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"Meet ClaraBelle Blue" is one of the most diverse children's books on the market. The series helps children see that kids with special needs are just like them, kids! And gives kids with special needs the visibility they deserve! A darling story of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion! Meet ClaraBelle Blue - she's just like YOU!

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The Light Bulb Moment of Inclusion

Adiba Nelson

Even those of us who think we have inclusion down pat can still find ourselves having huge light bulb moments. 

Take for instance the instant frustration that rose up in me when I saw that my local children's museum was starting and "inclusion hour". The plan is for the museum to open an hour earlier, at a discounted rate, one Saturday a month, specifically for kids with special needs. 

My first reaction was to yell out at the top of my lungs "HOW IN THE WORLD IS THAT INCLUSION??? YOU'RE LITERALLY SEPARATING THE CHILDREN!" And then I went on this rant about how companies continue to miss the mark when it comes to inclusion, thinking that just because they set aside time for kids with special needs that THAT makes them inclusive, and blah blah blah. My husband, in his annoying (read LOVING) wisdom, reminded me that not all kids have just physical disabilities. Some kids have sensory issues or auditory issues and being in the museum at the same time all the other kids are there might be too much for them. So in this way, the museum actually IS being inclusive. 

Oh. 

Well didn't I feel foolish...

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Here I am, mama of {E}, President of RocketChair Productions, screaming my face off about inclusion to anyone who will listen, and I'm being EXclusive and ableist. Insert facepalm emoji here. OF COURSE this was inclusive!  It's a children's museum and ALL children should be able to enjoy it, not just the typically developing kids. Duh, Adiba! But how many of us do this? Think of our kids first, and how OUR kids are affected? That's kind of the opposite of inclusive behavior, isn't it? It's almost like being exclusive is ingrained in us (kind of why Meet Clarabelle Blue is so important for the babies). Now, is this to say that all of my gripes with the Children's Museum are over? NO. I still long for the day when all of the exhibits can be interacted with by a child in a wheelchair or walker, or a child who has low muscle tone and therefore cannot sit on the police motorcycle unattended. Or a child with underdeveloped fine motor skills can't grasp an edge to turn a gear, so they grasp the crank handle to interact with the exhibit instead (and the list goes on and on).

However, this is a start. This is a huge start. And now that I've had my light bulb moment, I am so here for it, and can't wait to take Miss {E} for "MY TIMe" at our local Children's Museum! Do you have a children's museum in your town? Are they killing it in the game of inclusion? Tell us about them in the comments, and we'll give them a social media shout-out!

Kids Can Change The World: Rollerskating

Adiba Nelson

I remember when I was 13, a friend asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. I looked him square in the eye and said: "change the world, or die trying". I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I knew that whatever I did would be in that vain. 

Fast forward 26 years and it's not me that will change the world, but kids. Lucky me though, I get to show them how! 

So I'm starting this new series on the RocketChair blog called KIDS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD (or KCCtW for short). Once a month we will post activities for you to do with the littles in your life that can lead to a more inclusive world. Some of these activities will come straight from our tried and true experiences, and some will come from moms and dads, sharing with us what they've witnessed in their homes with their littles. We're not so much interested in where the activities come from, so much as they help us change the world.

Without further ado, our first activity is one of our favorite things to do - ROLLER SKATING!

So, those hairy legs are not mine - they belong to my hubby. But that kid in the middle, the one in the wheelchair, she's all mine. And the two cutie pies on either side of her are her bff's. This picture was taken at my daughter's 7th birthday party. It was our first time going rollerskating, and we weren't sure how we were going to make it work, but we were going to try.

What you see is my husband pushing her wheelchair from behind, and her pals holding onto her chair, skating alongside her. What we didn't get pictures of was the conga line of kids that formed behind my hubby shortly after this pic was taken, and her friends holding onto/pushing her walker as they all skated along.

It never once occurred to them that my kiddo would not be able to skate with them - they just figured out how to make it work. And that's a big part of what inclusion is - figuring out a way to make something work for EVERYONE. This is just one example of how our kids can change the world. We will be sharing more examples once a month, but we want to hear from you too!

Have a story of inclusion to share with us? Were your kids included, or did your kid figure out how to include a differently abled pal? Tell us about it! Leave a note in the comments - let's celebrate those little world changers of ours!

 

How ClaraBelle Blue Came To Be

Adiba Nelson

By Adiba Nelson

This piece was originally published in The Mighty

One of the high points in parenting is getting to read books to and with your child. It is a bedtime ritual that has been practiced for decades upon decades. Whether it was “The Adventures of Dick and Jane,” or the now ever-popular “Harry Potter” series, books at bedtime are a staple in a household with children.

However, when I went looking for a bedtime book I felt my child could relate to, I came up short. Actually, I came up empty. I searched local independent bookstores, well-known chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble, and even online looking for a book that had an African-American girl in a wheelchair on the cover. I quickly discovered there was nothing. It simply did not exist.

Let me put this in a broader context: My child did not exist in the books written and designed for a group she is clearly a part of: children.

While I did find books that talked about children having a disability, the books often focused on the child’s disability, and never the child. This would never do for my kid. At the time, Emory was a spunky, sassy 4-year-old (not much has changed four years later) who was so much more than just her wheelchair or communication device So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wanted a book about a kid being a kid, doing kid things. It was fine if there was a message because as a writer, I do feel like children’s books should have a point, but I mostly wanted her to see herself — a fun, loving, silly kid — who by the way also has a disability.

Thus “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” was born.

Now truth be told, I wrote “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” in a fit of frustration (and maybe a little bit of mama bear rage). How could an entire genre of books that is supposed to serve my child not include my child? It didn’t make sense and seemed terribly cruel and unfair. As I shopped the book around to a few agents, I found out why books like mine are not included. My child and children like mine (and possibly yours) are considered too “niche” for the publishing world.

I remember the feeling that came over me when I heard those words through the phone line. It was akin to the feeling I had when a child care center once told me that my child was a safety hazard because another child might trip and fall over her stander, so at age 2, she had to remain in the infant room. That feeling? You might be familiar with it. It’s rage. It’s pain. It’s frustration. It is a heartbreaking sadness. And if you’re anything like me, it culminates into the fiercest determination this world has ever seen.

Nothing about my child, or any child, is “too niche” to be seen in a children’s book, and no child is too niche to be recognized as existing in the world they live in. This awoke a giant in me, and I decided to self-publish “Meet ClaraBelle Blue.” My book is currently the only children’s book featuring a young African-American girl with a disability the cover, and once you read the book, you quickly discover that it just may be the only book of its nature.

This book that was once labeled as “too niche” to be considered for representation has quickly become not only my daughter’s favorite book, but a favorite in households across the country. With the story’s overarching theme of “ClaraBelle Blue is just like you,” and often hilarious images, I have been told parents have had a hard time convincing their children to pick a different book to read at bedtime.

With “Meet ClaraBelle Blue,” I set out to not only create a book my daughter could see herself in, but also a book that could help typically-abled children see that children like her aren’t so different from them. Inadvertently, the book has also helped parents start the conversation around disabilities, and keep it at a child-friendly level. Children of all abilities and races can relate to ClaraBelle Blue as they read about her making interesting “snacks” for her mom, trying to help with laundry, and playing her favorite childhood game, Duck Duck Goose.

However, what drives the story home for children and parents alike is the sweet, touching end of the book. I won’t give it away, but I can tell you I often have a hard time keeping it together when I get to the last few pages when reading it to my daughter, or to groups of children I visit in schools. I can always feel my throat getting a little bit tight. I’ll look around, and I can see the moms and dads wiping the tears at the corners of their eyes, and I know then that they got the point too. Needless to say, I don’t look around too much when I get to the end.

My goal is to have “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” on every child’s bookshelf and in every library and bookstore across the country. I know the story of a kid just being a kid is not “too niche” for kids to understand. This is also why I plan to release more books about kids with disabilities just being kids. “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” is the first book of the ClaraBelle Series, but I’ll soon be introducing ClaraBelle’s friends, like LuAnn, who lives with childhood anxiety disorder, JoJo, who lives with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); and ClaraBelle’s typically-abled/neurotypical best friend Tessa, driving home that necessary message of inclusion.

My kid is not too niche. Your child is not too niche.

And it’s high time the world found out.