Monday, March 30, 2015

Differently Abled Writers

by  Karen Leggett Abouraya

Each year, on the same day we learn about the life-changing Newbery and Caldecott Awards in children’s literature, the Schneider Family Awards are announced, honoring authors for their portrayal of the disability experience.  This year’s winners are:

·  Alan Rabinowitz and illustrator Catia Chien for A Boy and a Jaguar (for children up to age 8) – about his own life as a boy who stuttered except when he talked to animals,
·  Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (ages 9 to 13) – about a girl with autism who must leave the security of her routines to find her beloved dog after a storm, 
·  Girls Like Us by Gail Giles (teens), about two girls with learning and developmental disabilities who are making the difficult transition to independent living after high school.

All three books enable young readers to see life from the perspective of someone who thinks and works differently, but is not really that different in the ways that matter most. And as it turns out, one of the Newbery Honor books this year is by Cece Bell (El Deafo), an author who is deaf and made a marvelous video about her experiences. There are most likely some differently abled youngsters in your classes.

Nic Stearns, a founder of the ArtStream inclusive theatre in Maryland/Virginia, is about to publish a children’s story written jointly with Megan, a young woman who has Down’s Syndrome. 

As we come to the very end of National Developmental Disability Awareness Month, I’d like to share the type of conversation Nic has with Megan that helps build the story and can serve as a model you can use in class to help every student feel like a writer. The role of Nic in the conversation can be played by a teacher, an aide or even another student (perhaps an older student mentor).  Nic and Megan are writing a story about two friends, Pauline and Tiff.

Nic: "What is Pauline's favorite color?"

Megan pointed at her own purple shirt.

"Purple? Does she wear a lot of purple?" Nicolette asked.

Megan answered, "Yes. Only purple."

Nicolette asked, "What does Pauline like to do? Does she like to sing or does she like to dance?"

"Tap dance!" Megan answered excitedly.

"Does Pauline wear her tap shoes at home?" Nicolette asked.

"Yes," answered Megan.

Nicolette asked, "Well, how about at school?"

"Yes," Megan said.

"Where else does she wear them?" Nicolette wondered, "To the grocery store?"

"Yes," Megan affirmed. "And when she gets ice cream."

Often, Nic moved the story along by giving Megan fill-in-the-blank sentences: “The most important thing about friendship is………..”

As Nic Stearns says, writing became an “opportunity to look beyond Megan’s disabilities to see the beautiful, creative person she is.” (More about ArtStream and the writing project here.)

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