The Schneider Family Book Award

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By Donna McMillen

The original version of this article appeared in Young Adult Library Services 5, no. 3, Spring 2007.

Each year the American Library Association (ALA) awards authors and illustrators of books, videos, and other outstanding materials for children and teens. The Schneider Family Book Award is one of them.

Three annual awards are presented for the best Teen (ages 14-18), Middle School (ages 11-13), and Children’s (ages 10 and younger) book. The winning books are selected for their excellence as an artistic expression of the disability experience. The disability portrayed may be mental, physical, or emotional. Winning authors receive an award in the form of a $5,000 check and a framed plaque, emblazoned with a silver and blue emblem featuring a circle of boys and girls holding hands around a globe, symbolizing the equality of all children. Since the inception of the award in 2003, winning titles have included characters who deal with depression, blindness, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, deafness, synesthesia, dyscalculia, physical disabilities, and stuttering.

Each year, the winning authors and illustrators are announced in January and the awards are presented at the awards ceremony during the American Library Association’s Annual Conference. The 2007 winners were The Deaf Musicians by singer Pete Seeger and poet Paul DuBois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Putnam  Juvenile, 2006); Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2006); and Small Steps by Louis Sachar (Delacorte, 2006).
Winning titles are selected by a committee of seven ALA members and include a member from each of the following ALA divisions: the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA).

These days, writers and publishers are including so many more realistic protagonists and major secondary characters with disabilities, speaking to the experiences of many young readers who have family members, friends, or schoolmates with a variety of disabilities. Therefore, a segment of the real lives of young readers is no longer being ignored. Like the Coretta Scott King Award, which honors African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults that demonstrate sensitivity to "the true worth and value of all beings," this award encourages excellence in literature that includes these formerly neglected or stereotyped groups. The award-winning books portray a disability as part of a person’s full life, not as something to be pitied or overcome.

The award is named for Dr. Katherine Schneider, who worked with her father to develop the award. As a child, Schneider enjoyed the books she read in Braille, or that were read to her, and wished to expand the range of characters that were available for children to read about.

A list of the winning books for the current and past years, and a selected bibliography of children’s books about the disability experience can be found on the ALA Web site at

The Deaf Musicians, by Pete Seeger and poet Paul DuBois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons (2006), winner of the 2007 young children’s category, tells the story of  jazzman Lee who learns to make music in a new way. The book’s upbeat narrative, along with its bright colors, teaches the reader that there is more than one way to do everything, to never give up on your dreams and that music can be enjoyed by all.

Read more about folk singer/environmentalist Pete Seeger’s motivation to take part in the project.

DONNA MCMILLEN has been a Librarian for more than twenty years with the King County (Wash.) Library System and is currently a Branch Manager. Career high points were her terms serving on the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Best Books for Young Adults, and Printz Award