- IntroductionMainstreaming Literature for Young People
In 2006, Lennard Davis lamented that although disability studies was "on the map," it remained difficult to pinpoint. As guest editors, we would like to begin by recognizing the ever-humble David Bolt for being a geographical and intellectual guide and a driving force behind making disability studies increasingly prominent and accessible. He not only launched this journal and remains its editor-in-chief, but continues actively to encourage scholars already on the path, as well as those who have only just unfolded their map. As many readers of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (JLCDS) will know, among many other roles, Bolt is also the director of the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies (CCDS) at Liverpool Hope University, UK. Participating in or even simply reading the programs associated with the conferences and symposia, one acquires an even stronger sense of the momentum that he has generated for global and interdisciplinary disability studies.
Bolt's invitation to edit this special issue on contemporary young adult and children's literature for JLCDS exemplifies his encouraging and galvanizing spirit. The larger than anticipated number of proposals we were privileged to read demonstrates the renown and worth of this journal. We are honored to introduce six essays from a truly international and multidisciplinary mix of scholars exploring disability in literature and other media intended for young people from a range of perspectives and cultural backgrounds.
Disability and deafness have long featured in texts for young people; however, as David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder astutely document, they have traditionally functioned as prosthetics to uphold storylines. In the past, child characters with disabilities served as educational toys for their able-bodied peers or, like Tiny Tim, as moral barometers for adult protagonists. Disability and Deaf literature for young readers has boomed. Best-sellers like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Fault in Our Stars, Wonder, and Wonderstruck have been adapted for the stage and screen, indicating a growing audience for disability narratives. The easy availability of audiobooks has opened up pleasure reading to young listeners with disabilities like blindness [End Page 261] and dyslexia. Although they will not be considered here, we should note that texts written in Braille, tactile, interactive, and digital formats have also become much more widely available. Our contributors in this issue reconsider the history of disability in literature for young readers in light of this twenty-first century publishing boom.
Children are often on the front lines of the struggle over the meanings of disability. Literature for young readers lends itself to the exploration of disability because it documents the transformations of personal and social identity most young people experience. For young people, both with and without disabilities, the works they encounter provide long-lasting frames of reference for understanding bodymind diversity. It is especially important that scholars well-versed in disability rights and theory critique the literature and texts that children will experience in and out of schools. Do they catalyze charity, sentiment, and continued marginalization? Or do they cultivate better understandings of disability? The work of Rudine Sims Bishop throws light on the need for all young readers to see themselves in texts, explore known and foreign worlds—be these real or fantastic—and cross the threshold of imagination. This renowned African American children's literature scholar employs the metaphors, "mirrors," "windows," and "sliding glass doors" to illustrate such human literary needs. The contributors to this special issue ask what and how do these texts teach? Are their authors building mirrors where individuals with disabilities can reflect on their own lives and value? Are they building windows through which readers can see their own biases as well as a panorama of human perspectives? Are some of the windows also sliding doors into new worlds? The articles we have included ask what younger readers will discover about themselves in addition to the plurality of lived experiences, viewpoints, and contributions of disabled people.
As guest editors, we also sought commentary on an array of texts and genres. In this special issue, readers encounter contemporary children's...