Faculty from across the university honored McKay School dean Mary Anne Prater by selecting her as the 2014 Alice Louise Reynolds Women-in-Scholarship lecturer. Along with the lecture, a special luncheon was held in her honor April third.
In her lecture Prater shared her research and analysis concerning the representation of characters with disabilities in children’s literature. She found that most of literature’s beloved characters with disabilities have had physical or sensory handicaps, such as Tiny Tim’s stunted growth or Captain Hook’s missing hand. Less common are characters with intellectual disabilities. To call attention to a need for representing these disabilities, Prater and her colleagues created the Dolly Gray Award in 1999 to honor authors portraying multidimensional characters with developmental disabilities.
Named for a girl born with severe cerebral palsy who loved to read, the Dolly Gray Award has been presented annually by the Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children. Mark Haddon, an author who received the award for his book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, said, “I look forward to a time in the not-too-distant future when such prizes seem outdated and unnecessary, when children with learning difficulties of all kinds are as much a part of our society as children with red hair or children who play the clarinet, and readers do not even notice when a book contains a character with learning difficulties because such books are as common as rain.”
Although not yet “as common as rain,” the number of books including characters with intellectual disabilities has increased. In a thesis examining over 130 books published between 1975 and 2009, BYU graduate student Melissa Leininger found that eight Newbery Award and 23 Newbery Honor books have portrayed characters with disabilities, and that of these books examined, 87 percent portray exemplary practices when dealing with these disabilities.
The lecture series honoring Prater is named after Alice Louise Reynolds, who was a BYU professor of English for 44 years. A student of Karl G. Maeser at Brigham Young Academy, Reynolds was the second woman in Utah to become a collegiate professor. Perhaps her most lasting influence was her work on the faculty library committee from its inception in 1906. Her efforts brought to BYU approximately 10,000 books; today a lecture hall in the Harold B. Lee Library is named for her.
“I am honored to have been selected,” Prater said. “I greatly appreciate the standard of excellence and fortitude Alice Reynolds demonstrated as a female academician in the early days of the university. She made an incredible contribution to BYU and is very deserving of being honored with this lectureship each year.”
Since becoming dean last July, Prater has been a keynote speaker at China’s first National Conference on Mental Health Education and at the Hawaii International Conference on Education. She recently received the Ben Bruse Distinguished Service Award from the Utah Council for Exceptional Children.
Contact Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922
Writer: Andrew Williamson