Case Study 2: St Elizabeth’s Catholic Primary School Workshops and Project
This project aimed to explore books by Austrian author Franz-Joseph Huainigg, in particular their language and illustrations in relation to disability, and the extent to which the books might be useful or relevant to UK audiences. The project also aimed to support greater disability awareness within the participating school, to help pupils to relate to aspects of being disabled and to help them formulate a set of questions that could be put to the author. The project would also aim to involve a UK author, with whom some of the learning points picked up by the children could then be shared.
The works of Franz-Joseph Huainigg are not known in the UK. During our first RtW project an anthology of his stories was translated into English and assessed as part of our research. The feedback received from our adult panel of experts recognising the powerful messages about the importance of inclusion and the definite educational merit in the books receiving a wider audience.
We wanted to hear the views of children themselves and to find out how they interacted with the books.
The two titles to be explored were:
My Wheelchair is my Legs
(Meine Füsse sind der Rollstuhl)
Franz-Joseph Huainigg, ills. by Verena Ballhau
Anthology (Gemeinsam sind wir grosse Klasse), Annette Betz, imprint of Ueberreuter, 2014, Language: German
Margit is determined to go shopping to the supermarket on her own, but it is the first time she has had to navigate her wheelchair alone through the streets and she encounters some challenges along the way.
We Talk with our Hands
(Wir sprechen mit den Händen)
Franz-Joseph Huainigg, ills. Verena Ballhaus
Lisa is deaf. She has learnt to use sign language, but no one else in her environment signs. This book tells the story of her encounter with Paul, a boy whose parents are deaf and has learned to sign.
Both Austrian author Dr Franz-Joseph Huainigg and UK author Susie Day have an interest in representing disabled characters in their books so we knew the examples of their work would show children how they included disabled characters in their stories.
Dr Franz-Joseph Huainigg has been disabled since he was a child and written many books for children about disability as well as campaigning on disability rights as an MP in the Austrian parliament. Susie Day’s book Pea’s Book of Holidays includes a disabled character with hemiplegia.
St Elizabeth's Catholic Primary School, a mainstream Infant and Junior school, was recommended by Dr Rebecca Butler who has strong links with the school.
For this particular project, we chose to work with an external facilitator. Dr Butler was one of our focus group for the first RtW project. She has substantial experience in the field of children’s literature and is a wheelchair-user herself. We knew that she was keen to work with us again and that she was already well known and respected by the school in question. We felt that this made her an ideal candidate to act as Facilitator along with the Librarian, Hannah Parker for St Elizabeth workshops and school project. Dr Butler was also particularly interested in working with the Huainigg books.
Date: 18 November 2016.
Participants: Four Year 5 and four Year 6 pupils. Length: 90 minutes.
The aim of the first workshop was to look at one of the books by Dr Franz-Joseph Huainigg. The workshop was about introducing the book and exploring the initial reaction from the children to it, identifying both the positives in terms of learning points provided by the book, as well as any issues or questions the children might have concerning its relevance to contemporary UK audiences.
My Wheelchair is My Legs
Dr Butler gave a brief introduction outlining the focus of the workshop. She explained to the children that their views about the book, its language and the illustrations used would be extremely valuable to the author and might help increase the chances of it being published in the UK.
Before they looked at My Wheelchair is My Legs the children were shown three books that feature children with disabilities or celebrate ‘difference’ in some way: Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, One World Together by Catherine and Laurence Anholt and Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers by Melanie Walsh.
The children looked through each and came up with some features that they felt were common to all three books and some words or phrases in response to the texts.
“Bright colours”, “simple language”, “clear message”, “disabled child always present on each page”, “being different is good” and “children of different races” were the most common responses.
Next the children were given copies of My Wheelchair is My Legs, which were enlarged to A3 size. They began reading the book aloud, taking each page in turn, and every child reading a page before discussing it together as a group.
Students and Dr Rebecca Butler from St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School, Richmond ©Photo St Elizabeth’s
Discussion about what the themes of the book were:
“Difference is good”
“Disabled people are no different”
“We should treat disabled people the same as we do able-bodied people”.
Questioned whether the children themselves would respond differently to a disabled person having read the book? Unanimously: “Yes.”
“I won’t pity disabled people”
“I won’t treat disabled people differently”
“I will ask them if they need help, not assume that they do.”
By exploring the Huainigg books and some UK books it helped to develop the children’s understanding of the way disability and diversity are currently represented in books, the gaps and the opportunities. They identified the need for books to reflect all aspects of diversity (not just disability) and the importance of accessible text, layout and images.
Following on from the first workshop, the school continued to discuss the theme of disability in books and to explore ways of increasing the children’s understanding of disability issues. For example, Dr Butler and the school chose to undertake a practical activity – a Disability Awareness morning – to further develop their understanding. The participants were four Year 5 pupils and Four Year 6 pupils and the session was facilitated by Hannah Parker, Librarian at St. Elizabeth’s.
Date: 10 February 2017.
Participants: Four Year 5 and four Year 6 pupils. Artist: Susie Day.
Length: 90 minutes.
The aim of the second workshop was for the children to meet with a UK author with an interest in disability, so that both parties could learn from one another. It would involve author Susie Day talking about her own books so the children could see how she included a disabled character, as well as the children being able to share their new-found knowledge with her in terms of their work on the Franz-Joseph Huainigg books.
The children who had been involved in the first workshop met Susie and shared their recent experience/feelings from the disability awareness activity and also their key ideas in terms of what they have learned so far from the Franz-Joseph Huainigg books - both about disability, what they would like to see in future children’s books and an outline of questions they wanted to ask the author.
After this initial session all the Y5’s and Y6’s came to join them and Susie talked about her work as an author and explained about Green-pen editing (how if you aren’t prepared to do that, you can’t be an author as you have to be able to do the boring part). She talked about inclusive books and how important doing research was because she was scared of getting it wrong.
Susie gave a brief reading from one of her books – Pea’s Book of Holidays featuring a boy with hemiplegia so the children could see how she included a disabled character into the story. She also talked about her new book Super Glue Sisters.
After Susie’s talk there was a questions and answer session with the best question receiving an audio book. One of the Y5’s, who is a struggling reader, and who would never normally be confident enough to ask a question, asked the winning question as they had become more confident over the course of the project.
We Talk With Our Hands
As with the previous workshop, children were given enlarged, A3 copies of We Talk With Our Hands to read through which was read aloud, taking each page in turn with each child reading a page before discussing it as a group.
The children’s conclusions and feelings about the themes of the book included:
“As with the last book, difference is good and having a disability does not automatically mean your life is bad.”
“Some people with disabilities have amazing skills that they learn as a result of their disability.”
“I would like to learn sign language.”
“Sometimes when one sense is damaged, others become heightened”.
“I’m going to listen to the sounds around me more.”
One of the things the children concluded was that books should have simple language and a clear message.
Dr Butler thought the children benefited from the experience of seeing books from another country that had not been translated into English. It was very empowering for them to feel really consulted. She felt the way the project was presented to the children was crucial and it clearly demonstrated that if children recognise that they are being genuinely consulted about books they will rise to the challenge and take the task very seriously.
Dr Butler believes the RtW2 project tackled two areas of marginalisation:
Translation – the translation of children’s literature, of which there is not enough, and allowing the children to know that you are taking them seriously is massively important. Sometimes children feel that they are not valued.
“We need to do more of this. A lot of children don’t even know when they are reading a translated book. These children will. Translation can be a niche area, and you need a real-life way in. The OIW project gave them that.”
Disability – there is only one line in the PSHE curriculum. The project gave the children a chance to explore something that they may not have been aware of. For example, the second workshop activity gave the children a deeper perspective of We Talk With Our Hands. One girl said that she wanted to learn sign language as a result of the session.
“The children really loved being involved and felt they were being taken seriously, the importance of the task and their contribution validated because they believed they were being seriously consulted.”
The children had already started thinking about what to ask Franz-Joseph Huainigg after the first workshop but the questions evolved during the second workshop with Susie Day and were fine-tuned afterwards.
The Project The in-depth analysis of the two Huainigg books together with the formulation of questions for the author all formed part of the school project. From the detailed work on each book the children were able to have a deeper understanding of disability and to clearly identify what they did and didn’t like in the books.
OIW/RtW2/St Elizabeth's CPSProject/2017