Category Archives: Community Diversity

I don’t think so: A Canadian reacts to the American election

This blog is ultimately about inclusion. Yes, I focus on inclusive early literacy but in light of the USA election results, I need to air a few thoughts about what this all means to me, as a human being, a Canadian, and a professional white woman who has worked my entire adult life to provide literacy resources directly to children and their families. If you know me in real life you know I am prone to foul-mouthed responses to things that upset me, things like misogyny, ableism, bigotry and general hatred being at the top of my list of profanity inducing issues. So fill in the asterisks as you see fit in the following: What the actual f***! It is 2016! What are these f***ers thinking electing this monster? What is wrong with you stupid a**h***s anyway! Oh my freaking…what? What?

I watched the election results with my sister and at the end of it all we hugged and cried and I walked home in the rain weeping and saying out loud to the night “How could they do that?” over and over again.

I’m not American, but I am North American. I arrived in Canada at age 5 and became a citizen at 16. Almost my entire adult life in Canada has been spent working with children and families, mostly in public libraries. I have developed and delivered many programs intended to increase the participation and inclusion of our most vulnerable community members, and I know we do good work. Here’s the thing though: A great deal of my drive and enthusiasm for children’s librarianship has come from my association with American librarians. I started attending library conferences in the USA early in my library career and quickly tuned in to the critical mass of excellence that thrives there. I give credit to countless US colleagues for expanding my abilities, for making me a better children’s librarian and a better advocate for getting library services to the children and families who need us most, i.e. immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities and members of other marginalized and underserved communities.

Today, I think my relationship with so many American librarians lulled me into a sense of security. There were so many fantastic librarians doing so much good work, for all the right and socially just reasons that this couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? To my mind, Americans were smart and strong and they gave an actual sh** about people, or at least enough of them did to keep Trump from winning, are you kidding me? Wrong. I admit I was wrong. And now things are wrong and not only slightly wrong but terribly wrong.

At this moment, I choose to speak truth to this utter wrongness and say I denounce Trump and his ilk. I denounce bigotry in all its insidious forms and I denounce complacency. I denounce the now common refrains: Calm down; Wait four years; and my personal favourite: Give him a chance! What the actual f***? Why should I give him a chance? He has had a lifetime of chances to prove he is not a bigoted jerk and I am supposed to wait until he’s installed in the freaking White House until he proves himself as anything but the bigoted, misogynist, ableist and ignorant cad he really is? As a Canadian librarian who has spent decades fostering young children on their paths to becoming critically literate citizens of the planet I denounce this nonsense for what it is: an unfathomably enormous backwards step for the entire human race, and a particularly hard and brutal shove backwards for what I thought was a shared, vibrant and just North American culture. Ouch, that hurts.

Besides being worried for very specific people who Trump’s agenda poses actual and immediate danger to, I am intellectually and morally distressed that the bigotry I always knew existed at a certain level isn’t actually on the down low, isn’t actually on the decline, isn’t actually socially unacceptable like I thought it was. No. This kind of crap is everywhere and while we’re at it we won’t be ignoring the fact that it is insidiously rampant in Canada too. Besides the actual existence of these horrid attitudes, now that Trump has told the entire world that xenophobia, ableism and misogyny is okay, the bigots and sexists have their hero (again). They and their terrible ideas are being legitimized as I type. Today, I learned that a Canadian politician thinks his “exciting” ideas will be welcomed in Canada? I don’t f***ing think so, not in my Canada anyway.

I am not crawling under a rock to wait it out though. I have every intention of continuing to show up for my students as well as and the children and families I serve in public libraries. I will call out bigotry and ableism at every turn so I dare bigots to try it in my presence, or on my Facebook page, on my Twitter page, on my blog or in real life. I will take bigotry down while I still have breath. I will research and write and publish and talk about inclusion. I will hold the line for equality, respect and acceptance. I will watch my colleagues in Canada, the USA and beyond do this good work too. The monsters got in a few shoves, maybe took a bite or two, but they are not eating us whole. No way.



What about adults with disabilities in libraries?

I am in the throes of revising my dissertation. I have a publication coming out in a library journal in a few months though, and I will post about that here when it is available to read. The library world is quite small, and I have been approached to offer suggestions on how to “handle” certain disability-themed situations. Sometimes I have good, concrete suggestions, mainly because they are things I have thought about before, or things that I have heard other people have had success with. Even though my scholarly knowledge is focussed on young children, I even get asked about adults with disabilities in libraries sometimes, as was the case today. The person who asked me said that some staff were considering inviting some adults with disabilities to children’s programs because they were developmentally more like children so wouldn’t these programs be the right fit for them?

I am tired of hearing that adults with developmental disabilities described as being “like children”. They aren’t. They may have low literacy levels, they may have low vocabulary and lower abilities to express themselves than other people their age. They might like a lot of things that kids like but so do many non-disabled adults too (hullo, Star Wars, Harry Potter?). That doesn’t mean adults with developmental disabilities should be grouped in with children, or worse, treated like children. They are not children and have every right to be treated like adults because they are adults. Adults with disabilities should have agency in the choices they make, even if they need help making those choices and need support in acting on their choices. It is demeaning to adults with disabilities to be perceived as children and treated like children in adults’ bodies.

Now on to specific scenarios to address in public libraries: Many children’s library programs are designed to be experienced by a group of age peers and that is completely okay. As long as they are inclusive of all the children within that age range who show up, disability or no disability, it is okay. I might be one of the most disability-friendly librarians on the planet, but I would not want an adult with any kind of  disability to come to my book trailer program, not because of their disability and not because I thought they couldn’t learn to make a book trailer, because I would always assume they could. I would not want them to come because it is a program for children and this person just isn’t a child. However, that being said, in order to provide topnotch library service, I would want very much to point this person to an appropriate program for adults and I would want very much to assume that they would be welcomed at that program by that particular program’s leader. If this adult needed to have or bring a support person of course that would be accommodated and if they needed to have things explained visually, or needed a bit of extra time to do the program activities or whatever, that would also be accommodated. That is what inclusion is.

What concerns me about this is that in discussions to do with libraries and adults with developmental disabilities, it often seems to me that offering children’s programs are the only thing being considered. But adults should attend offerings for other adults, not children. So what are adult librarians thinking about here? Have they never encountered an adult with a developmental disability who wants to participate in any of their book clubs or crafting circles or whatever? I am going to venture a guess and say, rarely or probably not. This might be because there is a widespread assumption that adults with developmental disabilities are “child-like” so they couldn’t possibly be interested in adult oriented programs so they often don’t get invited either.

If public libraries offer programs that are open to the general public, things like puppet shows, magicians, concerts and singalongs then by all means, invite adults with disabilities to come, but don’t invite them just because they are adults with disabilities. Invite them because they are people who might enjoy something fun. If you offer programs with specific age ranges in mind, like my example of a book trailer camp for ages 10-12 then no, don’t invite them and gently say no even if they ask. It is a program for children and they are not children. Refer them to something else instead. If there isn’t anything else then we’ve found a gap in service haven’t we?

Library staff members at all levels of service need to be educated in what is called the social model of disability and they need to understand that barriers to participation for an adult with a disability are erected by society, not the person themselves. Keep in mind that we are emerging from an era when people like the adults with disabilities who come into your library today were institutionalized as a matter of course. This practice was generally horrendous and unjust and we should be relieved that it is no longer standard practice. However, the remnants of that era are still with us and many of the practices directed at people with disabilities seem to me to be designed to keep them in their assumed place at the bottom of the social heap. Often they must be recipients of “charity” just to live their lives with dignity and many do not have lives of dignity even with charity. This is appalling. People with disabilities need agency and opportunities not tokenism and charity and they most definitely do not need to be infantilized.

We have long way to go, but I maintain that public libraries are a great place to demonstrate inclusion. However, I also believe that there is a chasm we all need to cross first. In my research, I have been working on early years inclusion in libraries but I sincerely hope other library researchers take up other age groups. Finally, I will state that “special” library programs designed just for people with disabilities are perfectly acceptable and that while they can and do offer a great many things they don’t really do much (or enough) to advance inclusion aims. Finally, it troubles me that libraries are constantly calling themselves inclusive places when their programming and overall practices really aren’t inclusive. As a profession, we need to understand inclusion from a social model of disability standpoint and it is on all of us to figure out what that means in terms of how we go about meeting the needs of adults with disabilities beyond inviting them to a program designed for children.


ASL English Bilingual Family Storytime Resources – click here!

This link will take you to another blog that is a compilation of resources that some colleagues and I put together to promote this great program model at a conference we presented at in May. Enjoy!We are all very proud of this collaborative program model!

Aiming for Inclusion: Breakout Session at ALSC Institute Fairyland

Here is a summary of the Fairyland breakout session that I presented with my colleague Kelly. Thanks to all who attended!

Aiming for Inclusion at ALSC Institute 2014

What we are talking about: inclusive programs not “special needs” education or designing special programs for special kids. We are also not able to delve into specific features of children with different disabilities and what you might need to know to help include them – we are dealing in generalities, with some suggested techniques that both Kelly and I have found effective in inclusive settings where children with disabilities participate alongside their age peers.

Dealing with disability in history

Among other things, inclusion means we are working towards overcoming systemic exclusion and presumptions of incompetence. This is important to acknowledge: a great deal of social harm occurred/still occurs because of exclusionary practices with regards to those who had/have developmental disabilities/differences. It is important that we each acknowledge our own biases, fears and possible misunderstandings about disability in general as we begin to consider how we might approach our own programs and their inclusiveness.

Inclusion definition from NAEYC/DEC

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports. (see links for URL to this statement)

Building on this definition, and drawing on the work of sociocultural literacy researchers, my own working definition of inclusive early literacy as I conduct my doctoral research is this:

Inclusive early literacy, refers to early literacy policies, discourses, programs, practices and opportunities that consider the needs of diverse children and their families in order for children to participate together in the same setting. One of the aims of inclusive early literacy is to ensure that young children with disabilities are given the same or similar opportunities to have appropriate early literacy experiences as their age peers without disabilities.

What are the implications of this statement and how can children’s librarians aim to emulate it when we create programs for young children and their families?

Since we all agree that everyone is indeed welcome to come to our programs, why are we

  1. noticing that children with disabilities tend NOT to come to regular programs and
  2.  creating “special” programs just for kids with disabilities?

We could have an entire conference just about barriers but for this discussion we are going to focus on 2 very significant ones and ones that, once addressed, serve to greatly increase the inclusiveness of all of your programs.

  • Size of group – why is this important?
  • Speech & Language, pacing & comprehension – why is this important?

 Some techniques to address some barriers

Language Fun Storytime began as a “special” program: in partnership with speech therapists, children’s librarians deliver small-group storytimes to children who are receiving or waiting for speech-language therapy. The program design was, in a large part, conceived by a speech therapist, who thought that a program that focussed on just one book per week, done 2 or 3 different ways would be appropriate for children with language delays. You can read more about this program in the book called Children’s Services: Partnerships for Success, edited by Betsy Diamant-Cohen. It was. It still is. However, the technique of repeating of only one story, and/or repeating thematic elements of a single story within the program can be applied to more diverse groups of children (what we call “population-based”). This means that the whole population is represented there. Interestingly, Betsy’s newer book “Transforming Preschool Storytime” promotes repetition of stories told in different ways across storytime series. These techniques are inclusive: they consider the needs of children who may need extra time and support to grasp concepts, new words etc. but they remain engaging and developmentally appropriate for children who have typical development.

Here is how this would work with Pete the Cat in a “regular” storytime program where children with diverse abilities were in attendance, along with your other usual storytime elements of songs, fingerplays, dances etc.

  • Book
  • Felt board
  • Sock activity

Moe the Mouse ™ Speech and Language Development Program: A Program of the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society

Speech sounds are the building blocks of verbal communication and in order to be understood when speaking, children must learn how to make the speech sounds of a language. (BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Book)

Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Box is a speech and language resource, created by Speech Language Pathologists, that uses Aboriginal toys and stories to strengthen language development in young children. While developed for childcare settings, this rich resource has elements that can be incorporated into library storytime, including activities that help children produce speech sounds in isolation and then use them in words.

Who is Moe?  Moe is a charming little mouse mascot, who brings animal friends with him to storytime, each with their own speech sound. Moe cheers the children on as they use the various speech sounds to participate in storytelling, songs and activities.

Moe the Mouse ™ storytime is population-based and supports children’s language development in a natural setting.  It is also a lot of fun!

Discussion, Q&A



We all understand that social inclusion & inclusive education is still “a work in progress” in our society. As professionals who serve families, we commit to being part of the progress towards a time when we don’t need to worry about children with disabilities’ (or any other kind of barrier) access to early literacy experiences!

  • Investigate the possibility of working with speech therapists and others who serve preschoolers in your community.
  • Be open to trying new approaches to regular storytime programs that address some of the barriers we have identified
  • Continue to offer “special” programs as a way to build bridges with families whose children have disabilities and to invite their eventual participation in regular programs


NAEYC Inclusion Statements

NAEYC Diversity Statements

My Inclusive Early Literacy Discussion Summary on ALA Connect

Language Fun Storytime Links

Moe the Mouse Links

Word Crimes : Feedback to Weird Al

To: Weird Al
Re: Word Crimes
Despite being purely brilliant in places, many of us in the disability community are not pleased with this video: After one view, I was able to count three cheap shots: spastic (totally unacceptable as an insult): mouth-breather (not much better than calling someone a retard): drool (ditto) I will give a pass to the use of the word “moron” (spelled moran in the video) but I really shouldn’t because it shares a common history with words like retarded as a word that was once a “diagnosis” becoming synonymous with stupidity. All these insults come from systematic and historical hatred towards people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom were/are denied access to literacy education not because they were/are incapable of learning to read but because someone decided/decides they were/are not worth teaching. I know perfectly well that your song is meant to target those who have chosen to ignore the education they have been privileged to receive. However, in amongst a great deal of extreme cleverness and humour, you also invoke images about those who have been systematically excluded from education in order to deliver your insults to those who you deem be too lazy to use what they were freely given.

Inclusivity in Storytime Programs: Including Children with Disabilities

At the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, I had a the honour of leading a discussion about inclusion in storytime programs. Follow the link to read my notes. Following my presentation, we had a roundtable discussion on the importance of finding ways to encourage the participation of children with disabilities in library programs: sometimes that means creating specialized, separate programs and sometimes it means rethinking the way we deliver regular programs to maximize the participation of children who may otherwise not be able to participate to their potential. Many thanks to my hosts with the ALSC Preschool Discussion Group, Sue McLeaf Nespeca and Linda Ernst for inviting me to present on this topic! Also, many thanks to the the discussion group attendees who shared their perspectives and thoughts on this topic. We all agreed that children’s librarians play extremely important roles in ensuring that children with disabilities are provided with early literacy learning opportunities in their communities.

2013-10-26 14.53.59


We DO need diverse books

We need more picture books with kid characters who have disabilities but the book is about something else entirely…like maybe getting a new chinchilla or taking a trip to Jupiter or baking ant cookies…you know, a picture book?