Most of us cannot remember a time when the Americans with Disability Act did not exist. But it was actually 30 years ago, on July 26, 1990, that the ADA was signed into law. We have grown accustomed to having ramps and elevators, signs in Braille, and less stigma attached to disabilities, physical ones at least. Yet even with all of these provisions in place, disabilities are still not “mainstream” and are definitely under-represented in children’s literature. Fortunately, there are more books being published that allow us to look into the window of their lives.
First is a brand new book that needs to find its way into all elementary school libraries – All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimental. This is the story of Jennifer Keelan and the fight for disability rights. Jennifer Keelan was born with Cerebral Palsy and was always in a wheelchair. While we are used to accessibility, this book highlights how the disabled were not even considered when buildings and even sidewalks were built and children were expected to be in completely separate classes from the “normal” kids. Keelan was one of the few children that was involved with the disability rights movement. The key moment of the movement was March 12, 1990 when Jennifer was 12 and she literally crawled up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The determination of Jennifer and the other activists made a difference and got the bill signed into law. An excellent book about an important part in disability history. (Ages: 6-10)
United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written a number of really great children’s books. Her most recent title celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have and was written from her own history of having diabetes and having other kids not understand. In Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, Sotomayor writes about children of all abilities and the super powers that each of them have as well. The book focuses on a group of children creating a garden together. Just as all of the plants are different, so are the children. A garden made up of only one flower isn’t as beautiful as one with a variety of beauties. (Ages: 4-8).
A few years ago, I remember a video going viral about a little girl with cerebral palsy who wanted to dance. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking this out. The New York City Ballet came through for her and many other children beautifully. It is the dream of many young girls to be a prima ballerina. I never had that goal, but love going to see all of our local dancers perform twice a year. This past May, a beautiful book by Nancy Bo Flood called I will Dance was published based on the story of a young girl with cerebral palsy who shares that dream. People tell her to pretend, but it isn’t the same. Fortunately, there are programs around the country so that little girls and boys who have disabilities can put on dance shoes and be a part of the experience. It just makes me happy thinking about it. (Ages: 6-10)
A long-time favorite about a boy who is Deaf is Boy by Phil Cummings. This book reminds us that just because we can hear doesn’t mean that we actually know how to listen. A complete review can be found here.
Earlier this summer I read Song for a Whale by Lynn Kelley. I happened upon it while scrolling through Libby looking for an audio book for my younger daughter. I am so glad that I found it. This was a really special book it was the middle grade winner of the Schneider Award this year. The story revolves around Iris, a 12 year old deaf girl who is a whiz when it comes to fixing technology. She is not understood and people in her school just assume that she is stupid. Iris is understandably frustrated and a bit angry at the world. She finds out about a whale that is lost on its own because it sings on a frequency that other whales do not recognize. Whales are very social animals, so this is highly problematic. Just as she fixes radios, she wants to help Blue 55, the whale. She and her grandmother set sail looking for the whale. In the process, Iris learns to shed some of her anger toward the world. I really enjoyed this book. (Ages: 8-12)
Another book that I read this summer, okay, I listened to, was The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais. This book also won a Schneider Award this year. The Silence Between Us is a compelling story of Maya, a young girl who is Deaf and who moves from being in an all Deaf school to a normal school across the country. She is frustrated with the hearing culture and the misconceptions that people have towards deaf people, especially the idea that they all want to be hearing and that cochlear implants are the magic pill. Maya is not the perfect MC though. She definitely has issues with regards to tolerance/kindness toward others and having an open mind toward the hearing community. She believes the worst of people rather than the best. But all of this is a learning experience for her and one that I enjoyed following. (Ages 12-16)
Last year I read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling for the NC Battle of the Books. Loved it. This book focuses on a young girl who was born without arms. She is strong and sure of herself and can do things with her feet that astound me. She moves to Arizona and befriends a young boy who happens to have Tourette’s. Now there is a follow-up book where Aven goes to high school – Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus. Can’t wait to read that one! (Ages 8-12)
Some other recent books that I have reviewed include Tune it Out and Just Breathe. These are both great books. Tune it Out focuses on someone with Sensory Processing Disorder and Just Breathe is about both Cystic Fibrosis and depression. I also always recommend Running Dream. Stumbled about this from Battle of the Books as well and it quickly became a favorite.
One of the crazy things of not only being a book blogger but being a MLIS student is that I have a great network of librarians and teachers. The following are recommended by them with information pulled from Goodreads:
Tornado Brain, by Cat Patrick, features a young girl named Frankie who is neurodiverse. In her case, that means she can’t stand to be touched, loud noises bother her, she’s easily distracted, she hates changes in her routine, and she has to go see a therapist while other kids get to hang out at the beach. It also means Frankie has trouble making friends. When her best friend goes missing, she believes she is the only one who can find her. A powerful story of friendship, sisters, and forgiveness, Tornado Brain is an achingly honest portrait of a young girl trying to find space to be herself. (Age 10-14)
A young boy gets a rare cancer diagnosis in Wink by Rob Harrell. As the cover also mentions, this is a book about surviving middle school with one eye open. Twelve-year-old Ross Maloy just wants to be normal. Not to have a rare eye cancer, not to lose his hair, not to have to wear a weird hat or have a goopy eye full of ointment. Just normal. But with a sudden and horrifying diagnosis, Ross can’t help standing out. His new life is medical treatments that feel straight out of a video game, vision loss in one eye, disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid,” cruel bullying, and ultimately, friendships new and old that rise above everything. (Age 9-12)
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos is a powerful read about a non-verbal, autistic girl in the 1980s. One thing I think is probably important to consider with this book is how very different autism was treated in the 80s as opposed to now. Since the ADA had not yet come to be, autistic children would have been kept apart from “normal” kids and a child like Nova who is also non-verbal would have made many people assume that she couldn’t think for herself. But Nova is actually quite intelligent and obsessed with space and the story uses the Challenger as an important point in time. There seems to be a lot of amazing pieces to this story and has been highly recommended by many sources. (Age 9-12)
There are tons of quality books that have characters with disabilities so there is no way to capture all of them in one post without just listing them. I have put together a collection in Pinterest that you can see here. Let’s celebrate all of our differences, they are special gifts and what makes us individuals.