By Julie Bliven
As citizens, we can benefit from being inclusive and understanding why inclusion is important. We can experience firsthand how inclusion teaches empathy and puts value on diversity. Likewise, as publishing professionals, we can benefit from examining books about inclusion. We can experience firsthand how themes of inclusion can be shared in innovative ways via text and art, expanding our ideas about what makes a book noteworthy.
I’m personally interested in books that incorporate ideas about inclusion in unique or unexpected ways. Here are a few:
In I’m New Here, Anne Sibley O’Brien tells a story of immigration from the perspective of three newcomers who assimilate into their American school. In Someone New, she tells the same story from the perspective of the students who learn to welcome their new peers. By exploring the unexpected perspective of the characters who are not assimilating, Anne’s approach reminds me that inclusion entails overcoming anxiety about others’ differences, creating connections, and dissolving barriers.
The board book Snug by Carol Thompson is a celebration of the things that make us feel secure and cozy. I was surprised and gratified when I got to the penultimate spread, which features a little girl in a wheelchair, hugging her dog. My own two-year-old son will soon be in a wheelchair (due to a rare neuromuscular disease). I primarily find disability reflected in older children’s books. As a parent, I’m so grateful that toddlers like my son can see themselves in this story. As an editor, I’m encouraged to remember that inclusion of all types is relevant and important for even the littlest of readers.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld is a picture book about loss and grief, and how best to express these emotions. It feels deliberately inclusive because the text uses a gender-neutral name and does not use gender pronouns. The protagonist—depicted as a curly-haired tot in striped pajamas—could be a boy or a girl, which makes the character’s experience feel all the more universal. This title inspires me to keep in mind how gender-neutral stories can empower readers in far-reaching ways.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith depicts a community of characters of all different ages and races. The stylized watercolor art seems to allow for multiple interpretations of the characters’ race or backgrounds—an effective and surprising way to be visually inclusive. Alongside the art, the message of holding one another up (through laughter, listening, kindness, etc.) is shared in simple, direct phrases that feel both original and timeless.
· Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev is about a boy who can’t join a pet club because, well, no elephants are allowed. The boy creates his own club, where all are welcome. Here, the message of inclusion is disguised a bit by the use of animals and by themes of friendship and humor. But the message is there, reminding me that the book’s multispecies harmony is a creative and solid stand-in for the harmony and inclusion we seek to achieve as humans.
These titles and so many others reinforce my appreciation for publishers, agents, authors, and illustrators who continue to uphold themes of inclusion in the work they do. And I have just as much gratitude for the teachers, librarians, reviewers, and adult consumers who make it clear that these kinds of books are needed and wanted now more than ever.
Julie is offering a copy of a book she edited, SOMEONE NEW. To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 4, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.
Julie Bliven is editor at Charlesbridge, where she has edited more than fifty titles, including fiction and nonfiction board books, picture books, and middle-grade novels. Julie holds an M.A. in Children’s Literature from Simmons University, where she teaches and mentors writers in its M.F.A. program. She has also served as a member of the Children’s Book Council Diversity Initiative. @Julie_Bliven