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Celebrities launch book competition for deaf children

Published Date: 07 Mar 2019

Rachel Shenton, the actress and Oscar-winning creator of The Silent Child, and The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, used World Book Day to speak about the importance of representing different disabilities in children’s stories. 

The pair said that it was incredibly important for disabilities like deafness to be featured in children’s books, and warned about the consequences a lack of diversity can have on children growing up.

Shenton and Donaldson are both passionate advocates for disability inclusion, and have teamed up to launch a book competition with the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Rachel Shenton, who rose to fame as a Hollyoaks actress, and won an Oscar last year for her film about a deaf child, said: “When I wrote The Silent Child, I created a film about an issue I’m incredibly passionate about, and have experience of in my own life. However the representation of different disabilities within TV and film is still incredibly low and that has to change.

“Making The Silent Child, and from my work in the deaf community, I’ve met so many amazing deaf children up and down the country. I’ve learnt just how important it is for these children to see themselves in the programmes and movies they watch and in the books they read. Never seeing themselves can be so demoralising, and make their experiences seem invisible.

“For World Book Day, which is such an exciting time for kids across the country to think about the stories they love, we need to remind everyone involved in the industry of how vital disability inclusion is. From children’s authors to book publishers, featuring disabled characters and the experiences they go through couldn’t be more important.”

Julia Donaldson, the former Children’s Laureate and bestselling author of The Gruffalo, has long been an advocate of disability inclusion in literature.  She said: “I’ve seen first-hand how powerful it is for a child to have their lives and their experiences reflected in what they read - to be able to say, 'There's someone like me!'"

The pair are talking about disability inclusion as they launch a book competition to promote deafness in children’s literature.

Julia Donaldson, who is hard of hearing herself, has written a book featuring lip-reading called Freddie and the Fairy, and when she was the Children's Laureate, worked with a group of deaf children to produce What the Jackdaw Saw, a book about sign language. "I loved working on that story, and now I am delighted to be involved in this writing competition. I can't wait to see the stories that deaf children across the country come up with."

The competition, organised by the National Deaf Children’s Society, is open to the 18,000 deaf children aged 7-11. They are being asked to get creative and write or use British Sign Language to tell a story that features a deaf character. The winner will then have their story published and sold across the UK.  

Helen Cable, who leads the charity’s work with children and families, said: “A key part of growing up is staying up past bedtime, getting lost in imaginary worlds that incredible authors have conjured up. But the characters in stories should be as diverse as the children who read them.

“Never seeing deafness represented, never seeing it normalised, having it forgotten about or made irrelevant all has a profound effect on a deaf child growing up. We’re going to change that.”

Rachel Shenton added: “I’m thrilled to be supporting the National Deaf Children’s Society’s book competition, and can’t wait to see these children get creative and share their incredible stories and imaginations!”

The competition is open for the next two months, closing on Tuesday 30th April. More details can be found at www.ndcs.org.uk/bookcompetition