I love young adult fiction, as you might have been able to tell from my contributions to our Magical Mondays column. One of the many reasons is because, especially in recent years, YA authors have taken an incredibly active role in promoting diversity. They were the progenitors of the popular hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks and its spinoff hashtag, #WeNeedDiverseAuthors. YA authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo have created Diversity in YA, a site devoted to diverse YA books, and other authors in YA have taken the challenge of diversity head on. Today’s web crush, Disability in Kidlit, is no different.
Disability in Kidlit is a blog run by three authors who all identify as disabled. Together they review books with characters with disabilities, interview authors who write these characters, and share their own experiences of living with disabilities. Each author explains tropes, stereotypes, and general writing pitfalls with both wit and grace—making this blog an excellent resource for those who want to include characters with disabilities in their work. As their About page says:
Thoughtful portrayals of disability require more than memorizing a list of symptoms; we hope that sharing people’s day-to-day experiences, pet peeves, and thoughts on various disability-related topics will help readers and writers learn about the realities of disability, which are often quite different from what you read in books or see on TV.
And aside from all that, they also write and rec great books—one of my favorite reads of 2014 has definitely been Otherbound by Disability in Kidlit‘s co-founder, Corinne Duyvis.
By offering candid information on disabilities, Disability in Kidlit occupies an important place in today’s increasingly globalized culture. Much like some people might have never met a real queer person, some people don’t know anything about disabilities aside from what they’ve seen on the television. So that leads to some obvious inaccuracies. Yet I often see quotes that lament that authors can write about all manner of fictional creatures but can’t even begin to write a woman, or a character of color, or a queer character, or a character with a disability. The usual argument is that, if said authors are imaginative enough to dream up a society of wizards or dragonriders or sparkly vampires, why can’t they be imaginative enough to write a queer disabled woman of color as the protagonist?
However, while the anger behind that statement is certainly valid, it also somewhat ignores some authors’ very real fear of “doing it wrong”. If one is writing about dragons, the dragon police aren’t going to pop out of the woodwork and say that dragon customs and culture don’t work that way. You can make things up and change them as suits the story. But writing from a point of view which is not yours (or writing about a character whose situation you’re unfamiliar with) is a different issue, and many authors have no idea how to go about providing accurate representation. Although there’s no definitive right way to write a diverse character, people can and will come out of the woodwork to tell you that you are definitively writing it wrong. If the author is particularly worried about this sort of feedback, such concerns might stop them from writing diverse characters before they even start; if the author is a dick and doesn’t care, this is an easy excuse not to write any diverse characters.
That’s why resources like Disability in Kidlit are so useful and so relevant to the continuing diversification of YA as a genre. By providing real-life experiences with disabilities and discussing what bothers people with disabilities about their portrayal in media, Disability in Kidlit covers both what you should be concerned about as an author and as a consumer. It’s a wealth of information for the author who wants to learn to do better; it’s a giant fuck you to the author who doesn’t give a damn.