This week we talk to special educational needs author, Katie Carpenter
Q. Hello Katie Carpenter, how are you? What have you been up to recently?
Hello! I’m well, thank you. Currently, I’m rehearsing for a performance of Snow White that I’m starring in at a local community centre. I love the theatre and have recently completed my level one performing arts course, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I go to this centre a couple of times a week; it’s a really fun place to meet with friends and get creative. I’m also an auntie to my sister’s little boy, and I take my auntie duties very seriously! We have a lot of fun together whenever he visits, and I love spending time with him.
Q. Can you tell me a little about your book Going to Church?
Going to Church is part of the Books Beyond Words series, which is dedicated to those with special educational needs (SEND). The book was co-written by me and Baroness Sheila Hollins, who is the founder of the series. Sheila is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry of Intellectual Disability at St George’s University of London, and she asked me to co-write this book with her. Sheila was always clear that we were co-authors, which was really important to me as I wanted my inclusivity message to resonate with other people with SEND.
Because the books are aimed at SEND individuals, they don’t have any words. Instead, pictures are used to tell the story, which makes it easier for us to follow. Going to Church is about a boy who visits his local church for the first time and how he feels welcomed into the community by the other members. It was really important to me that the message of community was conveyed throughout the book, as that’s how I feel going to my church.
Living in a village means that I have a strong unit around me, which is something I really thrive on. When I have been at my lowest, it was the members of my community that supported me. I wanted that same message to be instilled in my book, so everyone can feel like they have somewhere they belong.
Q. What was your favourite part about writing the book?
Getting to travel first class on the train to London to visit Baroness Hollins in the House of Lords! I felt so fancy that day. I had to travel down there to discuss some key points in the book and consult with officials about the details to ensure it was exactly how I wanted it. Sheila and I chaired the meetings together, but I quickly took the lead! Sheila was always so supportive of me and my decisions throughout the whole process, which was great.
The first book launch was at Lambeth Palace, and I got to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury! Sheila made a speech post-launch, and suddenly I felt like I needed to speak. Unplanned and unbeknown to my poor dad, who, bless him, thought the ground was going to swallow him up, I took to the stage. I wanted to make it clear to everyone in that room how important this book was. That there needed to be one in every church so if anyone like me ever came in, they would feel welcomed, which was brilliant in a room full of Bishops!
We had another launch closer to home at Chadsgrove School in Bromsgrove for those unable to travel down to London. We had a party there, and I signed lots of copies of my book for my family, friends and the local community. It was important to me to include everyone in the launch, so having two was really special.
Q. Would you like to write more in the future?
I’d love to write more. One day, I’d like to write a book about my own life and the experiences I’ve had growing up. It isn’t always easy, but I have a wonderful family who has always been right behind me. I’d also like to write something to help those with SEND navigate the world. Skills such as cooking and cleaning are often overlooked as menial tasks, but they can be challenging for some. Having a resource tailored to you can help encourage SEND people to live independently if they choose to do so.
Q. What inspired you to write the book?
I wanted to write the book to help people understand the world surrounding those with special educational needs. We’ve come a long way, but I still think there are aspects of daily life that are not accessible for people like us. The book was my way of contributing to that and trying to make the world that little bit more accessible. I’m 37 now, and I wanted to pass on my skills and spark the next generation of children to be their most authentic selves.
Q. Who did you write the book for?
The book is written specifically for those with SEND, but there’s a wider sense of community surrounding the Books Beyond Words series as a whole. I want neurotypical people to understand how we see the world, as understanding is the first step towards acceptance. My book is about community and making sure that everyone feels they have somewhere they belong no matter their background. I wanted everyone to understand the importance of having a strong network and the difference that it can make in a person’s life.
Q. Was inclusivity important to you when writing the book?
Inclusivity is a huge part of Going to Church and the series as a whole. I wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It’s not just about those with SEND; it can also be aimed at those with other disabilities. I co-lead a book club and, during lockdown, I have been hosting sessions on Zoom.
As part of that, I discuss my book and others in the series with a deaf couple as they find the format more accessible. I use sign language to go through the books with them, and it’s a lovely experience. This is just one example of how books can reach a wider audience, and it means a lot to me to see that impact.
Q. Do you think it’s important for all schools to have access to a library?
Books play a huge role in children’s development. When I was growing up, stories were a big part of my life, and I think all children should experience that. I think we need to take a look at the types of resources we are offering to children. As I’ve mentioned, not every child processes words the same way, so having resources in schools to help those children develop would be great. Children learn a lot from books, and it should be something that every child finds comforting.
Q. Ok, so final question, Katie Carpenter – did you have a favourite book growing up?
Without a doubt, Snow White. I adored the fairy tale, and I watched the video endlessly when I was a kid. Well, I did until my brother pretended to throw it out the window so I couldn’t watch it anymore! I had been looking for it for ages until my lovely dad came and found me!
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