How Children’s Books Helped Get Me Through School By Amber Lee Dodd #DiversityMonth

amber-lee-doddAmber Lee Dodd is a writer and playwright whose work has been performed around the country and published internationally. Amber drew on extensive experience working with families dealing with disabilities to write WE ARE GIANTS. She says:This experience led me to writing characters the children wanted but scarcely appear in children’s fiction: disabled people who are strong, happy and independent. These children come from ordinary backgrounds, with parents and siblings who deal with the problems we all deal with. My book is not a book about disability; it’s a book about grief and growing up. It features a strong mother character who just happens to have a disability.

Amber has also recently been a writer in residence for The Expansionists and a playwright for the young playwrights programme at Chichester Festival Theatre, where her short play ‘Tea with Grandma’ was performed. She was awarded a Distinction in her MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University.

@AmberLeeDodd
www.amberleedodd.com

How Children’s Books Helped Get Me Through School
By Amber Lee Dodd

Let me begin this by telling you a secret; I used to hate books. I don’t mean I was disinterested in them, or disliked them. I disliked millipedes, broccoli and having to play April instead of a Ninja Turtle because I was a girl. But I hated books. I hated books because I struggled with reading. I struggled with reading, writing, numbers and letters. In junior school I was put into special needs and felt like I would never be able to get the words on the page to make letters in my head. But slowly and with a lot of help from my parents who read every book on dyslexia, I caught up with my class mates.

When I grew confident in reading it was like a magic door opened, I read everything! I read Tintin and Asterix and the Famous Fives and Worst Witches and all the Roald Dahl’s. Then I discovered Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson’s books.  These are the books I can remember reading furiously through wet play, devouring one after another because these where books that felt real; like they were written about me and my friends. They made me feel less alone. And these where books that made me want to tell stories.

The more I read, the better storyteller I became. By year five I became the student the teachers asked to read out the story I had written in class. I got my stories put up on the wall and I stopped feeling quite so hopeless at school. But being able to read and tell stories did more for me than give me something to be proud of and give me an identity beyond the kid who had special needs. It allowed me to be able to express myself, to tackle ideas and explore a bigger world. It made me a lifelong reader and want to become a writer. When it comes to books we can’t under estimate the impact they make on us growing up.

Recently Amnesty International held a poll that picked reading as the best pastime to develop empathy in children. But I think reading goes beyond that. Last year I listened to two authors talk about the importance of children’s books. Michelle Magorian told me that among her great Aunt’s final possessions, where not only great books of literature but classic children’s books. The books she had grown up loving as a child had held an important place throughout her adult life. Matt Haig talked about how when he was suffering from depression he went back to the books he had read as a child; that the familiarity in their pages gave him comfort and strength. The stories we read when growing up can live with us for a long time.

So when I came to work in a school as a Learning Support Assistant and met children, some with learning disabilities, some with physical disabilities who didn’t read books, it made me want to write We Are Giants. I wrote We Are Giants because it was a story I wanted to read and I hoped some of the children I had worked with would too. Because books are important and the ones that help us get into reading are often ones that help us recognise ourselves, our friends and the people we know. That’s why books that reflect different ideas, opinions and people matter.  They are there holding the door open, waiting to start someone’s journey, or simply there to make someone feel a little less alone.

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A brilliantly funny and wonderfully warm-hearted story about love, family, and what it means to be different.

Sydney thinks her mum Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different. When everyone else kept growing, Amy got to four feet tall and then stopped right there. The perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, small enough to be special. Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, but her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone . . .

But when the family are forced to move house, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade must make new friends, deal with the bullies at their new school and generally figure out the business of growing up in a strange new town. And Sydney doesn’t want to grow up – not if it means getting bigger than her mum…

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Check out Luna’s review by clicking on this link here

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