Awareness is simply the first step to the most important step of authentic acceptance.
Children with disabilities are not less than, and deserve to be fully seen.
Children with disabilities deserve the same respect and autonomy as anyone else.
One of the most harmful aspects of ableism is championing a person for their disability (or others around them). This hyper-focusing on the disability or diagnosis diminishes visibility to the fullness of their identity.
Believe it or not, while there are books that feature protagonists with disabilities that reinforce harmful tropes and non-consensual treatment.
We are conditioned to view disabilities as something to pity, or a burden families and friends must learn to manage. When this is done toward a person with a physical disability, it is a form of body-shaming, which is abusive. Ableism is just as harmful as racism, sexism, ageism and any other intersection with supremacy.
Books that lack inclusive representation can lead to harmful assumptions about mobility, competence, communicative skills and etc.
I cannot count how many times I have watched a shift in people when I tell them my oldest child is on the spectrum. I also cannot count how many times I have had correct assumptions that he is mentally disabled because he is on the spectrum. I spend so much time explaining to people that the spectrum is wide, and that certain behaviors do not validate a diagnosis. (Imagine being told "your son behaves so well, are you sure he's autistic? Then having to stop someone from comparing your child to what they think autism looks like. Exhausting.)
The dismissal of non-physical disabilities is abuse as well. It puts a person or their families in positions of feeling like they need to provide proof if doesn’t match other’s assumptions. This is honestly why some many people on the spectrum or other non-physical disabilities go undiagnosed or invalidated.
In short, we must be intentional about the stories we choose and the unpacking required in anti-bias parenting and education. Publishing companies must do better, authors must do better, the village leaders of our children's communities must do better.
People with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and dismissed groups, representation is not just scarce, but it's also often perpetuating a bias perception.
Stories with reputable information integrated are extremely helpful with expanding understanding of disabilities. Stories about characters with disabilities that are self-empowered and aren't solely defined by their disability not only empower the community, but also humanize this community to others.
I took some time to research and dig for stories that feature multi-dimensional, diverse characters with disabilities. Many of these books are well loved in our own home, and many are written by disabled authors. THIS matters. Diversity is great, but often the story is more accurate when told from a person that lives the experience.
This book list lacks all of the negatives: a magic cure needed to remove a disability, non-inclusive language, being a villain or sidekick in a story (terribly negative connotations that only put the abled characters on pedestals), disabled characters that normalize "just dealing with it" with a negative undertone or championing disabled persons for trying to dismiss their disability to gain acceptance from their abled peers or families.
These stories are able great conversation sparkers for families and school communities to discuss inclusivity, acceptance, awareness, empathy and advocacy for people with disabilities.
We have a few of these titles in stock in our Book Nook
We Move Together follows a mixed-ability group of kids as they creatively negotiate everyday barriers and find joy and connection in disability culture and community. A perfect tool for families, schools, and libraries to facilitate conversations about disability, accessibility, social justice and community building. Includes a kid-friendly glossary (for ages 3–10).
Mama Zooms is about a boy's wonderful mama who takes him zooming everywhere with her, because her wheelchair is a zooming machine.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me
follows a little boy who is simply having the the worst of worst days. After he walks home in the pouring rain, he finds his autistic little brother Benji is having a bad day too. On days like this, Benji has a special play-box where he goes to feel cozy and safe. Sammy doesn't have a special place, and he's convinced no one cares how he feels or even notices him. But somebody is noticing, and may just have an idea on how to help Sammy feel better.
Just Like Me is an ode to the girl with scrapes on her knees and flowers in her hair, and every girl in between.
Jayden's Impossible Garden
follows an amazing little boy who sees nature everywhere: the squirrels scrounging, the cardinals calling, and the dandelions growing. But Mama doesn’t believe there’s nature in the city. So Jayden sets out to help Mama see what he sees. With the help of his friend Mr. Curtis, Jayden plants the seeds of a community garden and brings together his neighbors—and Mama—to show them the magic of nature in the middle of the city.
I'll Walk With You
helps little ones learn to show love for the people around them, no matter how they look, sound, pray, love, or think.
Different -- A Great Way to Be Macy is a girl who’s a lot like you and me, but she's also quite different, which is a great thing to be. With kindness, grace, and bravery, Macy finds her place in the world, bringing beauty and laughter wherever she goes and leading others to find delight in the unique design of every person.
Gizelle is a brave little girl with sickle cell, and she is defeating the odds every day. She puts on her cape and turns sickle cells into Super Cells
. Finding super strength with sickle cell makes Gizelle more powerful than ever.
Meeting Mimi Mimi is new at school, and everyone is excited to get to know her! Join Mimi’s classmates as they learn about her different abilities, appreciate diversity, and most of all? Make a new friend.
Don't Hug Doug
Meet Doug, an ordinary kid who doesn't like hugs, in this fun and exuberant story which aims to spark discussions about bodily autonomy and consent. This also is a great book to discuss sensory needs and how they may show up in interactions. Many children with non-physical disabilities have boundary preferences that assist with their coping mechanisms.
What Happened to You? This is the experience of one-legged Joe, a child who just wants to have fun in the playground . . .
Constantly seen first for his disability, Joe is fed up of only ever being asked about his leg. All he wants to do is play Pirates. Based on experiences the disabled author had as a young child, this story genuinely reflects a disabled child's perspective for both disabled & able-bodied readers.
All the Way to the Top shares the experience the true story of lifelong activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins and her participation in the Capitol Crawl in this inspiring autobiographical picture book. This beautifully illustrated story includes a foreword from Jennifer and backmatter detailing her life and the history of the disability rights movement.
It Was Supposed to be Sunny Changes in routine can be hard for any kid, but especially for kids on the autism spectrum. Samantha Cotterill's fourth book in the Little Senses series provides gentle guidance along with adorable illustrations to help every kid navigate schedule changes and overwhelming social situations.
The Deaf Musicians Lee lost his hearing, and the bandleader had to let him go. Now, Lee goes to a school for the deaf to learn sign language. There, he meets Max, who used to play the sax. Riding the subway to class, they start signing about all the songs they love. A bass player named Rose joins in and soon they've got a little sign language band. And in no time they're performing for audiences in the subway, night after night.
Happy in Our Skin Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family — and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.
Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon Molly Lou Melon's grandma taught her to be happy with herself no matter what, but that's not all she learned. Molly Lou heard all about how her grandma didn't have fancy store-bought toys when she was little. She made dolls out of twigs and flowers and created her own fun in her backyard. We love the Molly Lou Melon series because her stories never center her being a little person as her sole identity, and also normalizes the disability of her best friend.
Just Ask! United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges--and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we're not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.
(based on a a true story) Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.
The Boy with Big, Big Feelings
is relatable for any child, but especially for children experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions, or who have been diagnosed with autism or as a Highly Sensitive Person. Meet a boy with feelings so big that they glow from his cheeks, spill out of his eyes, and jump up and down on his chest. When a loud truck drives by, he cries. When he hears a joke, he bursts with joy. When his loved ones are having a hard day, he feels their emotions as if they were his own. The boy tries to cope by stuffing down his feelings, but with a little help and artistic inspiration, the boy realizes his feelings are something to be celebrated
Ada Twist, Scientist
Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie—stars of their own New York Times
bestselling picture books Iggy Peck, Architect
and Rosie Revere, Engineer
—Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious. We love this story because it normalized children who may have delayed speech.
I Talk Like a River When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he'd like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father's ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.
Poet Jordan Scott writes movingly in this powerful and ultimately uplifting book, based on his own experience, and masterfully illustrated by Greenaway Medalist Sydney Smith. A book for any child who feels lost, lonely, or unable to fit in.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay Zulay and her three best friends are all in the same first grade class and study the same things, even though Zulay is blind. When their teacher asks her students what activity they want to do on Field Day, Zulay surprises everyone when she says she wants to run a race. With the help of a special aide and the support of her friends, Zulay does just that.
Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll
Yuko-chan is an adventurous blind orphan, and readers are taken on a journey through ancient Japan and the story behind the famous Daruma Doll.
I am Not a Label Challenge your preconceptions of disability and mental health with the eye-opening stories of the remarkable people featured in this book.
King for a Day
Malik, a Pakistani boy who uses a wheelchair, is excited to compete in the annual kite-flying festival of Basant. Can his kite defeat the bully's and make him King of the festival?
A Splash of Red introduces us to an artist from the 1800's named Horace Pippin
This Beach Is Loud! Combining accessible storytelling and playful design, This Beach Is Loud! gently offers practical advice for coping with new experiences to children on the autism spectrum and/or with sensory sensitivities.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus The paperback edition of the bestselling middle grade novel about a spunky girl born without arms and a boy with Tourette syndrome navigating the challenges of middle school, disability, and friendship—all while solving a mystery in a western theme park.
Fish In a Tree
gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. This paperback edition includes The Sketchbook of Impossible Things and discussion questions. This highlights a child that struggles with reading.
Show Me a Sign Deaf author Ann Clare LeZotte weaves a riveting story inspired by the true history of a thriving deaf community on Martha's Vineyard in the early 19th century. This piercing exploration of ableism, racism, and colonialism will inspire readers to examine core beliefs and question what is considered normal.
Real Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can't speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity's brain works differently from most people's because of her autism, but she's still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she's invisible? Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who've ever felt they didn't belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.
is told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani
(hero). In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!
uses their trademark humor, heart, and humanity to show readers how being open to difference can make you a better person, and how being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways.
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family Fans of the Penderwicks and the Vanderbeekers, meet the Finkel family in this middle grade novel about two autistic sisters, their detective agency, and life's most consequential mysteries.
Song for a Whale is an award-winning story of a deaf girl's connection to a whale whose song can't be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.
Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe
This inclusive sci-fi tale with Cuban influence poses the question:
What would you do if you had the power to reach through time and space and retrieve anything you want, including your mother, who is no longer living (in this universe, anyway)?
Breathing Underwater is a sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.
You're Welcome, Universe is told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.
The Bite of the Mango
As told to her by Mariatu, journalist Susan McClelland has written the heartbreaking true story of the brutal attack, its aftermath and Mariatu’s eventual arrival in Toronto where she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope.
A Time to Dance is Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Unbroken This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today's teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.
Turtles All the Way Down is a story of shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.
Cursed follows fourteen-year-old Ricky Bloom who has just been diagnosed with a life-changing chronic illness, during the same time her parents are divorcing and her sister is leaving for college. She's afraid, angry, alone, and one suspension away from repeating ninth grade when she realizes: she can't be held back. She'll do whatever it takes to move forward--even if it means changing the person she's become. Lured out of her funk by a quirky classmate, Oliver, who's been there too, Ricky's porcupine exterior begins to shed some spines. Maybe asking for help isn't the worst thing in the world. Maybe accepting circumstances doesn't mean giving up.
Care Work - in this collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award–winning writer and longtime activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centers the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all.
The Degenerates is a fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized-and institutionalized them for life.
Feel free to add to this list in the comments !