Putting Disabled Children In The Picture
in the picture: "a state of being fully informed or noticed." The Concise Oxford Dictionary scope - Time to get equal

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Jeanne Willis


In The Picture was keen to find out more about author Jeanne Willis whose book "Susan Laughs" published by Anderson Press has been the most nominated "in the picture" book by parents and professionals. Project Manager Susan Clow visited her to find out more.

1. Jeanne, we are really keen to know what led you to create the Susan Laughs book?

I think it goes back to the time when I was pregnant with my second child. I was 34 and when I was given advice about an amniocentesis I was amazed to find that my chances of having a disabled child were 1 in 70. Something of this must have lodged inside me. One day when my daughter was about 10 months I found myself looking at her and thinking about how she would be if her physical development was arrested at this point. I felt the need to explain that whatever the situation she would still be my daughter and would still experience life and that night I planned and wrote "Susan Laughs" in one sitting.

2. Some of your books show you have a good feel for disability equality, why do you think this is?

I had contact in my early career in advertising with people with learning disabilities. From this I already had strong views that we should challenge assumptions about how disabled people live their lives, and a feeling that choices should not be limited. I like to convey the fact that we all have the same wants, desires and needs. I researched this area too for a teen novel "Naked Without a Hat" which has prejudice as a theme.

Recently I have had contact with Seven Stories and met groups of deaf children. I learnt about the need for more books for deaf children. This surprised me until I learnt more about how we learn to read from hearing language and then I understood what this meant.

[note from interviewer - see this deafness and reading article]

I have also learnt a lot about visual impairment from having one of my Dr Xargle books made into a raised thermoform book through the Living Paintings Trust. I am keen to know how children have responded to this.

3. What are you working on at the moment?

This is also linked to our discussion in many ways - it is a picture book with Tony Ross called "Cotton Wool Colin" and shows how we can over protect and how we need to be allowed to experience the world and take risks.

4. What advice would you give a new generation of illustrators?

I am looking forward to seeing if this new generation can approach things from a different viewpoint, offering new perspectives to children. They are part of a much more visible, diverse society and have the opportunity to promote acceptance without question through their illustration. I think the biggest onus is on the illustrators. The visual is so powerful.

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Jeanne Willis

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Scope: About cerebral palsy. For disabled people achieving equality. Time to get equal