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Inclusive picture books for children with additional needs: close but not quite right

I was lucky enough to be invited to the head office of BookTrust on 5th November to sit on a panel which would decide the next books that would feature in packs for children with additional needs.  BookTrust is the UK’s largest children’s reading charity.  Each year they reach 3.9 million children across the UK with books, resources and support.

There were three programs up for discussion:

Bookshine for children who are deaf

2 packs: Bookshine Baby (0-2 years old) and Bookshine Toddler (3-5 years old). Each pack has two books.

Booktouch for children who are blind or partially sighted

2 packs: Booktouch Baby (0-2 years old) and Booktouch Toddler (3-5 years old). Each pack has two touch-and-feel books and guidance around sharing books with blind and partially sighted children.

Bookstart Star for children with conditions affecting their fine motor skills

This pack is available for children aged 3-5 who have disabilities that impact on or delay the development of their fine motor skills. Each pack has two books.

 

There was a varied panel of ‘experts’ who had been invited to give their opinions, including managers from Portage services, a teacher for the visually impaired and a representative from the Deaf Association.  There were also members of the BookTrust team.

The basic structure of the day was that we were given a large selection of potential books for each category (often the same book would appear in more than one category).  Discussions would then take place, and opinions shared until we agreed on the two books that we deemed most appropriate for each of the packs.  At the end of the day we were really happy with the selections we had made.

It was a valuable and thought provoking experience. Two of the main discussion points over the course of the day that I thought warranted further consideration were:

·       Age appropriateness

·       The content of the Booktouch books

 

Over the course of my time working at a school for children with severe and complex learning needs, the subject of age appropriateness would come up from time to time.  The key to engaging children in their learning is to find out what they are motivated by.  Particularly when operating a play-based approach, it is important that a child is able to make their own choices about what they play with.  Invariably my viewpoint would be that ‘developmentally appropriate’ is the most important consideration.  Having said that, during this exercise in choosing books that were going to families of children with additional needs, there also needs to be a level of sensitivity about what these books actually contain or say.  We agreed that for the 3-5 packs, even if the actual content of a book was good, if they said something along the lines of ‘Baby’s First….’ on the front, then it wasn’t going to be a good idea to include them.  The process of selecting books for these packs did highlight to me that more often than not, the books we were looking at had been designed for use by typically developing babies.  This is not to say that they aren’t appropriate for older children with additional needs, just that they were never designed with this cohort of children in mind.

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This brings me onto the second discussion point around content of the books for children with a visual impairment.  There were so many options in this category that were ‘close but not quite right’.  Again, the reason for this was usually the fact that these books had been designed to engage younger children with no additional needs.  One particular example was a book that was titled something along the lines of ‘Can you find the animal?’.  The content of the book was nearly just right. A question would be asked ‘Where is the tiger?’, and the child could feel footprints that had been cut out from the left-hand side of the book to the right.  I thought this was a good pre-braille concept and motivating for a child, but unfortunately once the child makes their way across the two pages, following the beautifully designed footprints, they are rewarded with a flat 2D image of the animal in question.  Obviously completely useless for a child with no vision.  If they had been met with a similar cut out, or with the fur of the animal in an appropriate shape, it would have been brilliant.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, the reason for this is that this particular book was not designed for a child with a visual impairment (it’s just a shame that the publisher came so close to being truly inclusive).  The other thing I know must be considered is the cost implications of producing these ‘touch and feel’ books, and obviously the more complex the design, the pricier the process.

It was reassuring to discover that BookTrust have actually in recent years teamed up with publisher Child's Play to create three new tactile books, Off to the Park!Off to the Beach! and Getting Ready, which can often be found inside the packs.  It is no surprise that they are included considering that they have been specifically designed for purpose.  It would just be great if publishers considered inclusivity as standard when creating books that are so often ‘close but not quite right’.


Stephen Kilgour
Stephen Kilgour worked at Cherry Garden School, an outstanding special school in London for children with severe and complex learning needs, for 11 years, 7 of those as Deputy Head Teacher.  He is now an SEND Advisor and Outreach Teacher at Tapestry. He lives in Newcastle with his wife and two young children and is very capable of watching any form of sport on TV - in the evenings and at weekends he can often be found doing just that!

Edited by Jules




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