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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.
Overcoming the odds
Everyone knows the story of how Helen Keller's tenacity (and the help of a special teacher) overcame her disabilities. Most know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led the nation during depression and war, had polio. Blindness hasn't stopped Stevie Wonder from topping pop music charts nor did it prevent Dr. Katherine Schnieder from obtaining a Ph.D. to become a noted psychologist. Each of these people is celebrated for what they could do and have done not for a disability. Which is the strength of the titles awarded the Schneider Family Book Award, supported by Katherine Schneider and her family, administered by the American Library Association. The award's stated purpose is to: "honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." Three are given annually, for young children, middle grade readers, and teens. Young children will meet self-taught, African American artist Horace Pippin in A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf). Pippin lost full use of his right arm during World War I. That could have ended his passion for art — but didn't — because of his persistence and thirst to share his work. Pippin's art is now in major art museums. Handbook for Dragon Slayers (HarperCollins) by Merrie Haskell, a fantasy adventure tale featuring a princess with a misshapen foot, is just right for middle grade readers. Older teens and adults alike are certain to respond to Elizabeth Wein's Rose Under Fire (Hyperion), a riveting story of survival, friendship, and retribution for victims disfigured by medical experimentation in a concentration camp during World War II. What makes each of these books memorable is that they are good stories, well told and thoughtfully, handsomely illustrated. Plus, each presents characters with a disability in addition to their remarkable traits.