Books with neurodivergent characters mark a new chapter for publishers | Books

Children’s books featuring neurodiverse main characters are the latest trend in publishing, experts say.

Publishers, hitherto reluctant to tackle the subject, are increasingly looking for realistic and explicitly neurodiverse protagonists, often by authors who are themselves neurodivergent.

Elle McNicoll, who so far has only been published by small independent Knights Of, was recently the center of a five-publisher auction for the worldwide rights to her next two books, of which MacMillan Children’s Books was the final winner. The first book is expected this fall.

Widely credited with starting the revolution, McNicoll, who won the 2020 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for her debut novel A Kind of Spark, said that over the past year she has seen a “huge change” in the attitude of publishers. “Until very recently, neurodiverse characters in books were neither flattering nor ambitious,” she said. “They were written by non-neurodiverse authors and are so two-dimensional that they border on offensive.

“Too often, even where there’s a neurodiverse character, they’re secondary and they die during the book,” she added. “Their deaths are a rite of passage for the main character.”

She said her success made publishers realize that “diversity is a business issue – not just a moral one”.

“For a long time, publishers didn’t treat neurodivergent readers as customers,” she said. “But now they’re reassessing what they think neurodiversity is and realizing that while it might not be talked about in the corporate world or in their offices, it’s talked about a lot in schools, where they target their products.”

Lizzie Huxley-Jones, whose first book in the Vivi Conway series was published in June, said: “Being published was a refreshing example of a publisher taking risks.”

“Publishers are beginning to realize that cases of neurodiversity are massively underdiagnosed in society and that there are more experiences in their target audiences than they might have thought,” added Huxley- Jones, whose pronouns are they/them.

“But there is still a long way to go,” they said. “The success of Elle showed the thirst for authentic neurodiverse characters as opposed to those we had in the past, who are written from the outside and, therefore, are stereotypes lacking inwardness, emotionality and character. depth.”

Marina Magdalena’s first book in the Antigone Kingsley series, which features a girl with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was published in April. Magdalena, who suffers from ADHD, wrote the book because she wanted her neurodivergent daughter to have a fictional female role model.

“Growing up, my daughter struggled with characters in books like Hermione Granger, who were super organized: she felt so distant from them,” Magdalena said. “I wanted to give him a character with all the brilliance, innovation and originality that so often accompanies conditions like ADHD, but also struggles with emotional regulation and organization.”

Lauren Gardner, McNicoll’s agent at Bell Lomax Moreton, said: “The publishing industry has really started to change and to recognize that we need to live in a world where any child can walk into a bookstore and to see reflected on him.

“A lot of people are realizing that we’re all more neurodiverse and less neurotypical than we previously thought,” she said. “Elle’s work is groundbreaking and I think it has given other publishers the opportunity to see how they can follow suit and give more writers like Elle opportunities than they ever could. -be not had before.”

Emily Beater, of Magdalena’s publisher SPCK, said a big influence on publishers has been parents’ increased willingness to buy books with neurodivergent protagonists.

“In the past, editors might have thought that parents didn’t want their kids to read stories about kids who have trouble regulating their emotions, but that’s different these days,” she said. . “Today’s sweeter parenting is about helping your children reach their full potential not by shaming them for not being able to do something, but in an alternative way if necessary.”

Caroline Carpenter of the Bookseller, a trade magazine, agreed. “Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of neurodiversity in children’s publishing, but things are changing and one of the biggest advancements has been for people who are neurodivergent themselves to write neurodiverse characters.

“Small publishers are leading the way,” she added. “But the big publishers are figuring it out.”

Tom Purser, Head of Guidance, Volunteerism and Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said: “There has been a disappointing lack of neurodiverse protagonists in books for children and teens. But it’s great to see that changing with more and more neurodiverse characters being represented in literature.

“Many people learn what life is like for neurodiverse people by reading books, so it’s important that these depictions are realistic and represent the challenges that neurodiverse people face and the enormous contributions they make to our society” , he added.

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