Natasha Redford from Brentwood’s Chicken and Frog bookshop talks about how books can help neurodivergent children – and how some are better than others
Last month I gave you a potted history of the Chicken and Frog from our humble beginnings to date. Now that you know our background, I thought I’d focus on the books and groups that make us unique.
In my opinion, children’s books which highlight and celebrate diversity lead the way, although there is still much to be done if books are to reflect our society. I could go on about the lack of representation for ages, but I won’t! Not today at least. As an independent bookshop, our core ethos is to support our community through books and events. The books we choose to stock need to entertain, engage and educate readers. Not necessarily all at once of course, but it’s important to us that the books we offer are inclusive. The more I investigated, the more I noticed that books which represent neurodiversity are not always helpful. I don’t want to share a picturebook with a child which focuses on how difficult life is for a neurodivergent person, or that they need to be saved by someone. That’s not empowering for the neurodivergent person or a fair representation too.
After complaining loudly about it to anyone who would listen, I decided to take action. How? Well, firstly, I started sourcing books about all different neurodiversities. Many got sent back to the wholesaler if they didn’t make the grade. We now have a curated area in the bookshop, ranging from picturebooks to hard-hitting memoirs and beyond. Secondly, and this was a biggie, I started researching the importance of representation. This led to me applying for and starting a PhD in the representation of autism in children’s picturebooks. Yes, I’m that passionate about this topic. I focused in on autism because a PhD needs to be refined. My hope is that my work will add gravitas to my complaining.
As well as books, we also support parents and children, with a range of groups. Being a parent of a neurodivergent child can feel isolating and daunting at times. Our parents’ coffee evenings give people the opportunity to share their journey and support each other. We have set up a closed Facebook community for people of all ages to connect with others. Once a month, we host a group for teens and young adults. We supply a safe space for them to hang out for an hour, which is great. And, from the end of August we will be hosting a new group for children aged 6 to 11. Parents will be welcome to stay in the bookshop, but not in the room! Full details of our groups can be found on the website: www.chickenandfrog.co.uk