Tuesday, July 5, 2016

ALA: Post Two, The Sweetness of the Schneider Award

I'm still ruminating on my whole ALA experience, and all it meant for me and my fellow children's book lovers. One thing I did not expect was how personal and sweet it ended up feeling to have won the Schneider Award.

The Schneider Family Award for Disability Representation is one of the newest of ALA's awards, having been started in 2004. It is presented to books in three age groups: picture books, middle grades, and young adult. The winners must have primary or secondary characters dealing with physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities in a ways that are realistic, non-pitying, and integral to the story. Books which end in death are generally disqualified.

 I'd been aware of the Schneider since its inception, I knew TWTSML would be qualified for it, and of course I knew I would love to win it, but Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt was a strong contender in middle grades this year so I didn't get my hopes up too far. To my joy, both Lynda and I won: for the first time ever, the committee voted to give the Schneider to two middle grades novels this year. The YA award went to The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, about a support group for teens with OCD, and the picture book award went to Emmanuel's Dream, about a young man born with a non-functioning leg who changed public perception of the disabled in his home country of Ghana.

For some reason the Schneider is treated a little bit differently than other ALA youth media awards. The Odyssey has its own ceremony. The Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder are given out at a huge banquet, the highlight o.f the convention. The Coretta Scott King, Printz, and Siebert are given out together at a breakfast. The Schneider was given mid-afternoon, as part of a very large ceremony that otherwise recognized specific libraries, librarians, and library programs. We were the only book people there. We were called onstage, read a citation, and given a really beautiful framed certificate that detailed why the committee chose our work. (We also each got a check: this award has a cash prize.)

I thought it was really nice. Then, the next day, I went to the Schneider Award Luncheon, and I understood so much more.

The luncheon was just the committee members, a few ALA officers, the award winners and their families. We'd all met the day before, and we were comfortable, having a nice time, laughing and talking. Then someone put Dr. Katherine Schneider on the phone.

She's the person who conceived and funded the Schneider award. Before the luncheon, I didn't know a thing about her. Did not know her name. Turns out she was born blind, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1940s. Not only did she become the first blind student to graduate from public high school in Kalamazoo, she did so as valedictorian and National Merit Scholar. She earned her PhD in psychology from Purdue University and taught at the University of Wisconsin until her recent retirement.

She loved to read, but, growing up, could never find books about children like herself. In an interview with ALA published two years ago, she says, "Growing up as a blind kid, there was very little available. Not only was there very little available in Braille  or on records back then, but the images of people with disabilities  that were out there in literature, the little lame prince, Louis Braille,  Helen Keller and the seven blind men that went to see the  elephant, that was it.
"Now, Louis Braille, Helen Keller, Very cool. Dead people. And the seven blind men who  went to see the elephant….yes, I know, that was an analogy. But that's not what  kids get out of  it. Kids get out of it that blind people are stupid. They don't know what an elephant looks like. And I know that's what they get out of it, because that's what they said to me out on the  playground.”
Dr. Schneider told us she was delighted that more and more children's books now feature kids with disabilities. She considers her award a success. I'm absolutely thrilled to have my work honored by her and her committee;