The importance of including all children in books

Published on: 08 September 2015 Author: Alex Strick

Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Books talks to BookTrust's Alex Strick about the importance of including all children in their books, and the challenges of including different forms of physical disability.

How important are inclusion and diversity to Barefoot?

Inclusion and diversity have always been central to our offer. Right from the start, our approach has been to introduce children to different ways of life and to alternative ways of thinking about the world. For example, our very first publishing programme in 1993 included The Mountains of Tibet, by Mordecai Gerstein, which follows the life and life-after-life of a Tibetan boy. It is still in print.

How do you ensure that diversity - and particularly disability - continue always to be kept in mind?

In terms of cultural diversity, we have a huge map in the editorial department and we refer to this on a regular basis to see which cultures we might have overlooked. As far as physical inclusivity is concerned, we have increased the attention we pay to this area in recent years, having received a very positive response from our customers to titles in which physical disabilities feature without being pathologised. We have been indebted, too, to the work of BookTrust in this area and also to the advice of Inclusive Minds.

My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words

How did the book become quite so inclusive? Was it planned to be so from the offset?

Yes, from the start, we wanted My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words to be a thoroughly 21st-century offering. We were keen to cover all areas so we also wove in lots of green themes - we wanted to convey (in a non-preachy way) the fact that we all need to consume less energy if we are to check the potentially catastrophic damage that is being caused by over-consumption of resources. We prepared lists of what to include in each scene and gave Sophie Fatus, the illustrator, precise instructions to follow.

The book goes beyond the more 'obvious' images of disability. Alongside lots of very active wheelchair users, there are all sorts of lovely details and 'environmental' clues like ramps and hearing loops. Where did you get the inspiration? And how did you ensure it was all accurate?

In many cases, we sourced visual references and sent them to the illustrator. We also shared the roughs with Beth at Inclusive Minds to make sure that we were getting it right.

Some of the details are extremely subtle - and rightly so! Am I right in thinking I spotted an eye patch on the vet?

You are!

My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words

Were there any particularly unexpected or exciting elements for you? Anything you would not have thought of before?

One of the challenges of having a physically inclusive approach is that some of the current technology is so very discreet that it is hard to highlight - for example, hearing aids can be so finely designed as to be almost invisible, especially in the context of a crowded scene. The illustrator almost went overboard with eye patches - we had one in almost every scene and had to ask her to take some out!

Has this inspired you to keep upping the ante and looking for new ways to ensure inclusivity?

Yes - finding new ways of ensuring inclusivity is a constant challenge. The nature of this book was such that it gave us a lot of scope - it includes a wide range of characters and this enabled us to introduce more elements in a more subtle way than might otherwise have been the case.

What other plans do you have in terms of inclusive books?

We are following the success of My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words with a book on Children of the World. We are working on this project with illustrator David Dean, and drawing up lists of what to include right now, as he embarks on his first character sketches.

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