Thursday, 6 June 2013

Championing Diversity

Max the Champion, co-written by Sean Stockdale and Alex Strick with illustrations by Ros Asquith and published by Frances Lincoln books is a picture book that is at once fun, inclusive of all and full of imagination.  It is a picture book that champions diversity without making an issue of the subject.  It is subtle, pervasive, clever, intelligent and much more.

At Blackwell's bookshop on London's Charing Cross Road on a balmy June evening the book was launched to a small, select group of friends, family, press, librarians and illustrators and disability champions all of whom were keen to hear more about how the team worked together to produce this wonderful picture book.

Tim Kilmartin
 Introducing us to the Blackwell's diversity list Tim Kilmartin explained how the books on the list had been chosen and why - for the way in which they tackle disability head on without pushing it; for the way in which they can help teachers and librarians normalise the subject with children and adults; for the way in which they normalise the subject of disability; for the way in which they represent disabled children.  All this is as important to adults as it is to both disabled and able children.  The books on the list, an Max in particular, do not limit their disabled characters to those in wheelchairs either, they are careful to consider disability in all its forms.
Alex Strick

Following on from Tim's introduction to the Blackwell's list Alex took to the microphone and promised us that once she started talking her incomparable excitement at having the book published might mean that she couldn't stop - non-one minded, we all wanted to hear what she had to say!

Alex told us how she saw Max as the 'poster boy' for the Blackwell's list and that his story was lovely, a reflection of society and a celebration of inclusion and equality.  Writing a book about disability she explained is a careful balancing act, there are moments of frustration, anger and then action, wanting to be inclusive not correct and include as many different, diverse images as possible.

Alex and Sean first met when they were both working on the NASN book awards, NASN is the uk professional association embracing special and educational needs and disabilities, they found a shared passion and the partnership grew from there.

Sean Stockdale
Sean then stepped up to make his short speech, sharing his feelings about the publication of the book explaining how it had been a five year process from the first meeting to the actual publication!  As a first time author he was keen to thank all involved particularly Ros who he described as being like an old friend for the way in which she went the extra mile for Max patiently bringing him to life.  Originally the book had been planned as a post-Paralympics title but the team were pleased they waited for now they can raise the profile of disability once more, add substance to the body of children's literature on the subject and help it to become the norm.
Ros Asquith

Ros then explained a little about the way in which she drew on the story to recreate the characters in her drawings and the importance of showing even the smallest of disabilities including - and look out for this detail - a hearing aid.

Aminder Virdee

We then heard from Aminder Virdee who, along with her brother, as a disabled child met with misunderstanding and the wrong type of sympathy and reaction.  Both she and her brother have helped the team create Max and his story in a way that presents all children as equal.  It is important Aminder noted, that children, able and disabled, recognise that disability is not second class and Max does this brilliantly.

Alex & Janetta
In creating Max the Champion the team have played a small part in changing the landscape of attitudes towards disability.  This one book may be just a small drop in a big ocean but it is a step in the right direction.  Anyone interested in knowing more should visit the website and help the book world realise that it is time they began to portray society as it truly is, no longer idealising it for children in every book.

Like parents sending their first child on its way Alex, Sean and Ros were happily emotional, thanking their whole team and all of us who went along to support as well as all of you who will become the books' intended audience.

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