Thank you to conference co-ordinator Cindy Perras, and Tina Taylor Dyches and the rest of the Dolly Gray Award Committee, for supporting my work. In addition, thanks to my publisher at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, and the Saskatchewan Arts Board, for facilitating my travel to this year’s conference. Presentations here will encourage my current work on a continuation of the story of Taylor Jane Simon, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, in a third novel in the series (The White Bicycle), following the plot included in Waiting for No One which takes off from the first book Wild Orchid. It is indeed an honour for me to be here.
The work that the Dolly Gray Committee is doing in spotlighting books that portray characters with disabilities is tremendously supportive of what Eliza Dresang (1999) has conceptualized as Radical Change regarding children’s literature—the evolution of kids’ books in terms of changing forms and formats, boundaries, and perspectives. Classrooms now have access to resources portraying diversity regarding gender, sexual orientation, and cultural differences, and it’s about time the inclusion of different abilities in these resources follows suit. The work of the Dolly Gray Committee is integral to authors as well as educators—writers need to see a place for authentic work involving characterizations that include disabilities on a landscape where such work has been lacking.
Canadian author Kenneth Oppel, in his wonderful middle grade fantasy novel Darkwing, creates an evocative situation about a young arboreal glider with physical differences from the rest of his clan. Dusk, persecuted by others in his community on the basis of his uniqueness, asks his sister, “Is different wrong?” and her answer for Dusk, and for all of us, is predictably heartbreaking. I believe in a time when Dusk’s sister, and all of society, will give us another kind of answer when this question is asked about difference. Difference is normal, being part of the realm of human experience, and difference is part of what makes life so interesting. Conferences such as this one promote alternative thinking about difference, which is one of the reasons why this is such an important event. In addition, conferences and award lists help us support challenges related to disabilities while at the same time celebrating people’s gifts.
Robert Coles (1989) has in his work a wonderful quote about the value of stories: “...yours, mine—it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them” (p. 30). I look forward to hearing your stories during the rest of this conference!
Coles, R. (1989). The call of stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Dresang, E. T. (1999). Radical change: Books for youth in a digital age. New York: H. W. Wilson.