Tag Archives: books

Why is it so hard to find books with a disabled character?

Dan White is the author of the brilliant The Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower.

For World Book Day, Dan tells us how he was inspired to create the comic book and why there needs to be more disabled characters in literature.

My book-devouring, art loving daughter, Emily, had stopped anticipating reading about disabled characters in her comics or literature.  For her, that day would never appear. Or would it?

It was the disparaging look I saw on her face when she first learnt to read that set me on a course of action.  Art, writing and comics are my second love, and that drove me to create the group of disabled superheroes that is The Department of Ability – a graphic novel with a difference, launching later this year!

Disability isn’t the main focus – they’re battling to save the world

I wanted to draw disability in a way that was not really about the disability. Yes, the five characters in he Department of Ability show physical differences, but there’s no backstory, no preface on disability and how it affects this motley crew, you just get 5 different SUPERHEROES battling to save the world in a final war between good and evil.

The Department of Ability are colourful, strong and fun! A ghost? Alien? A Dog? A Cheetah? Emily? How’s that for diverse!?

Several of the characters designed for Department of Ability comic strip
The characters from The Department of Ability comic strip

The Department of Ability has captured hearts worldwide even before the first volume is published. But it’s not just disabled hearts, it’s hearts from everywhere. From the warmth of Matthew Wright, to the voice of The Today Show USA, to the desk of comic genius Stan Lee, the belief and enthusiasm of established comic writer Leah Moore (daughter of Alan) and the tireless work of Scope, all who have seen and loved my creations see a future of change.

There’s a growing desire worldwide to see more diversity and essential inclusion. It’s a strong a message to those in charge of what we read and watch, telling them, “we love difference, and want to see more of it. We all have a right to be heard”.

Inclusion is vital, especially for children

Currently, this world seems to be run by people terrified of accepting disability into the media they enjoy but inclusion is vital, especially for children. They need and want to see images that reflect themselves, otherwise we’re going to have another generation growing up being seen solely as needy and marginalised.  Who wants that?

I read and review many books on disability but they are incredibly rare and it makes you wonder how much more could be achieved if the industry threw caution to the wind and realised the good they could attain by giving us everyday, non-static, non-stereotypical characters.

Inclusion means include, and that means all. It will dispel myths, preconceptions, and will inspire the reader to discuss disability in a whole new light, barriers will fall and disability will not be seen as the last to the party.

A young girl holding up her drawing of her superhero, a mermaid with a wheelchair

I hope The Department of Ability will kick open a door for more diverse stories

All the talents that blossom and bubble in this amazing community will finally be able to show itself to the wider world, it just needs a thinker outside the box to see there is no barrier, and to see the power and might of the untapped purple pound, all £249 disposable billions of it.

2017 is the year of Department of Ability BOOK One, and it will hopefully kick open a door for an army of stories, pictures and talent to emerge.  The authors are there, the future is there, let it in. The Department of Ability are loud, brash, dysfunctional, passionate and determined, a bit like everyone else on earth really.

For National Storytelling Week, we asked for better representation of disability in literature. Read about the activities we’ve done so far and please help us spread the message.

Visit the Department of Ability website to read the comic strips and keep up-to-date with the launch.

Through The Eyes of Me – Writing a book for my autistic daughter

Jonathan Roberts has written a story book about his daughter, Kya, who was diagnosed with autism. After a great reaction to his book from Kya’s family and the professionals who work with her, Jon is hoping to publish it as a paperback.

Getting a diagnosis

We adopted Kya at 17 months old. We realised fairly soon that there were differences between Kya and other children of her age and we initially put this down to post adoption attachment issues. Kya’s Health Visitor raised her concerns and referred her for an assessment with regards to her development delays which resulted in a diagnosis of severe autism.

As Kya’s parents we’re blessed –  she is a lovely, placid happy child and I wanted to capture her lovely little quirks before we forgot them so I started to record them. I started writing things down and showed my wife Sarah. She liked them and we thought it might make a little book.

When Kya started mainstream school, the children in her class asked the teacher questions about her, like:

“Why is Kya allowed to run around?”

An illustrated page from Kya's book. The text reads: I am always on the move. I don't care for sitting still. I love running.

Kya has lot of energy and finds it difficult to sit still. It’s hard for us to keep up with her sometimes, particularly when we are out shopping and we forget her rucksack with reins. Luckily, we live near some long, sandy beaches and open spaces where Kya can run around in a relatively safe environment but we still have to keep our eye on her all the time! She doesn’t understand danger so she’s always climbing stairs, railings and on top of kitchen work tops. It can be very tiring!

“Why won’t Kya talk?”

She has difficulty concentrating and finds it hard to communicate. She has delays with her speech and often babbles but she is learning a few words now. When we read the book to her, she points and says, “Kya!” and looks at me for approval. She loves looking at the book but she has a tendency to rip things up, it is like her sign of approval, as if she is multiplying things as opposed to destroying them.

Picturing a book

And illustration of Kya and her Dad swinging her aroundI wanted to create a nice, pretty looking and simple to read book explaining her differences and beautiful quirks. I wanted the book to be illustrated simply yet beautifully.  We got in touch with Hannah Rounding, who was spot on with her pictures even though she had never met us!

We hope Through the Eyes of Me will help siblings, classmates and anyone who knows of someone on the autism spectrum.

In the meantime, you can get Through the Eyes of Me ebook!”

Through the Eyes of Me will be published by Graffeg in August.

Pre-order the paperback and add ‘Scope’ as coupon code to get a 20% discount on the normal price of £6.99.

Check out our Pinterest board of kids books for siblings of disabled children.

For National Storytelling Week – help us champion books that feature disability

Here at Scope, stories are central to everything we do. For National Storytelling Week we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate authentic stories and calling on publishers and authors to improve the representation of disability in literature. Read on to find out about all our activities so far and what we plan to do next.

Why tell stories?

Great stories have the power to connect us, to raise awareness, to make people feel and act. They’re at the heart of everything we do at Scope and they have a huge role to play in achieving social change. Few people are moved by statistics or facts, but when you hear someone’s personal story it can have a powerful impact.

Stories tell us things we didn’t know before; they show us other ways of living, other experiences, other views on the world. They can also make us feel less alone by showing us people like us and stories like ours – happy ending or not.

Telling authentic stories

At Scope, every story is told by the storyteller themselves – we’re just the ‘caretakers’, if you like. Although we interview people about their experiences, the stories we share are always in first person and completely in the storyteller’s own words. And they always have the final say – we never interview and run! We hope this builds trust and shows just how much we value them.

We work with storytellers to share their stories in lots of different ways. This could be anything from a policy report – using real experiences to bring our influencing to life, at events, in fundraising materials, in films and, very often, on Scope’s blog.

We’re really proud of the way we tell stories at Scope. Putting storytellers in charge means we only ever tell authentic stories. We give people a platform to share their diverse experiences and show a more accurate picture of disability. Often, opportunities for people to share their stories are lacking – disability isn’t a huge focus in the media and when it is, it’s often the negative side that you see. We want to make sure that people can tell the story that they want to tell.

Which brings us on to National Storytelling Week.

Dan, an author holding up his comic book, poses with his daughter Emily who uses a wheelchair
Dan and Emily White – creators of Department of Ability

People want to see better representation of disability in literature

In the stories team we’re privileged to hear about a range of experiences in our day to day work. Unfortunately, for most people, their chance to read stories about disability are limited. If you think back to the books you enjoyed as a child, or even as an adult, you’d be hard pushed to find many featuring a disabled person. As a result, lots of people either don’t know much about disability or they only know the limited (sometimes misleading) view that they’re presented with.

This contributes to poor attitudes and stereotypes which can affect disabled people’s lives in number of ways. Another downside is that disabled people don’t get to read about stories and characters they can relate to.

We ran a Twitter poll which showed that 3 in 4 people want to see more inclusion of disability in literature

So, for National Storytelling Week, we ran lots of activities to campaign for better representation of disability in literature, and celebrated some great work that we want to see more of. 

We ran a comic book workshop with Dan White, creator of Department of Ability. Dan was inspired to create the comic book when his 11-year-old daughter Emily wondered why there were no wheelchair users like her on TV. Dan then set out to create a comic book where Emily would lead a group of superheroes whose impairments, far from holding them back, are actually their superpowers. To watch a film about the comic book workshop, head to our YouTube channel.

Following the workshop, we posted each superhero creation on Facebook and ran  a competition – with the winner getting to see their superhero turned into a guest in the next Department of Ability comic book. Here’s a short film of the winner, Daisy, explaining her superhero design.

We also partnered with the Huffington Post to share a blog each day from different storytellers. Incase you missed some of the content you can catch up here:

“Books Hold A Special Place In My Heart – I Just Wish They’d Have A Place For Me” – Heather’s blog

“The World Needs More Disabled Superheroes” – Dan and Emily’s vlog

“I Don’t Want To Read Books That Treat Disability As A Tragedy” – Anne’s blog

“It’s Immensely Important For Disabled People To See Positive Portrayals Of Themselves In Literature” – Asim’s blog

“Hey JK, Why Wasn’t Harry Potter Disabled?” – Phil’s blog

Following that, we partnered with Books on the Underground to do a ‘book drop’ where we hid 30 copies of Quentin Blake’s ‘The Five of Us’ around accessible tube stations. We had lots of engagement on our social media channels and our campaign was featured on Books on the Underground and on Quentin Blake’s website which was an amazing way to share our message with new audiences.

Our next step is to reach out to publishers and authors to ask them to improve their representation of disability in future books. We will keep you updated once we hear more. – so stay tuned!

To find out more about stories at Scope, head to our Stories Hub and please get involved.

YouTube gave me back the things I lost

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Shelly is a YouTube vlogger. She was diagnosed with a range of complex medical conditions at an early age and spent most of her childhood at home, in bed. She has recently been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

For 30 Under 30, Shelly talks about how the internet, vlogging and YouTube have allowed her to regain a social life.

I’m a show off. Ever since I was five, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be on the stage. Not on TV or anything but on the stage! I saw musicals and stuff when I was a kid and I was like “I want to be up there! I want to do that!”

To have to give that up was difficult.

I got sick when I was seven years old with a stomach problem. I just thought it was stomach flu but I never really got over it. Then at 13, I had to drop out of school when I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME) which slowly, steadily got worse.
It just drained the hell out of me and gave me multiple problems at the same time.

Then, at 15, I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) which meant that I couldn’t take medication.

Video editing software showing an edit of one of Shelly's videos

Losing the life I was meant to have

I was not happy at all. I didn’t go out, didn’t go clubbing, didn’t meet boyfriends and girlfriends, I didn’t meet friends, I didn’t have all the kind of firsts you’re meant to have.

I didn’t have any friends because the only friends you have at that age are school friends aren’t they? I couldn’t even hang out with them on the weekend because I couldn’t get out of bed.

I became a loner really fast.

I got the internet in the end and met friends. Then I found a group of young people with ME and the internet opened me back up to having a social life. It wasn’t a physical social life as I still couldn’t get out of the house, but at least I was talking to people again!

I’d become really shy because I didn’t know how to talk to people. Being socially isolated, I hadn’t learnt how to talk as an adult and was still stuck as a 13 year old in a 21 year old body.

Shelly lies in bed typing on her laptop.

Becoming a vlogger

One day, I came across YouTube. I was hooked and came across English vlogger Carrie Hope Fletcher. I was looking at her videos, the way she edits and makes videos made sense to me. So I just started making videos randomly! I then found out about BookTube via a fellow ME Booktuber and friend, Daisy (AtThousandLivesofDaisy). That’s when my two interests came together – books and vlogging!

Benefits of vlogging

YouTube is a great platform and vlogging is a great way of opening up to the world without having to fit to parameters. You can do it at five o’clock in the morning, you can do it on your phone, you can do it without all the tech wizardry. I edit on Windows Movie Maker, I’ve never bought a piece of editing software in my life, I’ve never bought anything in my life to do YouTube. You literally just do it and start talking.

It’s a great way to spread awareness. You could vlog your day and show how your illness affects you. Being disabled, being bed bound, being chronically ill, you are limited and kind of stuck in your world sometimes. Vlogging just opens the world.

It’s a great way to take your mind off of life. I haven’t been doing very well so this has been my outlet. I can’t go out and do the things I want to do so this is my version of going out, talking to people, going to book groups and things like that.

This is what illness looks like

I think it’s great when disabled vloggers talk about their impairments on YouTube. You are showing real life and what it takes to get up out of bed and get ready and have as much of a “normal” day as possible like everybody else does. The only way people are going to notice is if you show or tell people. Otherwise you’d just be in the corner, in the dark, where nobody can see.

I don’t talk about the bad times, I don’t want to. I’m British with a stiff upper lip. Keep Calm and Carry On! I try to put a positive spin on things. I don’t want to sound like I’m a grumpy person moaning all the time but I’m sick. I suppose it’s just being honest and showing people that this is what illness looks like, don’t ignore it.

Shelly is holding a book and has a finger to her lips to signify that she wants someone to be quiet.

Shelly is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. This is where we are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.

Visit Shelly’s YouTube page or follow her on Twitter.

Christmas competition: your chance to win one of 13 books!

We’re getting very excited for Christmas! Over the past year we’ve been squirrelling away a great collection of books with disability at their heart. They either feature disabled characters, or are written and produced by disabled authors. 

As a big thank you for your support of Scope this year, we’ll be giving away a copy of each book in the run up to Christmas.

(Terms and conditions at the bottom of this page)

Toast: Autism in the Early Years

Two young boys smiling and holding a copy each of the book 'Toast'“Imagine the moment when your six year old child says his first word: “Toast”. Every parent remembers the joy of a child’s first word. Yet this key skill is so challenging for a person living with autism.”

Alice Boardman’s book attempts to answer all the questions that she had, when she first found out her two sons had autism. Win Toast. 

Good Kings Bad Kings

Illustrated front cover of Good Kings, Bad Kings - a man running around with a pair of scissors and attempting to chop off another character's thumbTold in alternating perspectives by a varied cast of characters, Good Kings, Bad Kings is a powerful and inspiring debut that invites us into the lives of a group of teenagers and staff who live at the ILLC.

From Yessenia, who dreams of her next boyfriend, to Teddy, a resident who dresses up daily in a full suit and tie, and Mia, who guards a terrifying secret, Nussbaum has crafted a multifaceted portrait of a way of life that challenges our definitions of what it means to be disabled. Win Good Kings Bad Kings. 

Paperweights

Mum Susanne sitting on the sofa with her daughter Mia“Sixteen years ago, I wished for a child. I prayed to the universe, and spirit answered me. Not with what I thought I wanted, but with exactly what I need. My daughter is my angel.” Susanne Crosby

This anthology of poems was created by parents and carers of disabled children from our Brighton parent befriending serviceWin Paperweights.

My Brother is an Astronaut

An illustration of two characters in astronaut's clothing, smiling“I know that there are lots of children – and adults! – in the world whose sensory experience and understanding of the world is a little “different”. It isn’t the exclusive domain of people with autism, so autism isn’t mentioned in the story. People with ADHD, ADD can have difficulties in this area too, as well as some children who are a bit “quirky” and don’t fit into any particular category. This book is written for them and for those they spend their days with, to try and help give an insight into their experience of the world.” Michelle Rundle. Win My Brother is an Astronaut.

Little Miss Jessica Goes to School

Cover of Little Miss Jessica Goes to School, showing an illustration of a little girl with one arm, smiling and walking with a backpack onJessica Smith is a former Paralympic swimmer who was born missing her left hand. She grew up with low self esteem and negative body image because she didn’t feel accepted within society due to her physical appearance.

Now, Jessica is sharing her journey through a series of children’s books to encourage young kids to realise that being different is okay! Little Miss Jessica Goes to School is the first in this series. Win Little Miss Jessica.

I Love You Natty

Front cover of the book - a yellow page with a family photo of Mia and Natty smiling“When my eldest daughter Mia was around six or seven years old, she was a very prolific note-writer. She would leave drawings and notes for us all around the house. One day I found a beautiful note for her sister Natty (who has Down’s syndrome), saying just how precious she was to Mia, and how her life wouldn’t be the same without her in it. It brought a lump to my throat and was a lightbulb moment for me. I realised here was the basis for the book. Mia’s words would form it’s core.” Hayley Goleniowska. Win I Love You Natty.

Jess the Goth Fairy

Illustration of Jess the Goth Fairy, holding a pile of books and smiling“Jess the Goth Fairy has learning and physical disabilities, just like the real Jess. Wings that don’t work very well, so flying is scary and landing is a nightmare! She looks different, doesn’t do pink or wear dresses. Having a normal life as a fairy is very challenging for her.

Jess just wants to be treated the same as everybody else. She wanted to put across her feelings about what happens to her, such as being stared at or not being able to do things that most people can. We hope people who will read the book will realise that it’s ok to be disabled and it’s ok to be different.” Jo, Jess’ mum. Win Jess the Goth Fairy. 

Heads up, Tim-Tron

An illustration of Tim-Tron, with a little dog“With Heads Up, Tim-Tron, we’ve tried to help parents of younger children broach this complex issue (of brain injury) in a colourful and interesting way. It’s a picture book about a little robot who bangs his head, an idea that came about after one of our clinicians compared the human brain to a cluster of tiny working circuits.

We know boys are disproportionately affected by traumatic brain injury, and a comparison with the circuits in a little robot’s brain seemed like a funny way to appeal to them (hopefully without excluding little girls!).” Ian Ray. Win Heads Up Tim Tron. 

My Big Brother Bobby

Front cover of My Big Brother Bobby, an illustration of a brother, sister and friendly-looking gremlinThis is a story about a little girl with a big imagination and an even bigger heart. She loves to play with her brother Bobby but sometimes when he gets angry, something larger than life appears.

My Big Brother Bobby is a fun, imaginative story that educates children on the importance of understanding and coping with anger in others in a warm and easy to understand way. Win My Big Brother Bobby.

The Story of Beautiful Girl

Image of the front cover of The Story of Beautiful Girl - a girl in a green dress holding out her hand and releasing a bird into the skyIt’s a stormy night in small-town America. A couple, Lynnie and Homan, have escaped from a brutal institution where disabled people are left to languish, ostracised from society. Desperate and soaked to the skin, they knock on a stranger’s door. When Martha, a retired schoolteacher, answers the door, their lives change completely. Win The Story of Beautiful Girl.

Synthesis: Weave

Front cover of Synthesis:Weave - a tree at the edge of a rocky cliff edge“Synthesis:Weave is science fiction. One of the things I dislike about the representation of disability in science fiction is the tendency to ‘gloss over’ it or ‘fix’ it.

My character was going to use his wheelchair. I know that many wheelchair users are more capable than others give them credit for and I wanted to portray that, but I didn’t want to make disability the focus of the book, so it’s just a fact – Aryx is a hero that happens to use a wheelchair.” Deane Saunders-Stowe. Win Synthesis: Weave.

The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs

Image showing what foods make up a healthy balanced diet, on a plateDeborah French is a cookery teacher and activity coordinator for disabled children and their families. She has a son on the autistic spectrum, a daughter with Down’s syndrome and young twins, and is the author of a new cookery book for disabled children.

“I wrote The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs to help children understand the origins of the food we eat, how the ingredients we use create our diet and how this affects our health and the way we feel. The opening story introduces the primary theme which is that we are all responsible for the choices we make about the foods that we eat.” Deborah French. Win The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs.

Oliver Hellowell, Wildlife & Landscape Photographer

Oliver holding a DSLR camera and smilingOliver is a young nature photographer, who happens to have Down’s syndrome.

“He takes pictures of things other people walk past because he notices the detail the rest of us miss. He sees beauty where we do not, and to a certain extent his having Down’s syndrome ‘releases’ him from the ‘rules’ and expecA close up photograph of a brown eagletations of what is perceived to be worthy of a picture, which the rest of us adhere to without even realising. Oliver makes weeds look brilliant!” Oliver’s mum

This is his first coffee table book showcasing some of his most exquisite photography. Win Oliver Hellowell’s Photography book. 

Feeling inspired? Check out our Pinterest list of books featuring disabled characters. We’d also love to hear about any other books you’d like to recommend. 

Terms and conditions

Look out for the book you’d like to win on our Twitter and Facebook throughout December. To enter this prize draw, comment/reply on the post for the book you’d like to win and tell us why you’d like to win it! Only one entry per person, per book will be counted. The prize draw closes on 18 December at 10am. The winners will be chosen at random after this date and notified via social media. Books can only be posted to addresses in the UK and no cash equivalent or alternative prizes will be offered. This prize draw is not associated with Facebook or Twitter.

 

Four summer books about disability

Deane Saunders Stowe smiling for the cameraScience fiction author Deane Saunders-Stowe selects four summer reads by disabled authors or featuring disabled people in leading roles.

For years, I’ve had strange ideas drifting around in my head, but I’d never contemplated writing a novel. Okay, maybe once or twice – but I never thought I’d be capable of writing something that others would find entertaining.

Back in 2011 I met my partner, Kris Saunders-Stowe. Kris lived a rather hermit-like life, somewhat trapped by his disability, hobbling around with a walking stick, until I encouraged him to try using a wheelchair. From that moment on, Kris saw how liberating it could be to move freely and without the tiredness and pain associated with standing.

As our life together slowly progressed we reached a turning point: Kris began training to become a fitness instructor and I felt the first urge to write. While Kris trained, I wrote. While he embraced and overcame his disability, turning it to his advantage and eventually creating Wheely Good Fitness, I developed characters and a plot.

From our dealings with a variety of disabled people from all walks of life, I could see how much of a challenge daily life could be. Kris’s own challenges, both mental and physical inspired the creation of  double-amputee character Aryx Trevarian; our relationship sowed the seeds for a co-dependency between the protagonists.

Disability and science fiction

The front cover of the book, Synthesis Weave
The front cover of Deane’s book, Synthesis Weave

My novel, Synthesis:Weave is science fiction, and one of the things I dislike about the representation of disability in science fiction is the tendency to ‘gloss over’ it or ‘fix’ it. The popular movie Avatar does this – Jake Sully (the protagonist) is a paraplegic and becomes the hero of the film by taking remote control of another body, an avatar. This of course avoids the issue of his disability altogether. I didn’t want to do that – it’s disrespectful to those who can’t simply cast aside their disability.

My character was going to use his wheelchair. Aryx finds a way around using his chair in certain situations, but it’s not ideal. I know that many wheelchair users are more capable than others give them credit for and I wanted to portray that, but I didn’t want to make disability the focus of the book, so it’s just a fact – Aryx is a hero that happens to use a wheelchair. Kris was kind enough to put himself through some discomfort after suggesting we do a photo-shoot to depict one of the scenes from my book.

While trying to promote my book I’ve come into contact with a couple of authors with disabilities, and also several people who wanted to know more about disability being portrayed positively in fiction. I have collated four books which are either written by an author with disabilities, or have characters that portray disability in a positive fashion.

Blind by Rachel DeWoskinFront cover of the book 'Blind', by Rachel DeWoskin

When Emma Sasha Silver loses her eyesight in a nightmare accident, she must relearn everything from walking across the street to recognizing her own sisters to imagining colours. One of seven children, Emma used to be the invisible kid, but now it seems everyone is watching her. And just as she’s about to start high school and try to recover her friendships and former life, one of her classmates is found dead in an apparent suicide. Fifteen and blind, Emma has to untangle what happened and why—in order to see for herself what makes life worth living.

Lamont: Moon’s Rising by Rob Brown

The bullet-torn body of a wealthy landowner’s son is discovered floating on a loch in a remote corner of Scotland’s picturesque landscape. Returning from holiday, Detective Crieff Lamont discovers that he has a new partner: the young and inexperienced Felisa Tortolano. Sent to investigate, they find themselves working alongside a detective seconded from Manchester following allegations of racism.

So begins a week in which corruption, deception and dark family secrets strain relationships, while the investigation opens doors leading to more powerful, clandestine characters.
Ever the cold, clear thinker, Lamont finds his mental stability threatened as the week progresses when he has to come to terms with another, more painful truth hidden from him by his wife.

Formerly a Director of Nursing, marathon runner, and outdoor enthusiast, Rob is a T4/5 paraplegic. His characters gravitate toward the mean, the mad, and those in trauma – even Lamont suffers a hidden PTSD, following a friendly bullet in the head.

Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic

Life Without Limits is an inspiring book by an extraordinary man. Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic overcame his disability to live not just independently but a rich, fulfilling life, becoming a model for anyone seeking true happiness. Now an internationally successful motivational speaker, his central message is that the most important goal for anyone is to find their life’s purpose despite whatever difficulties or seemingly impossible odds stand in their way.

Nick is a Serbian Australian evangelist and motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of all four limbs. As a child, he struggled mentally and emotionally as well as physically, but eventually came to terms with his disability and, at the age of seventeen, started his own non-profit organisation, Life Without Limbs

Love & Justice by Diana Morgan-Hill

Aged 29, Diana fell under a London train. In seconds the tall, glamorous businesswoman went from busy woman of the world to double-leg-amputee, her life in ruins. Then it got worse. A few days later, as she lay in hospital, traumatised and heavily sedated, she learnt that the railway’s Transport Police wanted to prosecute: she had ‘boarded a moving train and trespassed onto their railway line’. Her fight for justice took five years and was a more harrowing experience than having both of her legs ‘stolen’ from her.

Shocked to the core by the sudden, catastrophic change in her body image, Diana had to overcome the issues surrounding sexuality and disability whilst dealing with High Court dramas. Her story is told, amidst a turmoil of emotion, with tremendous humour, charm and heart.

Got a summer book you can’t put down? Leave a comment and recommend your favourite book about disability.

“I never want another parent to feel as desolate and as frightened as I did”

Guest post from Yvonne, author of The Special Parent’s Handbook.

When my children were little, one by one they were each diagnosed with devastating disabilities. I was overwhelmed with emotions, I was exhausted and lost. It got even worse when two of them were also diagnosed with additional life-threatening illnesses which lasted for several years. I really didn’t think I was going to cope – I knew nothing about disability or how to support a child through serious ill-health.

IMG_0010_NEW

Now, all three of them are on the brink of adulthood, they all survived, in fact they have done a lot better than mere survival. We pulled together, we muddled through, and we learnt to laugh a lot too.

I never want another parent to feel as desolate and as frightened as I did. So I’ve written the book I wish someone had given me in those bleak early days.

The Special Parent’s Handbook

The Special Parent's Handbook

It’s a comprehensive parenting manual for families like ours. It’s packed full of all the tips, tricks and strategies we learnt – the things we discovered and invented along the way as we stumbled from one crisis to the next.  It has lots of quirky solutions nobody else would ever think of unless they also have children like ours.

A doctor can tell you how to manage your child’s condition but this book shows you how to care for your whole family. It will help you get through those long hospital admissions that are often part-and-parcel of having a serious disability. It will talk about how to cope with those days when you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of negative emotions. It also has lots of ideas to make sure your other children don’t miss out, and real-life solutions to things that most people wouldn’t even understand. I’ve written extensively about how to get the best outcomes for your child from all the meetings, appointments and funding decisions which cause so much frustration and heartache.

It’s also a story of our family growing up. If you read it, you’ll get to know Francesca, Toby and Adam along the way too. I’ve used dozens of things that really happened to illustrate ways of getting yourself out of the tightest of corners.

I’ve shared all the things I learned the hard way. It’s the “dos and don’ts” guide to steering your way through – and I’ve also passed on some of the mistakes I made!

The response so far

It came out in June, and the response has been better than I could have possibly wished for. Dozens of parents have contacted me to tell me how much easier things are for their families since reading the book. GPs have told me that they have adopted new approaches when seeing patients with a learning disability because of what they have learnt from it. Great Ormond Street Hospital liked the book so much that they have ordered a copy for every ward so that all their parents have easy access to it. The reviews on Amazon can’t seem to praise the book enough. I even received a very special letter this week  from Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, who praised the book.

If you do read it, I’d love to know what you think, your feedback will be really helpful! Lots of people have already asked me to get started on another book – so anything you tell me will help me know what I should write about next!

Find out more about the book:

Creating Tim-Tron, the robot with a brain injury

Guest post from Ian Ray. Ian is editorial manager at The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury. He leads the Brain Injury Hub, an online resource and forum for families of children with brain injury.

How do you tell your child they may not be quite the same again?

Thousands of parents across the UK face this very problem each year after their child sustains an acquired brain injury.

It’s hard to overstate how shocking this can be for a family, as their otherwise healthy little boy or girl is hospitalised through an impact to the head, or a ‘non-traumatic’ injury such as stroke or meningitis. This shockwave may rumble on for many years afterwards, as children and families contend with a huge range of issues and impairments (it would take another handful of blogs to cover them all!).

Just one of these issues is the difficulty some children have with their own awareness about their injury and its effects. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, in that the very organ children use to make sense of themselves may not be at full strength.

On the face of it, this lack of awareness might seem a blessing, but actually, it may be hard for children to address their difficulties if they don’t understand them. They may push themselves too hard, or miss mistakes they’re making.

Heads Up, Tim-Tron

Cartoon of Tim-Tron, a robot with a dog
Tim-Tron with his dog

With Heads Up, Tim-Tron, we’ve tried to help parents of younger children broach this complex issue in a colourful and interesting way. It’s a picture book about a little robot who bangs his head, an idea that came about after one of our clinicians compared the human brain to a cluster of tiny working circuits.

We know boys are disproportionately affected by traumatic brain injury, and a comparison with the circuits in a little robot’s brain seemed like a funny way to appeal to them (hopefully without excluding little girls!).

The more we thought it through, the more aspects of brain injury seemed ripe for the robot treatment; the tiredness children experience after an injury might be rendered as a battery running low, or the difficulty some children have absorbing information might be trouble with a processor.

We’d recently launched our Brain Injury Hub resource and forum, and so a story for children seemed like the perfect next step.

Getting started

After working up the story from home, I nervously took my first draft to a writing tutor, who helped me get the book in better shape. He suggested I put together some guide illustrations to ‘storyboard’ the book, which was enormous fun.

As the story developed, it became increasingly important that we didn’t have a big, shiny happy ending. Sadly, we know rehabilitation can sometimes be an ongoing process for children, so it was important that our story ended on a cautiously optimistic note. I hope we’ve achieved this.

When I had something that looked like a (somewhat amateurish) children’s book, our own experts made sure it ‘did its job’ from a clinical perspective. We also shared the draft with some of our families, who weren’t shy about telling us it was far too long.

Illustrating the book

Our director of fundraising was able to have the project charitably-funded, and we were now ready to take on an illustrator for the book. This was far and away the most exciting aspect of the project, as I trawled through illustration directories looking at every conceivable style of children’s artwork.

We eventually chose Garry Parsons, an award-winning artist who hand-paints each page of his books. With his expert eye, Garry saw immediately that my version of Tim-Tron was too adult-like for young children, so he put together a collection of little robot drawings we could show to children to see who their favourites were.

With our main character designed, Garry developed initial ‘thumbnail’ sketches that soon became a pencil storyboard for the entire book. This itself then blossomed into a series of vivid paintings telling Tim-Tron’s story.

Tim-Tron playing with a dog outside his house
Tim-Tron playing outside his house in Transistor Avenue
Tim-Tron in a rocket, flying past a red planet
Tim-Tron on a trip to Mars

Richard Hammond lends his support

Richard Hammond in a recording studio
Richard Hammond records the audiobook

Over the last few years The Children’s Trust has benefited from the support of Richard Hammond, the Top Gear presenter who himself sustained a brain injury during filming. Despite a manic calendar of filming and appearances, Richard took the time to record an audiobook version of Heads Up, Tim-Tron for families to read along with.

With the audiobook recorded, our production process was almost complete, and after a couple of insomnia-inducing slip-ups in our schedule, we got the book to our printer.

Getting the final product back in a series of neat little boxes was a genuine thrill. And shortly afterwards, we were told the United Kingdom Brain Injury Forum had awarded us their “Innovation in the Field of Brain Injury” award for the project, a wonderful recognition of the hard work of our little team.

All we need to do now is get the book into your hands. I’m already proud of our little robot, and I hope his story will be genuinely useful to children, their friends, siblings and families.

Tim-Tron will be available from 13 January for just the cost of postage and packing from The Children’s Trust, email thehub@thechildrenstrust.org.uk if you’re interested.

Scope also has a list of positive children’s books featuring disabled characters and storybooks to download.

Encouraging children who struggle with reading

Guest post from Rose-tinted World – a parent of a family affected by Irlen syndrome and dyspraxia. She blogs to raise awareness of these condition and to share information with others affected.

World Book Day is an annual celebration of books and reading. This year World Book Day falls on 7 March. World Book Day offers a great opportunity for children – it allows everyone to find something to enjoy about literature. This seems quite obvious but it is a point worth making. Not every child is a natural reader and all develop as confident readers at their own pace. Some, like my daughter, have to contend with a learning difficulty that makes independent reading more difficult.

How wonderful to have day where everyone can talk about their favourite books and fictional characters. At my children’s school the children are allowed to dress up as their favourite character for the day. This makes all the children equal. Nobody has to read out loud, or show how slowly they read or even say how many books they have read themselves. They only have to share their love of their favourite book with their peers.

We have always read to our children. This proved particularly helpful when my daughter’s problems with reading started. We were able to read her far more complicated books than she could read to herself. This enabled her to listen to chapter books and to develop an understanding of more complex narratives and extended character development. This also allowed her to continue to build on her love of literature.

Come World Book Day two years ago she chose one of the characters from the books we had been reading to her. This was one of the fairies from the ‘Rainbow Fairies’ series of books by Daisy Meadows. She loves these books and has collected many of the series over a number of birthdays.

Son dressed as dinosaurLast year my daughter dressed as the witch from the ‘Worst Witch’ by Jill Murphy. My son dressed a dinosaur from ‘Dinosaurs and all That Rubbish’ by Michael Forman. We also attended the book fair that was put on at the school. My children love this event – All the children love this event and it is always a pleasure to see children so excited by books.

Last year both my children chose books and we went off to meet a friend for dinner. Our friend was running a little late and my daughter took out her book and asked if she could read it. At this point she had only managed to read picture books but I didn’t point this out as she happily held up the chapter book she had chosen. My friend arrived and we started nattering not really noticing how quiet my daughter was being. My daughter read all through our visit with our friend and then went off to her room when we got home. The next morning my daughter announced she had read the book and it was great. I was amazed that she had managed to do this and a bit confused about where this sudden breakthrough had come from. So I asked her how come she had read the whole book and she answered quite simply – because she had picked it up from a shelf that said ‘read it yourself’.

"Read alone" sign

I always remember this moment with warmth. We had had so many struggles in the years before this – fraught home work sessions and frustrated reading practices. We had also had uncertainty about where progress could come from. It made me laugh that my daughter had taken a sign so literally and that this has enabled her to take a massive leap in her own development.

We are always happy when World Book Day comes around. We have always had the belief that the joy of literature can communicate itself and that there are many ways to appreciate books (listening, dressing up, drama etc). We enjoy World Book Day because it gives us the perfect opportunity to remember all of these things.

Find information on World Book Day
Ideas on World Book Day costumes