Interview with Alyson Beecher, 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Jury Chair

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While disability is regularly brought up in discussions of diversity in MG/YA, there aren’t many websites or organizations dedicated to it–which means we particularly appreciate the Schneider Family Book Award, an ALA award which highlights depictions of disability in children’s literature. We’ve been wanting to shake hands with them for a while, and this is the perfect time: while we’re celebrating our first anniversary, the Schneider is celebrating its tenth! They’ve organized a blog tour–with giveaway at the bottom of each post!–and invited us to host one of the posts.

Disability in Kidlit was excited to interview Alyson Beecher–Literacy specialist for the Pasadena Unified School District and Chair of the 2015 Schneider Book Award Jury–and talk a little bit about the Schneider …

Schneider Family Award Blog Tour

Disability in Kidlit: The Schneider Family Book Award “honor[s]an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Can you explain the judging process? 

Alyson: Every Schneider Family Book Award Jury’s (Jury) judging process is considered confidential so I am limited with what I can say.  What I will mention is that the Jury carefully considers every book that is submitted for consideration before making their final decision. Also, the Schneider Family Book Award manual (found on the webpage) provides the committee with the following input on the definition of a disability:

Dr. Schneider has intentionally allowed for a broad interpretation by her wording, the book ‘must portray some aspect of living with a disability, whether the disability is physical, mental, or emotional.’  This allows each committee to decide on the qualifications of particular titles.  Books with death as the main theme are generally disqualified.”

As a result, each jury takes this statement seriously and must determine how each book does or does not meet the criteria of the award.

Disability in Kidlit: Do you find your previous award winners trend more toward books with “incidentally” disabled characters, or toward books where disability (themes) play(s) a bigger role? Why do you think that is?

Alyson BeecherAlyson: This is interesting.  I would be curious in knowing how you determine “incidentally” disabled characters vs. disability themes?  Since the committee is limited to those books that are submitted for consideration, the jury is then also limited to what was published in a given year (books submitted must be published during the year of consideration).

Over the course of the past ten years, there has been an increase in the number of books featuring characters with a disability.  This has provided the jury with more books to consider, which is obviously a good thing.  Additionally, the spectrum of types of disabilities has grown beyond the more obvious disabilities (e.g., blindness, deafness, physical disabilities, autism to name a few), which is of course, another good thing.

Disability in Kidlit: When choosing winners, would you say the book’s literary merit and its portrayal of disability are equally important?

Alyson: Each year, the Jury is tasked with finding books that best meet the following criteria:

1.  Content

  • May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction.
  • Must portray the emotional, mental, or physical disability as part of a full life, not as something to be pitied.
  • Representation of characters with disabilities should be realistic, avoiding exaggeration or stereotypes.
  • Person with disability should be integral to the presentation, not merely a passive bystander.
  • The theme must be appropriate for and respectful of the intended audience age.
  • Information on a disability must be accurate.

2.  Style

  • Should be well written
  • Should be engaging with distinctive use of language for plot and character development and setting delineation.
  • Book should be judged on its own merit as a self-contained entity, not as part of a series, and irrespective of supportive materials such as a CD or other supplemental material.

3. Illustration and Design

  • Text and images should complement or enhance each other, with differentiated contrast between text, pictures, and background.
  • Format and typeface must be of age appropriate size, clearly readable, and free of typographical errors.
  • Layout should be easy to follow, enhancing the flow of the story or information.
  • Preference will be given to books that can be made available in accessible formats.

Note: Criteria can be found on the Schneider Family Book Award webpage.

Every committee reads and evaluates each book submitted for consideration with the above criteria in mind. Of course, there is the hope that the jury will be able to find a book that is both well written and positive in its portrayal of the disability experience. From there, it is confidential as to why a committee selects one book over another book.

Disability in Kidlit: Have you noticed any trends–one disability that is portrayed more than others, for instance–in the books you consider for the award?

Alyson: Though I cannot speak for all of the committees, I can say that in the past couple of years there has been an increase in the number of books that feature children or adults with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and other mental and emotional health disorders.

Disability in Kidlit: How do you put together your judging panel, particularly given the frequent problem of disabled people being spoken over/for by non-disabled people?

Alyson: There are seven members of the Schneider Family Book Award Jury.  Every member must be a member of the American Library Association (ALA).  ALA appoints a certain number of the positions and the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) each appoint members.  One of the members appointed by ALA must be a representative of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped/Library of Congress since it is important that each winning book be made accessible to those readers who could not read the book in a traditional format.  There is also a goal to find jury members who will be knowledgeable in the area of disabilities, as well as, have an understanding of diversity.  It’s a tall order, but the ALA staff work hard to find the best possible jurors.

Disability in Kidlit: Do you find that there’s a wealth of quality books and disability portrayals to choose from each year, or do you notice a dire lack of good options?

Alyson: In speaking with those who have had long-term experiences with the Schneider Family Book Award, there is an increase in the quality, as well as, the number of books being published each year that portray individuals with disabilities.  This is a fabulous thing; however, there still needs to be more, especially for young children under the age of eight years old. The Award is helping to bring more attention to this need, but just as with other aspects of diversity (race, culture, sexual orientation, etc) there is a continued need to make known this gap to publishers.

Thank you, Alyson!

Check out all of the links of the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway:

July 6, 2014    Nerdy Book Club  http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/top-ten-schneider-award-favorites-of-the-2014-schneider-award-jury-by-peg-glisson/
July 6, 2014    Kid Lit Frenzy  http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/kid-lit-frenzy/2014/7/4/schneider-family-book-award-10th-anniversary-blog-tour-giveaway
July 7, 2014    Nonfiction Detectives  http://www.nonfictiondetectives.com/
July 9, 2014    Teach Mentor Texts  http://www.teachmentortexts.com/
July 10, 2014    There’s a Book For That  http://thereisabookforthat.com/
July 11, 2014    Kathie Comments  http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com/
July 12, 2014  Disability in Kidlit  http://disabilityinkidlit.com/
July 14, 2014    Librarian in Cute Shoes  http://librarianincuteshoes.blogspot.com/
July 15, 2014    The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog  http://thelatebloomersbookblog.blogspot.com/
July 16, 2014    Read, Write, and Reflect  http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/
July 17, 2014    Read Now Sleep Later  http://www.readnowsleeplater.com/
July 18, 2014    Unleashing Readers  http://www.unleashingreaders.com/
July 20, 2014    Maria’s Mélange  http://www.mariaselke.com/

A picture showing covers of 2014's Schneider Award winners: A Splash of Red, Handbook for Dragon Slayers, and Rose Under Fire.

One person will win a set of all 3 Schneider Family Book Award Winners from 2014.  Participants must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address. Readers can enter from any blog participating in the tour. Enter the giveaway now via Rafflecopter!


1 Comment

  1. Alyson, for the 2015 awards I hope the committee is considering PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY, by Carrie Mesrobian (Carolrhoda Lab, October 1, 2014)! Neecie is such a beautiful, complex character, who happens also to be deaf.