional symbol of beauty — a strong girl in a wheelchair.

Gusti (text and illustrations) Mallko y papá (Mallko and Dad) Barcelona/Mexico City, Spain/Mexico: Editorial Océano, 2014. ISBN 978-607-735-395-9

Receiving submissions from IBBY national sections for the biennial Outstanding Selections catalogue is a joyous event. It is like Christmas, opening these packages with the new books nestled inside, just waiting to be discovered.

Mallko y Papá was a beautiful adventure. An artist’s sketchbook, it documents graphically Gusti’s journey of learning that his son was born with Down syndrome. Did it matter that I could not read the smattering of text in Spanish? No. I could read his utter despair at the beginning and follow as he learned more about Mallko and began to love him as he was, and not what Gusti had hoped he would be. I could see the unconditional love as they created different animals or tried on punky hairstyles and hats, sang and drew together – because yes, Mallko’s drawings are included in his papa’s sketchbook also. With multimedia drawings on creamy paper, this journal has been translated into English by Enchanted Lion Books, who advertise it for 10- to 12-year-old children. Perhaps, but I believe it is for adults, who will better relate to this journey. If you get a chance to see Gusti online or in person, grab it. He is electric.

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