The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. The 2018 winner of this award is Whitney Gardner for her novel, You’re Welcome, Universe. After reading it, I can say that it is wholly deserving of the honor.
Julia is deaf. She has no interest in using hearing aids or in getting a cochlear implant. Her moms are also deaf and neither of them uses any type of hearing assistance. The three of them are a part of and are proud of their deaf culture. Julia is also an artist. Unfortunately, the type of art that Julia prefers creating is illegal. Julia is a street artist. She tags on buildings, street signs, overpasses, anything. When she gets busted for tagging a wall of her private school for the deaf, she is expelled and sent to a public school with an interpreter to assist her. Julia is frustrated about her “best friend” ratting her out for tagging the school, she hates the spotlight she’s thrust into because of having an interpreter in every class, she is devastated that she can’t get into the advanced art class at her new school, and she’s suffering from guilt over disappointing her parents. Her only outlet is her art but even that is a poor outlet because of the guilt she feels overdoing it (her parents, obviously, have forbidden her to tag any public spaces because it’s, y’know, VANDALISM). Her stress gets multiplied when someone starts adding to her tags and making them better. Julia declares war. Luckily, she makes a new friend, YP (short for Yoga Pants - a nickname given to her by Julia, lol), and she finally gets into the art class with one of those amazing teachers who can change your world. As the street war gets out of control, though, Julia’s life does, too.
I enjoy stories about art but I am always frustrated that I can’t see the art. This book made me so happy because author, Whitney Gardner, is also an illustrator and she drew every piece of art Julia created (as well as the additions made by her “enemy”). Sometimes, full two-page spreads! So cool. She also illustrates some of Julia’s especially poignant sign language. Although I learned about deaf culture and sign language, I also learned a lot about graffiti and street art. More important than any learning I experienced, I was thoroughly intrigued and entertained by Julia’s story. Teens will be, too.
Inspired by Julia, I drove around my hometown of O'Fallon, Missouri, looking for street art. Sadly (or happily?), this is all I could find, lol.