Representation Matters

Being a professor of education for over a decade, I have read lots of children’s books. Over the past five years, I have focused my reading on children’s books representing people with disabilities, and you might be shocked at what I found or maybe not…

  1. You can find many picture books about disabilities, but few picture books where the main character has an exceptionality.
  2. You can find the sports stories of athletes who play traditional sports, but you cannot find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports. 
  3. You can find lots of pirate picture books featuring amputees holding weapons or bottles, but you cannot find books about going back to school that include children with limb differences. 
Pirate Pete by Kim Kennedy

When I reflect on what I can and cannot find for young readers, I wonder what messages they are getting from the books that do and do not appear on our shelves. Are these the messages we intended?

  1. You can talk about disabilities, but you can’t talk with people who have exceptionalities.
  2. You can hear the sports stories of traditional athletes, but the triumph of athletes who play adaptive sports are not as valuable. 
  3. You can read about amputees as villains, but they shouldn’t be included in your classroom.

Fortunately, there is a growing representation of people with exceptionalities in the media. You can see a young boy in a wheelchair on a poster at Target. In my Athleta catalog, a young girl who is an amputee is running across the page. So now, I simply wonder when children’s literature will catch up and include everyone on the shelf. 

Oliver Garza Pena gets that representation matters. Photo Credit: Ollie’s World Facebook Page

Until then, I will blog, teach, and present the sports stories of athletes who redefine ability and believe in the possible because I know representation matters. Don’t believe me. After a group of third graders, heard my son, Ian, and I share the sports story of wheelchair rugby champion, Nick Springer, and they asked to write him letters.

Nick Springer, two-time wheelchair rugby Paralympian. Photo Credit: Christopher Griffith for Vanity Fair

Dear Nick,

“You showed me that anything is possible. You showed me that there are no limits to what I can do.” -Sierra

“I think you are brave and I know you are strong.” -Olivia

“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do and what you can.” -Emerson

“Everyone loved how you persevered.” -Grace

“I think you are brave like a superhero. I like the way you do wheelchair rugby.” -Ahmed

“I bet you liked crashing, slamming, banging, and helping your team. I think it would be fun to play wheelchair rugby.” -Logan

“It felt good telling your story to the class. I was proud of you and Mom and me. It also felt good to talk about someone else who has a disability like me. The best part was doing it with Mom. Love, Ian”

I told you REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Ian representing his story at Shriner’s Hospital. Photo Credit: Shriner’s Hospital

Summer Reading Challenge

Caitlin reading while camping by the ocean in Maine. Photo Credit: Proud Book Mom

I just love talking with kids about books and helping them find the right book to read. It can open up a whole new world to them. Now with summer here, I’ve gotten some requests for summer reading lists for Team Possible families. So, I thought I would share ten goals that I have for my family and resources to support reaching them. I hope you and your family will find these reading goals and books lists helpful. Let me know if you do and what goals you accomplish. And, if you have a book to add to these lists, please share it with me.

Goal #1: To read a book with a main character who is differently abled.

Young Readers- Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Middle Readers- Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusty Bowling

Older & Parent Readers- The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Other Book Lists- Schneider Family Book Award & Books Section of Team Possible Blog

Goal #2: To read a book with a main character from a culture different than my own.

This year our family will focus on Malala Yousafzai and her courage to create change for girls in her community and around the world.

Photo Credit: Kid World Citizen

Young Readers- Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Middle Readers- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader’s Edition by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Older & Parent Readers- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Other Book Lists- Coretta Scott King Awards Book List, Pura Belpre Award Book List, South Asia Book Award Book List, American Indian Library Association Book Award List , Children’s Book Council Diverse Kids & YA Lit Book Lists

Goal #3: To read a book with interesting facts about my world.

Yes, my kids and I love to snuggle up at bedtime and travel the world by reading a world atlas. It is so fun to learn about different countries and the language, economy, landscape and more. Give it a try. No packing or tickets required for this trip.

Ian getting ready for a trip. Proud Book Mom

Young Readers- National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas

Middle Readers- National Geographic Kids World Atlas

Older & Parent Readers- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We Are Wrong About the World by Hans Rosling

Goal #4: To read a book about an issue that is important to me.

Starting a new job at a all women’s undergraduate university, I felt compelled to learn more about women’s issues and empowerment. The books listed here have helped me, my students, and my daughter thrive. They have also helped me find ways to talk with my husband and sons about gender equity issues. I encourage you to follow your passion and share it with your family.

Caitlin with her “People Working” sign. Photo Credit: Proud Feminist Mom

Young Readers- I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong

Middle Readers- Confidence Code for Girls by Katy Kay & Claire Shipman

Older & Parent Readers- Confidence Code by Katy Kay & Claire Shipman

Mom Readers-  A Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates (A MUST READ!)

Other Book Lists-  A Mighty Girl  website

Goal #5: To read a book by a local author.

Living in New England, we are surrounded by many amazing local authors. We have children’s literature icons like Eric Carle and Jane Yolen. We also have rising authors like Jarrett Krosoczka who is breaking new ground. He is the focus of my local author list.

Ian with his favorite author, Jarrett Krosockza, during a school visit. Photo Credit: Ian’s School Principal

Young Readers- Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett Krosoczka

Middle Readers- Lunch Lady Series by Jarrett Krosoczka

Older & Parent Readers- Hey, Kiddo! By Jarrett Krosoczka

Other Book Lists- SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Book List

Goal #6: To read a book with a main character who learns differently than me.

Young Readers- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

Middle Readers- Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt or Rules by Cynthia Lord

Older & Parent Readers- Focused by Alyson Gerber

Other Book Lists- Schneider Family Book Award

Goal #7: To read a non-fiction graphic novel about women in science, a historical event that is surprising, or one that simply interests me.

Young Readers- I Am Jane Goodall (Ordinary People Change the World)  by Brad Meltzer (Note: More of a hybrid text with word bubbles than a graphic novel)

Middle Readers- Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty

Older & Parent Readers-Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani

Other Book Lists- Albris Best Selling Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

Goal #8: To read a book written in verse.

Young Readers- Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg

Middle Readers- Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Older & Parent Readers- Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Other Resource: Listen and watch children’s poets read their own work at No Water River: A Children’s Poetry Place

Goal #9: To read a book that has won an award or was recommended by a friend.

(Most books on this list are award-winning, and I hope you count me as a friend. Hence, this goal should be easy to achieve.)

Goal #10: To share a book that I read with a friend because reading connects us.

Now, go set some goals, read, and keep believing in the possible!

Ian’s Reading Goal Photo Credit: Proud Book Mom