Demystifying the Schneider Family Book Award by Alyson Beecher

schneiderawardimageOn Sunday night, #titletalk hosted by Colby Sharp and Katherine Sokolowski focused on six ALA Youth Media Awards.  Of course, the most well known of the six were the John Newbery Award and the Randolph Caldecott Award. The fast-paced hour was kicked off by discussing potential contenders for the Schneider Family Book Award.  As one of the newer ALA Youth Media Awards, the Schneider is often a bit perplexing for people, and after lurking during Sunday’s chat, I wanted to see if I could demystify it for teachers and librarians.  

First, I want to thank the Nerdy Book Club and #titletalk for consistently mentioning it along with the better known awards.  As a 2013 Schneider Family Book Award Jury member and the Chair of the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award Jury, your inclusion of this award in the discussion makes me so happy.

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As much as I am thrilled with the attention, I realized we need to continually promote the award.  Here were some of the tweets that came early in the chat:




The three previous tweets are great.  As I lurked on #titletalk on Sunday night, I realized many people either have no idea what books, if any, contain someone living with a disability. tweet5

Or more likely, readers are confused about what defines a disability or what is the criteria used by the committee.  Even Betsy Bird, former Newbery Committee Member and SLJ contributor admitted in her 2014 Awards reaction video (around the 14:30 minute mark) that it was hard to predict what books would receive the Schneider Family Book Award.  So, make note, you are not the only one feeling a bit perplexed about this award.

Note: Beth corrected *book to *award in a later tweet.

Note: Beth corrected *book to *award in a later tweet.

What criteria is used to define what a disability is?

Definition of disability.  Dr. Schneider has intentionally allowed for a broad interpretation by her wording, the book “must portray some aspect of living with a disability, whether the disability is physical, mental, or emotional.”  This allows each committee to decide on the qualifications of particular titles.  Books with death as the main theme are generally disqualified. – p. 5, Schneider Family Book Award Jury Manual

What is the lens in which the committee members view books?

Remember that the purpose of the award is as follows, the Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

In addition to the artistic expression, the manual also indicates that the disability must be seen “as part of a full life and not something to be pitied”, and “realistic, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.”  Another important criteria recognizes that the individual with the disability, can be a main character or a secondary character, but the disability must be integral in someway to the story.  This potentially eliminates a book where a character on the playground that has essentially no role in the story is depicted in an illustration as being in the wheelchair.

Let’s consider a few books from the past…As a disclaimer, any books that I discuss will not have been ones considered by the 2013 or 2014 juries.  Since I was a member of both juries, and our deliberations are private, I am not able to discuss those titles.

In 2010, I had read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  The book had an obvious focus on an individual living with a disability.  It was also widely popular among many of my teacher and librarian friends. Many considered this the obvious choice for the 2011 Schneider.  Wasn’t I surprised when After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick won?  I guess if I had read this one along with the likely other 50 middle grade titles that the committee would have considered, then the winning choice would not have been so shocking.  And now knowing the criteria, I can see why the committee made the choice that they did.

In 2012, I had read hundreds of picture books.  I wanted to be able to better predict not only the Caldecott, but also the Schneider. I scoured the books I read for ones that would qualify for the Schneider Family Book Award.  In this situation, since I had read so extensively, I was not shocked that year when the committee announced that there was no Young Child book selection that they felt met the criteria.  With all of my reading, I had to agree with their choice.


The important thing to remember with an award like the Schneider Family Book Award is that the committee (as with all committees) reads much more widely in their area than the average reader. It is normal to assume that the one or two books that you read and loved that featured a character with a disability would be the one selected and it may be the book a committee selects. However, the committee likely read dozens of books in that same age category and after many hours of discussion may also determine that another book has a stronger alignment with the purpose of the award.

One note, some people ask about things like cancer and polio.  Illnesses may or may not qualify. Again, this is up to the committee and specific to an individual book.  However, it may help to view this one from what happens afterward.  What is the aftermath that may result in long-term issues for a character in the story?


Another issues that came up in the chat was about whether a disability had to have a specific label.  Though I can not discuss any specific books brought up in the chat, I will say that the answer may vary.  An author can very clearly describe a syndrome that was not identified in a particular period of time and it could count as being a disability based on how it is portrayed in the story. For example, Down Syndrome was not officially labeled until 1866, but a book could portray a character with those features living in 1825.

Additionally, just having a stated diagnosis of autism or cerebral palsy for example, may not be enough to consider it a disability.  Again, how is it portrayed in the book and what does the committee think of the overall book are two important factors.

As you begin your 2014 reading, keep in mind the Schneider Family Book Award.  By looking for characters (children and adults), both primary and secondary, that have some kind of physical, mental, or emotional challenges, more and more possible books will rise to the top.  When you find one of these stories, remember to ask yourself, does this character have a physical, mental, or emotional issue that significantly impacts their ability to live life and is how the disability portrayed done in a positive manner?

What message do we need to send to publishers and others?

One of the messages that we need to communicate to publishers is that we need more stories across genres for both young children and older readers where an individual with a disability is portrayed positively.

Information for this post was taken from the Schneider Family Book Award Manual, which can be found here:


Finally, thank you for enthusiastically embracing the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award Winners.  Your support was certainly felt by me and the other members of the committee.


Alyson Beecher is the Literacy and Curriculum Specialist with the Pasadena Unified School District in California.  She has a serious book addiction and celebrates books as part of the Nerdy Book Club.   You can find her on Twitter as @alybee930 and on her blog: Kid Lit Frenzy