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In the picture

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Girl and apples by Quentin Blake 2008 © the artist

The news about a special exhibition and project for children challenged by special needs recently arrived in my email from Olivia Rickman of the Foundling Museum.

There are some 770,000 disabled children in the UK who have virtually no role models in literature. In the Picture is a pioneering campaign by national disability charity Scope to address the issue. Due to be displayed at the Foundling Museum from July 30th to September 27th, In the Picture includes a vibrant exhibition of works by children’s book illustrators, among them Quentin Blake and Jane Ray.

The project as a whole proposes a world where simple adjustments to equipment, systems of communication and attitudes break down barriers and make both learning and leisure accessible to everyone. In addition to the illustrations there will also be displays of stories and artwork by children from schools in London for children with special needs, as well as an active series of free creative workshops for young people with disabilities.

Britain’s bestselling children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson is the Foundling Museum’s Thomas Coram Fellow and will open the exhibition after attending an afternoon session with the children contributing their work to the exhibition. “When children peer at picture books they always look for a child they can identify with - a little girl with plaits, say, or a boy with a bike. It must be hard for a disabled child searching for someone who looks exactly like them. It's wonderful that this exhibition of beautiful vibrant artwork puts all children in the picture, going about their normal happy everyday lives. It's particularly heartening," she said, "that the venue is the Foundling Museum, with its long history of caring for all children marginalized by society.”

Jacqueline is due to launch her latest book Hetty Feather in October, about a girl who grows up in the Foundling Hospital and goes in search of her mother.

Cerrie Burnell, the Cbeebies presenter on BBC One, is also actively supporting the exhibition - “All children deserve to have their lives represented by the power and beauty of story”. As a public figure born with no right forearm she has helped to raise the profile of children’s understanding of physical disability. Cerrie will host a special event for families on Saturday, August 29th based on her children’s play Winged, which follows the story of Violet, a fairy born with one wing.

We've written about the Foundling Museum before. It's a wonderful place.

A personal note

Flying to Pennsylvania yesterday, I was asked by the airline to accompany a young girl who was deaf and mute. As we walked through the crowded termnal, I tried to imagine hearing nothing - moving in a complete silence, unable to say a word to anyone. When we sat down together, we communicated by writing. JoLynn had lovely handwriting and a beautiful smile.

She wrote that she was returning from a boot camp that tried to give deaf children the courage to believe they could do anything they wanted to do. She soon proved that the airline had underestimated her. Our plane was delayed, and she blithely headed off to an airport store to buy a book.

Except that I had been asked to help, JoLynn would have been invisible to me, as I expect many children challenged by disability are. That they stand before us with all their hope and courage - that may be the real gift of In the picture.

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