Friday, January 6, 2017

Disability In KidLit is Closing Down and I am Sad

In their December newsletter, the editors of Disability in KidLit announced that their team would be taking an indefinite hiatus. 

Disability in KidLit is a site which is, in their words:
"dedicated to discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult literature. We publish articles, reviews, interviews, and discussions examining this topic from various angles--and always from a disabled perspective."
They always get someone with the disability depicted in a book to review it -- whether the reviewer is one of their own staff or a guest reviewer. Additionally, they sometimes post more than one review of the same book. This allows readers to see different perspectives and reactions. They define "portrayal of disability" as protagonists and important secondary characters with disabilities, using a broad definition of "disability" which includes physical disability as well as "chronic conditions, neurological differences, or mental illnesses."

It's a great resource for anyone who wants to read more diversely or who wants to find books depicting disabilities experienced by themselves and/or their loved ones. Unfortunately, it is an all-volunteer site, run by people who are intensely passionate but who also have to balance work and everyday life with maintaining a website for which they are not paid. Despite adding to their staff, the volume of work has become too much to reasonably handle and so Disability in KidLit is going on an indefinite hiatus

I'm upset about this. "Devastated" would be accurate.

Now, I don't think the site is perfect. I actually have a huge issue with their policy against reviewing indie, small press, and self-pub/epub books. In fact, they only review books by "major publishers" with a "significant" presence in stores. Some of the best work in #diversebooks and #ownvoices publishing is being done by indie and small press, precisely because diverse books have not had success with major publishers. Furthermore, for #ownvoices authors, disclosing a disability could hurt their chances.

When it comes to lack of diversity in books and the suppression of marginalized authors and voices, major publishers are part of the problem. In this light, Disability in KidLit's focus on only major publishers is counter-intuitive.

Still, they are a major site dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and educating about portrayals of all kinds of disability in kidlit. And now they're going away. Indefinitely. 

I'm upset because this is a need that doesn't appear to be met elsewhere. Much of the push towards diversity in books was started by the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and current organization by that name. However, their "Where to Find Diverse Books" resource list includes only one site for disability: Disability in KidLit.

Now, We Need Diverse Books does specify that their list of sites is not comprehensive and that "we welcome suggestions of current, active sites that provide diverse book lists." Disability in KidLit will no longer be a current, active site come spring. Will it be removed? What will they replace it with? Is there anything comparable to replace it with? 

No, seriously; if you know of a similar site, please let me know. It would make me feel a bit better.

This, I think, may be part of the problem. Beyond being all-volunteer, they had too high a volume of work to maintain; even shutting down submissions and hiring new staff didn't help. They had to cover a huge range of books about all kinds of disabilities in the wide range of reading/age levels implied by KidLit. 

That is a lot of work, especially if you're not paid for it and are the only organization (that I know of) tackling this subject at this level of depth and output. From that perspective, limiting themselves to major publishers seems like a practical choice.

In an ideal world, we have many different large, well-staffed, popular sites that cover different kinds of diversity within disability. But whether there aren't enough books, or enough staff and volunteers, or enough interest in the topic, there don't appear to be many of those kinds of sites. 

This sucks in particular because ableism appears to be one of the more "acceptable" forms of prejudice, even for well-meaning "woke folk." We need resources like Disability in KidLit. Especially as we see headlines about repealing the ACA, it's discouraging to see it go -- another casualty of 2016.

I know this was a hard decision for Disability in KidLit. I wish them the best and hope they can restart the site sometime in the future. It will remain available to browse, and their archives are still a valuable resource. They intend to publish their backlog as well, so the site will continue to update through Spring 2017.

But if anyone knows of somewhere else that does comparable work on a similar scale, please let me know. I need some cheering up after this news.

2 comments:

  1. :( I'm sorry to hear about the site going on hiatus. I don't read much KidLit, though I'm bound to do a bit more once my 3yo son's attention level approaches that of my 6yo daughter's. Right now, he prefers the rhyming fun of Dr. Seuss.

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    1. Yeah, it's disheartening. But if you do end up looking for more books in the younger age range, there are probably some good ones on there! The last few posts I noticed were mostly Young Adult but there were some Middle Grade (9-ish to 13-ish) titles reviewed, too. :)

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