By identifying with the characters in stories, of course, young children learn about themselves and the world around them. So I've always felt that the more wide-ranging books for nursery children are, the better. Otherwise, as research shows, children as young as three can form prejudices against someone who is 'different'.
Illustrated books make a great impression on a young child's mind, and so they are very important. The absence of images of disabled children from illustrated books can increase the isolation that the youngest disabled children feel. It can affect the attitudes of non-disabled children, too.
Now, however, there is a great initiative that I'd love to share with those who haven't come across it yet. Called 'In the Picture', the scheme involves educators, writers, carers and illustrators, and aims to include more images of disability in young children's books.
The idea is very simple. It often means just having one child with a disability in one scene per book, to accustom other children to their presence.
The inclusion of such images should, we hope, also help the confidence of children with disabilities themselves. For example, one young girl who has to use a walking frame, because of cerebral palsy, felt an immediate feeling of happiness when she was given one of the books. She said it helped her self-esteem and gave her the feeling she was no longer alone.
When children with disabilities are better represented in books, the hope is that they will be better represented in society too. If so, all children, not just the few, should live more happily ever after!
For more information visit www.childreninthepicture.org.uk. Alan and the Animals by Evelyn Foster (Tiddlers series, Franklin Watts, www.franklinwatts.co.uk), is written to support this publishing project