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Disability in Children’s Literature

An array of book covers from titles featured in this post on a light grey background.

Books are powerful vessels for allowing children to see themselves reflected in stories. When they read about a character like them, they can be empowered and gain a sense of belonging and familiarity. Reading books that feature disabled characters can help children with disabilities see themselves represented in literature and validate their experiences. These books also inform and educate children without disabilities about the experiences of others, building empathy and understanding. In the end, reading books that feature characters with disabilities is positive for all children. Read on for some recommended titles from our librarians.

Chapter Books

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper – Having cerebral palsy doesn’t allow Melody to speak, and her body is stiff and uncooperative leaving her in a wheelchair. Placed in special education classes, she is perceived by her peers as having a cognitive disability. Life changes when Melody is given a computer in fifth grade that allows her to communicate. The author, Sharon Draper, has a daughter with cerebral palsy. 

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar – Imagine being a Jewish Cuban immigrant in New York City in 1960, and being told that you are dumb because you can’t speak English. To make matters worse, your world is turned upside down when you are injured in a car crash and bedridden. Collecting stories from her JewBan grandparents and immigrant friends, the protagonist of this historical novel finds ways to be strong and bounce back from adversity.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Ally has made it to sixth grade even though she can barely read. She is treated by both peers and teachers as being a stupid kid, until her new teacher, Mr. Daniel, substitutes and immediately recognizes that Ally is very bright, but has dyslexia. He makes it his mission to support her. The author drew on her own experiences learning to read when writing this novel.

For younger readers, try Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. This autobiographical picture book tells how a fifth-grade teacher recognized the author’s dyslexia and encouraged her to overcome her disability.

Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk by Meredith Davis and Rebeka Uwitonze – This biography tells the inspiring story of Rebeka Uwitonze, a Rwandan girl who was born with arthrogryposis, a disease resulting in curled hands and feet. At the age of seven, she teaches herself to walk on the tops of her feet. After multiple unsuccessful treatments to straighten her feet, she gets an offer that can change her life. A hospital has agreed to do surgery, without any cost, but she would have to go to the US by herself and stay with a host family for as long as a year. Having love from not only her own family, but her American host family, she is able to be strong through adversity.

Picture Books

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor – In this beautiful picture book, Sonia Sotomayor is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age seven. While she and her friends plant a garden, we see that just like every plant in the garden is different, each child is also different. Some differences are readily apparent, while others are not. All of the differences make the world a more interesting place.

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon – Ginny doesn’t see one thing at a time, she sees two. She sees two words, two chairs, two people. When Vision Screening Day arrives, Ginny learns that she has double vision, and to correct the problem, she wears an eye patch and becomes a kindergarten pirate. Like Ginny, the author also had double vision as a child.

Family Resource Center Books

Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the “Wiggle Fidgets” by Barbara Esham (part of the Adventures of Everyday Geniuses) – David tries hard, but he just can’t pay attention. He wants to pay attention but too many ideas pop into his head and distract him. When his teacher Mrs. Gorski asks for a family conference, David spends the weekend trying to come up with ideas to cure the wiggle fidgets. The book includes resources for parents and teachers.

It’s OK to Be Me! Just Like You, I Can Do Almost Anything by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (part of the Live and Learn series) – Told in first person, the boy in this story uses a wheelchair. The kids in school say hi, but never ask him to join them in activities. All he wants is to be like the other kids and have fun playing basketball. With a lot of practice manipulating his wheelchair, he finds he can do almost everything the other kids can, and even make the basketball team. Parent information is included at the end of the book.

If you would like more great children’s books about disability, or a book list made just for you on any topic, check out My Next Read. Just fill out the form and we will send you some great titles!

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