Helen Milroy presents: on the latest podcast, the insightful and joyful Jessica Walton talks about why every child needs a diverse bookshelf
Jessica Walton, co-creator of the new graphic novel Stars in Their Eyes, says when young people become disabled or are born with a disability, they’re often in a family of non-disabled people and don’t always get connected to the disabled community soon enough. She’s passionate about all young people getting to see themselves represented in literature, film and television and believes that adults have a responsibility to make sure children are exposed to disability in the fictional world before they interact with them in the real world.
Jessica says losing a leg was a scary and isolating time, ‘As I became disabled and then later as I came out as queer, I felt the lack of representation. Later, as an adult, when I did get a lot more representation … there was that emotional feeling of, oh, I didn’t have this. And now I do. And I’m sad for the kid that I was.’ Jessica says preparing our children for the diversity that exists in our community and in humanity is something we can all do. Jessica advises auditing your kids’ book collection: ‘Are all the families in your picture books nuclear families, or do you have queer parents? Do you have single parents or foster parents in your picture books? Your kids may not be part of those families or communities, but they will be interacting with people from those families and communities. And your child might not be disabled now, but they might develop a disability at some point in their life or acquire disability. [Let’s] give them the space to be exposed to disability in literature and film and TV so that when they interact with disabled people in the real world, they’re not doing it from a place of fear.’
Being kind to your writing self
Diversifying your bookshelf
Encouraging kids to make a career out of writing
Self-care and writing time when you have a disability
Representation in literature
Using a Kickstarter campaign to get your book published
Working with an illustrator
About the host
Dr Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She was born and educated in Perth and has a passionate interest in health and wellbeing, especially for children. She is currently a professor at the University of Western Australia, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, and Commissioner with the National Mental Health Commission. Her books have been shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards (2019, 2020), the Readings Children’s Book Prize (2020) and the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year (2020).
About the guest Jessica Walton is a picture book author, teacher, parent, daughter of a trans parent, and a proud queer, disabled woman. She wrote Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship to help explain gender identity in a simple, positive way to her kids. Introducing Teddy began as a Kickstarter project, but has now been published in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia by Bloomsbury. It has also been translated into nine other languages. Jess lives in Pakenham, Victoria, with her wife, kids and cat.
Stars in their Eyes by Jessica Walton and Aśka is available in all good bookstores and online.
Books and writers mentioned
Growing Up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay
Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World
Isobelle Carmody, Obernewtyn series
Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Rebecca Lim
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
‘Steel Cap Serenade’ by Aidan D’Adhemar, © 2021
Aidan D’Adhemar, Fremantle PA Hire
Claire Miller, Fremantle Press Marketing and Communications Manager
This podcast was produced in Walyalup in Whadjuk Boodja, on the lands of the Noongar people.