The Dolly Gray Award Recognizes Gill Lewis for Authentic Portrayal of Child with Autism
Scarlet Ibis
Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

The 2020 Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award winner is Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis. The book follows a girl named Scarlet and her little brother named Red who has autism spectrum disorder. A house fire separates the siblings into two different foster homes and Scarlet tracks a bird to help her find her brother. The award was presented by BYU McKay School dean Mary Anne Prater in Sarasota, Florida, on January 22, 2020.

The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award is an international award recognizing authors, illustrators, and publishers who contribute books that authentically portray individuals with developmental disabilities. The idea started in 1999 when Prater and Tina Taylor, now dean and associate dean of the McKay School, met at a conference in Hawaii. Prater and Taylor both agreed that they did not like how children’s literature was depicting kids with special needs. “Our goal was to show the positive, but authentic and realistic portrayals of these kids interacting with other kids—not just those who have a similar disability,” said Taylor. 

The two were able to coordinate with Sharon Cramer, a professor at Buffalo State University, and the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to create the award. The award is making a positive impact toward the general public’s recognition of positive contributions by individuals with developmental disabilities, greater understanding and acceptance of students with developmental disabilities by teachers and peers, and encouragement of authors and illustrators to publish more literature including characters with developmental disabilities.

Gill Lewis
2020 Dolly Gray Award Winner Gill Lewis

Every even year, an award is presented to an author and illustrator of a children’s picture book and/or a children’s chapter book. Taylor says in order to get the best feedback possible to determine a winner, they create a panel of 18 reviewers who come from a wide range of backgrounds. Members of the review panel include parents of kids with disabilities, special education teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and people with developmental disabilities themselves. Taylor appreciates having those with developmental disabilities on the board because they have great input and give a perspective that others cannot bring to the table.

Publishers are asked to donate 12 copies of each book to be considered for the award. Books are distributed to the reviewers to be used in the selection procedure and copies are also donated to a local library or school district in the host city of the DADD biennial convention. The BYU library also receives a book donation and they have a special collection where patrons are able to check out the books from the past years.

Taylor was initially motivated to start the award by her own experiences reading literature about children with developmental disabilities. What continues to motivate her is seeing how others react to these books. Along with organizing the Dolly Gray Award, Taylor is the co-founder of Sibshops of Utah County, which is an organization that holds workshops to help siblings of children with disabilities. She often brings picture books to do bibliotherapy with the kids. Taylor says one of the greatest joys from the workshops is when siblings can relate to the book, “We get to talk about the differences they have from their siblings, what makes them different, how they can cope, and what they can do to help their siblings. That’s really rewarding to me.” 

More information about the award and past winners is available at

Writer: Cameron Hussein
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922