As a child growing up in the 1950s, Katherine Schneider found few books about people who -- like her -- were blind.
But Schneider was fortunate to have a support network of people who helped her to succeed. She eventually earned a doctorate from Purdue University and made a career as a clinical psychologist.
Several years ago, Schneider found a way to thank the people who had helped her and to spotlight well-written children's books about people with disabilities. She decided to sponsor the Schneider Family Book Award, given to books that "embody an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."
The Schneider Family Book Award is administered by the American Library Association, and is given annually to three books chosen by a committee of librarians. One winning book is chosen for each of three different age categories: young children (birth through age 8), children ages 9 through 13, and teens ages 14 through 18.
Winning authors each receive $5,000 and a framed plaque, and winning books sport a specially designed blue-and-silver sticker showing boys and girls holding hands around a circle representing the world. The sticker includes the words "Schneider Family Book Award" in Braille as well as in regular printed letters.
According to the terms of the award, the winning books can be fiction or nonfiction, but "must portray the emotional, mental or physical disability as part of a full life, not as something to be pitied or overcome." In addition, a character with a disability "should be integral to the presentation, not merely a passive bystander."
In its seven years of existence, the Schneider Family Book Award has helped to highlight some wonderful books that might otherwise be overlooked. This year's winners are no exception; all three are engaging books that will captivate a wide variety of readers.
Here's a closer look at the 2011 Schneider Family Book Award winners:
-- Ginny loves reading, but it still can be a frustrating process. If Ginny squints, she can see the letters pretty well. When her kindergarten teacher tells her "Don't squint," however, Ginny sees twice the amount of letters, making reading a perpetual challenge.
Ginny thinks this is how everyone sees the world. But, in "The Pirate of Kindergarten" (Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-7), author George Ella Lyon details how a routine school eye test reveals that Ginny has double vision. Fortunately, the problem is easily fixed with the right glasses, some eye exercises and, for a while, an eye patch that makes Ginny "the pirate" of her kindergarten class.
Lyon's picture-book text is straightforward, but not didactic. And it's perfectly paired with illustrations by Lynne Avril that depict Ginny's initial visual confusion, and her excitement at finally seeing -- and enjoying -- the world as it really is.
-- Jeffrey and his best friend Tad have survived cancer, but it's left them with emotional and physical scars. Cancer-fighting medicine has scrambled parts of Jeffrey's brain, making it nearly impossible for him to master math, while Tad must get around in a wheelchair.
As a result, the normal challenges of eighth grade -- especially girls -- are even tougher for Jeffrey and Tad, but they're still having fun trying to fit in. Then the state issues a new mandate requiring middle-school students to pass tests in math and English to enter high school. Suddenly, Jeffrey's not sure he's going to make it to high school because he can't pass math tests. But Tad's determined to see his friend succeed and resolves to make a "beau geste" (grand gesture) to ensure that he does.
In "After Ever After" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 10-14), author Jordan Sonnenblick continues the story that he began in his debut novel, "Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie." But "After Ever After" works fine as a stand-alone novel as Sonnenblick deftly combines tragedy, humor and memorable characters to produce a book that will have readers turning the pages to see what happens next.
-- When a high-school rock band named Dumb accepts 18-year-old Piper's offer to be the manager, she wonders if she's done something stupid. After all, the players have some major musical and group-dynamic problems to work through before they can even think about making it big. Even more importantly, as a deaf person, Piper can only do so much to help the band improve.
Meanwhile, Piper has other issues to deal with. She's furious with her parents for raiding her college fund to pay for cochlear transplants so her born-deaf baby sister can hear. And she's trying to figure out whether a fellow student named Ed Chen is just a friend, or something more.
In "Five Flavors of Dumb" (Dial, $16.99, ages 12 up), author Antony John paints a portrait of a likable teen who refuses to let her deafness define her life. Piper is a character whose spunk helps her navigate friendship and romantic issues while maintaining her strong sense of self -- a journey that will readily resonate with teen