There are not enough books out there that feature main characters in wheelchairs. I haven’t made it a point to go and search them out, but for whatever reason, they have found their way into my list these days. I can’t imagine a life in a wheelchair, our country doesn’t make it easy to be in a wheelchair though efforts are there. I know from using a stroller for many years how challenging that could be, a wheelchair is that on an exponentially larger level. But as I focus a lot of my brainpower on books that help open windows into lives that are different than your own, books about different abilities are a section that are often forgotten. These books are those that I have stumbled upon that feature a main character in a wheelchair.
Wendelin Van Draanen takes a look at what it is like to be in a wheelchair from two different perspectives in The Running Dream. This book is on the 2019-20 NC Battle of the Books list and also was an option for me to read for a class on YA literature. The main focus starts with Jessica Carlisle, a high school runner who loses her leg in a freak accident. She is trying to deal with no longer being able to run, but her time in a wheelchair is temporary. Her determination to get better speeds her recovery and is the main focus of her attention. But the even more powerful look at being differently abled comes in the character of Rosa, a highly intelligent girl who happens to have Cerebral Palsy. Rosa is truly why this novel is a Schneider Family Award Winner. Rosa is invisible to the student body at their school. No one takes the chance to get to know her and most don’t even acknowledge her existence. Jessica gets “stuck” with Rosa at the back table in math because her wheelchair doesn’t fit anywhere else. But she quickly learns that Rosa is an incredibly special person. Their friendship blossoms with understanding and respect. As the track team works hard to provide for Jessica, she realizes that shew wants to do something for Rosa, to make one of her dreams come true. It isn’t because Jessica feels sorry for Rosa, but because they truly form a special relationships and Rosa’s emotional intelligence helps Jessica heal. The two girls show immense strength and try to make more people understand that those who are “dis-abled” in some manner are more than their condition, they deserve to be seen as well. I was incredibly moved by this story and highly recommend it.
I also found a book called Roll With It by Jamie Sumner on NetGalley (Oct. 2019, Simon and Schuster). This book is about a young girl, also with cerebral palsy, who is wheelchair bound. Ellie has spunk. It is the best word to describe her. She dreams of being a famous chef and writes letters to some of her favorites at the beginning of many chapters. When Ellie and her mother move to Oklahoma to help take care of her grandfather who is suffering from Alzheimers, she has to deal with educating a new area to who she is. She doesn’t want to be seen as her illness, she wants to be seen as a whole person. She winds up with two new friends, Coralee and Bert, and they definitely don’t fall into the category of “normal.” While Coralee is completely okay with that, Ellie would like more than anything to be normal and has to learn that its okay to just be yourself. When her mother wants to take Ellie back to Tennessee where the school is more prepared to deal with her illness, her friends fight back to keep her in Oklahoma. This touching book shines the light on CP, Alzheimers, and being in a wheelchair. A moving story for middle grade readers.
Finally, Out of My Mind had been on my to read list for years. I finally read it because it was on the Elementary Battle of the Books list last year. This quickly became one of my favorites and my daughter’s as well. Out of My Mind is the story of Melody, a fifth grader with a severe case of Cerebral Palsy. She is confined to a wheelchair and is also unable to speak. Everyone assumes that because she can’t speak that she is not intelligent, but they are wrong. She has a photographic memory and loves to learn new things. The story shows how she manages to get out of a “special” classroom and allowed to be in a “normal” class, her amazement when she sees Stephen Hawking and his amazing computer to help him talk, and just how much harder it is for her to be seen as part of the team. It might not be a perfect book, but it cut to the heart of a group of 4th and 5th graders and made an impact.
There should be more books featuring children with assistive devices so people can better understand what they are going through. This is at least a start at looking at wheelchairs as a way to get around instead of a way to define someone.