Ten Things to Know about the Schneider Family Book Award,By Peg Glisson
On Monday, June 30, 2014, during the ALA Annual Conference, the Schneider Family Book Award celebrated its Tenth Anniversary at a celebratory luncheon with 2014 honorees Elizabeth Wein, Merrie Haskell, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet and their publishers, current and incoming Schneider Book Award Jury members, and ALA representatives. A highlight was a conference call with Award Sponsor Dr. Katherine Schneider.Yet, when many librarians, booksellers, or teachers hear Schneider Book Award, I frequently see a puzzled look or the response “What’s that?” As a jury member for the 2013 and 2014 Awards, that pains me! We-I-need to get the word out more about this unique book award. In my head I started listing what’s so great about the Schneider; now I’m sharing that list with you.
1. One, Two, Three.
“Three awards are given annually to recognize and honor books for their distinguished portrayal of people living with a disabling condition.”
The three categories are books for younger children (ages 0 to 8), middle grades (ages 9 to 13), and teens (ages 14 to 18). These three separate age groupings demonstrate the breadth of award.
2. What’s a disability?
The definition of disability is very broad. The disability may be physical, mental, or emotional and the person with the disability may be a child or adult, who does not have to be the main character. The character must, however, play a significant role in the story.
This flexibility allows each committee to decide on the qualifications of particular titles in any given year.
3. Not one, but many.
The jury must include members from several divisions of the American Library Association and from the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Handicapped.
At least one jury member must be a member of ALSC, (Association for Library Service to Children), YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) and ASCLA (Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies). Each brings expertise in literature for the age group served by that Division.
Each year’s winners are made accessible for the visually impaired, thus the inclusion of the NLS Youth or Young Adult Librarian on the Jury. That member must be an ALA member. Having a NLS representative on the Jury broadens the Jury’s point of view during deliberations.
4. Who’s in charge?
The Award is administered and awarded by the American Library Association, not a particular division, but announced each January at the big Youth Media Awards Press Conference at ALA’s Midwinter Conference.
This gives the Schneider Award double coverage and emphasizes its significance. By being the first award announcement at the January Press Conference, the Schneider Awards receive the attention and publicity given those other prestigious awards in the media. The awarding of the framed certificate and monetary prize at the ALA President’s Awards/Program at Annual draws the notice of all ALA Divisions. In this case, two is definitely better than one!
5. These are good books!
It is not uncommon for there to be some overlap with other literature awards each year, which emphasizes the Jury’s search for well-written, quality literature for young people, just with a slightly different lens: “the artistic expression of the disability experience.” (ibid) A good book is a good book, no matter its plot.
6. There is no “free pass.”
If no title is deemed worthy within a category, the Jury can choose not to give an award in that category, as they did in the young child category in 2012. There is, in fact, a scarcity of quality books received for consideration in the birth to 8 category. Publishers-take note!
7. Disabilities fall within diversity.
There’s been lots of discussion lately-on listservs, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and in professional journals-calling for diversity in books. Diversity is more than ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation; it is economic and social as well. It’s sad, but true, that people with disabilities are treated differently in schools, the workplace, at the mall, . . . Having good books with characters having a disability is just as important as having good books portraying cultural, ethnic and social differences! (Again, publishers-take note.)
8. Who are the books for?
Everyone! Just as stories featuring soccer players aren’t meant just for soccer players to read, neither are books having a character with a disability. We know reading about something helps the reader understand the people and the situations. Certainly that is part of the intent of the award.
That being said, however, Dr. Schneider often mentions the dearth of books having a character with a disability when she was a child-let alone well-written ones. The Award allows young people with a disability or living with someone with disability to read good literature about characters like themselves.
9. Behind the scenes.
Who is Dr. Katherine Schneider? How involved is she with this award? She is senior psychologist emerita from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Counseling Services, who happens to be visually impaired. After deciding with her family to establish the Schneider Family Book Award, she worked with ALA to establish the award and its criteria. She is in contact occasionally with the ALA Program Officer about details or the NLS, about making these books accessible to those who are visually impaired. She is not involved in the deliberations and learns of the winners as does everyone else, through the Youth Media Awards Press Conference.
However, Dr. Schneider is present at each Award Luncheon. Initially she travelled to each conference location; but of late she joins in via a conference call, a high point for the Jury members and the Award winners! Naturally, she offers words of praise to the authors and illustrators and thanks to the Jury and ALA. Her passion and care for those with disabilities comes through those words of praise and thanks. But then she goes on, with a nugget or two for the Jury to ponder, to help them in their work, or to inspire them. I can’t speak for the other Jury members, but personally I envy those who served in earlier years who had the opportunity to meet this remarkable woman in person; and I am sad when we have to say goodbye and the conversation ends.
10. More to come!
This year’s Jury has undertaken updating the online select bibliography of outstanding books that portray emotional, mental, or physical disability experiences. Until it’s ready, take a look at the current bibliography covering books from 2000 – 2008.
(http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/sites/ala.org.awardsgrants/files/content/awardsrecords/schneideraward/2009_schneider_bio_children.pdf ) The updated bibliography will be posted at that same web address.
The 2014 Jury, under the direction of Chair Alyson Beecher, is determined to build awareness of the Schneider Family Award and its wonderful winners. A series of blog posts, covering such things as the 2014 Jury’s Top Ten Favorites from the last ten years, interviews with Schneider-winning authors, and ways to highlight and use Schneider books with students and teachers will be posted throughout the month of July 2014 on several literature blogs. Posts begin July 6 on The Nerdy Book Club with the Top 10 Schneider Picks of the 2014 and 2015 juries; do visit, comment, and share. Kid Lit Frenzy has information about the complete10th Anniversary Blog Tour and Giveaway, as does The Nerdy Book Club as well.