Ben Andrews author of Better Places Picture Books published by Tiny Tree Children’s Books
Books help us feel a sense of belonging. A belonging to a writing or reading community, through stories we can relate to or characters we identify with. Children’s literature is no exception and likely more significant in this regard, with books read at any early age shaping perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world around us, supporting us to feel like we belong and how we welcome others to. But, as important as this is, finding belonging through books isn’t easy for everyone.
For many disabled people, books, at all levels, don’t always support a sense of belonging. In the industry itself, despite making up 20% of the UK’s population, only 8% of the publishing workforce consider themselves disabled. This results in a lack of familiarity and relatability from publishers in the stories of disabled authors and writers, reflected in most books about disabled people being written by non-disabled people. A lack of true lived experience has led to the over saturation of negative tropes surrounding disabled people in literature. Stories which centre around using disabled people as sources of inspiration, pity or to be cured to name a few. And even when disabled people are written about, it’s not nearly enough, with only 3.4% of children’s books published in 2019 including a disabled main character.
All of this contributes to a sense of lack of belonging for disabled people with this feeling often informing, being informed by, and translated into the real world.
For the past 12-years, I’ve worked to reduce the sense of unbelonging, and exclusion felt by disabled people. Whether this be through providing inclusion training to individuals to increase the knowledge in how to work with the disabled community, working with infrastructure and designs teams to make streets, parks, and green spaces more accessible or whole communities to make them more welcoming and inclusive places.
This work has almost exclusively been with adults but, as shared at the start of this blog, the earlier people are exposed to these messages the better, and that’s what I hope to achieve with my upcoming series of picture books, Better Places.
Better Places will be released late 2022, published by Tiny Tree Books, to offer children a light-hearted, fun, and interactive insight into the barriers disabled people face, with the opportunity for the reader to put them right.
My aspiration for Better Places is they’ll address several of the issues we’ve explored in this blog. I hope they’ll assure people there are opportunities for disabled authors to pursue their stories, and there are publishers out there looking to amplify the voices of disabled authors, writers, and illustrators – shout out to Tiny Tree, to reduce the disparity in this space. I hope the inclusion of disabled people as main characters reflecting real and authentic lives and experiences will help other disabled children find connection and relatability in their stories. And I hope Better Places will raise awareness of the barriers disabled people face in everyday life, empowering people to understand how to reduce them so that as well as people finding belonging in the books themselves, that this also translates into the real world.