An author’s daughter inspired him to make books more inclusive
California Television Producer Danny Jordan is used to helping other people tell their stories, but when he realized that children with limb differences in picture books are so unrepresentative, he knew he would have to tell his own story. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve got my story out there,” Jordan says. “I just wanted to write, illustrate and print” a book where my daughter and I could sit and read a story with a hero who looked like her.”
After a dramatically successful Kickstarter project, Jordan is now planning and writing an entire series, The Capables, which focuses on superhero children with disabilities. In Rae’s first dayRae, a 5-year-old girl with a visible difference in limbs, worries about being accepted on her first day of school – and that the other kids will discover her superpower.
She repeats the affirmations she learned from her father and shares that wisdom with her new classmates. She discovers that she fits right in. When rain threatens to cancel the outdoor recess, Rae knows it’s time to use her strength to save the day. The story that Kirkus Reviews points out that “addressing the difference between Rae’s limbs … in a superhero story that is the real focus,” uses a comic book style to show that any child can be a hero regardless of or because of their differences.
Like Rae, Jordan’s daughter was born with a visible difference in limbs, but while the story is personal to Jordan, he realized he needed extra input and expertise to create an authentic story. “When you realize there’s something you don’t know and can never know, you have to involve people in that process,” Jordan explains, emphasizing that a story should not be inclusive until it begins with representation during the creative process. process. process rather than just creating different characters invented by writers who may not share their characters’ experiences. That’s why, realizing just how big an audience the book would reach, he set up an advisory board to ensure his portrayal of the character’s experience was authentic. “I didn’t know… the perspective of someone with a visible disability going to school for the first time,” he explains. There, the advisory board ‘helped this idea become exactly what it was supposed to be. It would have been fun without them. With them it became empowering. It became authentic. It became educational. That was the mission and I couldn’t have done it alone.”
Jordan received vital advice from friend and board member Ryan J. Haddad, who urged him to make sure the “‘aha!’ powerful moments” were never delivered by a non-disabled person, because so often in stories of disability or difference, someone else is the hero. Jordan recalls Haddad said, “You can’t understand how powerful it will be for those moments in your story to come from a person with a disability.”
That’s why, when Rae first hangs out with the others at school, she stands up for herself and stands up for herself. As Rae says, both in conversation with her father and to her schoolmates:
“I’m smart, I’m strong, I’m capable, I’m a warrior.…I’m different.…Some people will look at me differently, and that’s okay. We are all different, and it is our individual differences and experiences that make our world great… I was born that way. And it’s our differences that make us great.”
By believing in herself, Rae opens the door for the other kids to accept her, which they do immediately; the moment has a dramatic impact because it focuses on Rae’s empowerment. Jordan explains that empowerment comes through “advocacy and inclusion and accessibility and fairness and pride…. In the context of Rae’s story, which causes her superpower cells or meter to rise, [allowing her to decide] to use her superpower is that she stands up for herself.”
While Rae’s first day is very personal to Jordan, he has also come to realize how important it is to other families. One story that stays with him came from a father in Canada whose daughter had a hard time feeling confident because of her own visible limb difference. The father bought the e-book, which he cast from his iPad onto the television for the whole family to read together. “You don’t understand what it meant to me to see my daughter lit up like this,” Jordan recalls the man who wrote. That’s why this mission is so important to Jordan: to know that families and children who haven’t seen themselves as heroes yet, now have the chance. Jordan emphasizes that people who have always seen themselves reflected by the characters in stories do not always realize that not everyone has the same experience. When someone who has never seen themselves represented before finally sees a character like her, it’s a powerful experience. “Honestly, I didn’t even know the power of that when I started working on this.” Had he known in the beginning, he admits, he might have been too intimidated to continue with the project.
Fortunately, Jordan has built a solid team, including illustrator Augustina Perciante, which fulfilled Jordan’s idea to create a cinematic superhero story and combine it with Pixar sensibilities. “She took those words and she made them real,” Jordan praises.
His advisory board not only pays attention to authenticity in the experiences of people of different abilities, but also challenges stories and avoids reinforcing gender norms: In early versions, Rae’s coat was pink, but was later changed to red to avoid stereotyping; Rae’s diverse classroom mirrors that in the real world; and her parents are shown participating in household chores equally. “While it has nothing to do with the story, just seeing that… equal participation in tasks around the house presents a challenge to stories that may have existed in previous generations,” Jordan says.
The second book in the series features a child with dyslexia whose intersectional identity also means the story will touch on racial issues. Ensuring an authentic portrayal is vital to Jordan’s take on the series, as is creating entertaining, educational stories where people with disabilities are the heroes. “A person with a disability is not defined by their disability,” he affirms. “It’s part of who they are, but it’s not all of who they are.”
Alana Joli Abbott writes about pop culture, fantasy and science fiction, and children’s books†