I’m looking for a book featuring… characters with a disability

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 34

Welcome to “I’m looking for a book about….”, the topic-themed monthly carnival of children’s literature.

Every month I’ll be encouraging anyone who likes to review books for children (of any age) to leave links to their reviews of books that match the given month’s theme. The idea is that over time, this carnival will become a resource for parents, teachers, carers, librarians looking for books by subject.

Old reviews, new reviews, and reviews for any age are welcome. You may also submit multiple reviews, as long as they are all relevant to this month’s theme.

This month’s theme is…


I say theme, but actually I’m hoping that we’ll create a resource of books which are about all sorts of things, which just happen to feature characters with some disability, rather than disability being the sole focus of the books in question. I’m hoping that with the close yesterday of the 2012 Paralympics, lots of children will have seen many more people with varying disabilities and that it will have been both a topic of conversation and also something “normal”, part of everyday life.

Let’s kick off this round up with a review from Sandie at Picturebooks in ELT of Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross. As the blurb on the book cover says “Without being condescending or preachy, the words, pictures and design of this very simple picturebook show that a physically disabled child is ‘just like me, just like you’

Susan Laughs is also included in the round up of picture books included in Kinderbooks with Everything’s post for International Day of Persons With Disability. Do click through to see 3 more pictures books which show people with disabilties in a positive light.

Melanie at Library Mice has a review of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I think every review I’ve read of this book has been glowing. Melanie writes, “You know the type of books that leaves you feeling a little bit more hopeful for human kind, and that you can’t help yourself hugging once you have turned the final page? Wonder is one of those books. It is heart wrenching and heartwarming, bleak and hopeful, cruel and kind, all at the same time.

Over on Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf there is another review of Wonder, this time written by someone (Amanda’s sister, Allison) who themself has a disability. Allison writes about how moving it was to read a story with someone like her as the lead character.

Denise, writing at the Nerdy Book Club, has a whole shelf-ful of books to recommend featuring characters with disabilities ranging from speech difficulties to Downs Syndrome. The list, mostly of picture books, was inspired after a reading of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. One of the books reviewed by Denise is Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco, and this is also reviewed in more detail by Myra at Gathering Books. It sounds like a tremendous picture book.

Over on the Nosy Crow blog there is a wonderful list of books and other lists of books featuring characters with hearing and or sight loss. Do check out the comments for even more useful ideas about (reading and writing) books which include characters with a disability.

Jax at Making it Up brings Just Because by Rebecca Elliot to our attention, “narrated by a little boy, about his very special big sister and her special chair. It’s a sensitively told story about a little girl with special needs and is a wonderful introduction for children who might not have come across this type of situation before.

Library Mice also has a review of Just Because by Rebecca Elliot, alongside Elliot’s 2nd book featuring the same characters, Sometimes. Melanie writes “Just Because is an amazingly positive introduction to the notion that everybody is different; it is a heartfelt and effective first exposure at disability.

Sherry Early at Semicolon has a raft of reviews for us, starting with Window Boy by Andrea White. About a character with cerebal palsy, Sherry says of this book “Kids who need to understand the world of disability, and all of us do, should also get a taste of Window Boy. It’s not at all didactic, but highly educational nevertheless.

Next up is a review of The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, also from Sherry Early at Semicolon. “Although the word “autistic” is never used in the book, Ted is obviously a high-functioning, but autistic, child.

Sherry also offers us reviews of Rules by Cynthia Lord, Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko all of which feature characters with autism (although this is not always explicitly stated in the books in question). She also reviews Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, by Lauren Tarshis which has a character who probably has OCD or Asperger’s.

Sandhya reviews two books from Indian publishers: Why Are You Afraid To Hold My Hand? by Sheila Dhir and Chuskit Goes To School written by Sujatha Padmanabhan, illustrated by Madhuvanti Anantharajan. Her reviews are part of a longer article about diversity in children’s books.

There’s a slightly longer review of Chuskit Goes To School over on Saffron Tree. Choxbox writes “apart from the heart-warming storyline, it tells you many things about life in Ladakh in beautiful words and illustrations.

Susan, The Book Chook, has a review of Samurai Kids, Book 1: White Crane by Sandy Fussell. “Despite their disabilities, or sometimes because of their disabilities, the Samurai kids want to prove to themselves and those who despise them that they are worthy of the title Samurai Warrior.

Kinderbooks with Everything highlights a favourite picture book of mine, The Black Book of Colours by Menina Cottin and Rosana Faria. “This extraordinary book emphasises other ways of ‘seeing’ using the other four senses in the way that a blind child needs to. The format makes this book unique. All the pages are black. The text is written firstly in Braille and then in a white font. The illustrations are textured rather than coloured.

The same book, The Black Book of Colours by Menina Cottin and Rosana Faria, is reviewed over at My Little Bookcase. Jacqui is “truly smitten by this book” (I’m with her on this) and she includes some great photos so you can see something of how amazing it is.

The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini is also recommended by Kinderbooks with Everything. Once again, “The pages are textured and beg to be touched. The angle that the viewer is positioned at in the beautiful double-page spreads makes for an involvement that renders you transfixed.

I’m Here by Peter H. Reynold is reviewed by Polly over at The Little Wooden Horse
. It’s a terrific review of a wonderful sounding book which “was published to support children and families living with autism“. Unbelievably it’s not yet available readily in th UK…

As it happens Ali at Literary Lunchbox also gives a glowing review of I’m Here by Peter H. Reynold.

SpeakWell, Readwell shares The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie with us. “The main character, Arnold Spirit Jr. is a fourteen-year-old Indian living on a reservation, who was born with “water on the brain”, grew ten extra teeth, stutters and has a lisp. He also has the most engaging voice I have read in a long time

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Warrior Scarlet is the subject of Ali’s post on her blog Fantastic Reads. Apparently this isn’t the only book where Sutcliffe wrote sensitively about disability (in this case the lead character has a withered arm). It’s a long quote but I love what Ali says at the end of her post: “I love that Drem’s character is influenced by his disability, but it is not informed by it. In many children’s books, a period of disability is a test that characters must go through in order to become better people (such as Katy in What Katy Did or Deenie in Deenie) or disabled characters have special powers (Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s novels who has dyslexia and ADHD but is the son of a God), but for Drem, his disability is something that he must learn to manage in order to become a functioning part of his society. The adjustments that he makes and ultimately the concessions that his tribe makes allows him to do this, and after all, isn’t that what the able-bodied world should be doing with people with disabilities? Shouldn’t that be our Paralympic legacy?

A character with learning disabilities, especially problems with reading, is the focus of May B by Caroline Starr Rose, which is reviewed over on jen Robinson’s Book Page. It sounds like a fascinating book – a verse novel that will appeal to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Another book with a character with learning disabilities is reviewed by Library Mice: My Brother Simply by Marie-Aude Murail, translated (from the French) by Adriana Hunter. “The theme of My Brother Simple is not in itself new: the arrival of someone “different” in ordinary people’s lives which ultimately changes them and their outlook on life forever has been visited many times by different authors. But this sometimes heartbreaking yet often heartwarming tale of the love and bond between two brothers stands out from the rest because its delivery is such a joy.

Shelf-employed highlights My Sister, Alicia May, by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Shennen Bersani. It “a beautifully realistic story of a young girl whose sister has Down Syndrome… that will do more to instil a compassion for those with disabilities than any lesson ever will

Three more books including characters with Downs Syndrome are included in Kinderbooks with Everything’s post for World Down Syndrome Day.

What with the Paralympics and the Jubilee year here in the UK, Me, the Queen and Christopher by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Tony Ross, reviewed by Library Mice, could hardly be more topical. It’s “a very funny and utterly fictitious story of a an encounter between a little girl and the British Monarch,” which just happens to feature a character with a disability.

Knockin’ On Wood, Starring Peg Leg Bates by Lynne Barasch is a non-fiction picture book reviewed on Perogies and Gyoza. It’s about Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates (1907 – 1998), a black tap dancer who lost a leg in an accident but didn’t let that stop him doing what he loved – dancing. It sounds like quite an inspirational book!

On RuthsReads there is a round up of books including characters with epilepsy and characters who are deaf. She also includes a list of useful organisations and websites.

Other books recommended by readers include Different Just Like Me by Lori Mitchell, Zoom! by Robert Munsch, My Left Foot by Christy Brown, Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman, White Dolphin by Gill Lewis, Stakeout by Bonnie J. Doerr, The Amberella Tales: Amberella in the City by Rosemarie Kaupp, and Wonder by R.J Palacio. Thanks to Sandhya, Cheryl, Choxbox, Corinne, Gill, Rebecca, Bonnie, Rosemarie and Jane for these suggestions.

Looking forward to discovering more books as you link to your reviews (new or old) of children’s books which include a character with a disability. Please add them by clicking on the blue “Add your link” button below, or by leaving them in the comments.

Also, please do take a look at this guest post by Alexandra Strick, a consultant on children’s books and disability: Capitalising on the Paralympic Spirit – how books can help to build on our kids’ increased awareness of disability.

34 Responses

  1. Sandy Brehl

    I’ll be posting later this month about some PB titles as well as featuring an interview with author Jacqueline Houtman as her middle grade novel is released in paperback. The Reinvention of Edison Thomas is a terrific story of Eddy, whose patterns suggest he is on the autism spectrum, but this is never overtly stated. The character, situations, and story are all highly recognizable and yet unique and memorable.
    Sandy Brehl recently posted..Election Cycles… and Cynics

  2. sandhya

    Zoe, I recently wrote an article about books to teach children under 10 years about respecting diversity, for an online women’s magazine, womensweb. I would like to link up to that article- the first two books featured there deal with disability. Tulika books’ “Why Are You Afraid to Hold My Hand” and Pratham books’ “Chuskit Goes to School.”
    sandhya recently posted..Being the ‘good bahu’

  3. sandhya

    Also, am currently reading an amazing book for 9-12 year olds called “My Left Foot” that is an autobiographical version of Christy Brown’s struggle with Spasticity. http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Left-Foot-Christy-Brown/dp/0749391774/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347255018&sr=1-1

    Also on my reading list currently is this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wonder-R-J-Palacio/dp/0370332288/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347255208&sr=1-1
    sandhya recently posted..Abhijnaanashakuntalam: Truth & Lies

  4. Cheryl Lescheid

    Hi, as a Canadian I love recommending our native authors! Robert Munsch is a beloved Canadian children’s author and writes stories featuring many children he’s met across the country. He has a wonderful story about a girl who has a fantastic wheelchair called ZOOM! Here is a link to his website: http://robertmunsch.com/book/zoom

    • Zoe

      Sweet justice there Sandhya – I wrote a comment reply which has now got lost in the ether! But what I was saying is that comments with more than one URL in them have to be personally approved by me – lots of spam comments include multiple URLS so I’ve set up the system to ensure I moderate all comments with multiple URLs – and yours should be showing now. Thanks for all your input today – am gradually working my way through the posts, reviews and suggestions and am just about to get to yours 🙂

  5. Myra from GatheringBooks

    Hi there Zoe! I see that Junkyard Wonders is already part of your post. Let me duplicate that (hehehe) by sharing my review of Patricia Polacco’s lovely story. Hope that’s ok. 🙂

    We intend to have a bimonthly theme on Celebrating Diversities sometime next year. This link of yours would definitely come in handy.
    Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..Jan/Jun 2012 AWB Reviews

  6. Rosemarie Kaupp

    My book, The Amberella Tales: Amberella in the City, features a puppy, Casper, with a stuttering problem.

  7. Bonnie J. Doerr

    I’m pleased you are listing books that happen to include a character with a disability rather than featuring the issue. It was a surprise to me when my character, Ana, appeared in a wheelchair. I hadn’t planned that. But I was intrigued when I first saw a beach wheel chair some months before I began writing StakeOut. It must have made quite an impression on me!

    StakeOut, an environmental mystery for tweens, has a wheel–chair bound character with Spina Bifida. It takes a while before the reader realizes she has a permanent disability because she doesn’t let it define her. The book was a 2012 Green Earth award finalist.


  8. Beth Cox

    Some great books here but can I also direct people do the In The Picture project from Scope as they reviewed loads of inclusive books: http://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/scope-campaigns/children-picture/books-list

    Also the Bookmark project from Booktrust where Alex Strick chooses and inclusive book to review each month: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/children/bookmark/book-of-the-month/

    Hope it’s ok to post these kind of links.

    Just a note regarding an earlier comment on here: no one is bound to their wheelchair so the phrase wheelchair user is more appropriate. Don’t take me mentioning this the wrong way, but if no one says anything, nothing will change.


  9. victoria

    I’ve just thought of some more good books:

  10. victoria

    And another – don’t forget Jeanne Willis’ Mole’s Sunrise

  11. se7en

    Finally our list is up… it took us forever to settle on books!!! A wander through the library was not enough… we had to go back and choose again… because honestly a lot of books in this section were not that great… but we settled and finally got a list up for you!!! And thank you so much for creating this wonderful list of topics on your blog – love it!!!
    se7en recently posted..What We Are Reading Right Now #6 – Featuring Disabled Characters…

  12. Sandy Brehl

    Hello, Zoe!
    Back again to let you know how much I enjoy this conversation, and to add that I have a post on this topic this week titled Reinventing Friendships. It features picture books and middle grade books, an interview, and a give away (limited to US mailing, sad to say). I also have a page option with additional titles on this topic. I linked to your post at the end of mine.
    Sandy Brehl recently posted..Reinventing Friendships

  13. Brenda Green

    Hi There

    I have just finished reading to my son a Amazon Kindle book called ‘Four Wheeled Hero’ based around a young boy named Tommy who is wheelchair bound and his best mate Smithy. Every night I would read him one chapter before he went to bed, and he could hardly wait for bedtime to come to hear the next. The book is very funny as well as having a story line that keeps you glued to the book from start to finish. The reason why I have sent this note to you is the fact that I have never seen a book published where a child in a wheelchair is the hero of the day and as such would give that feel good feeling to any child in that situation who reads it, as it did my son. As a mother it was wonderful to see his face as we worked our way through the chapters, watching the enjoyment and excitement he showed as the two boys followed their quest. I have added a couple prints from the book that can explain it better than me

    This is an Amazon Kindle Book and if anyone cannot afford to buy the Kindle Tablet then go onto the Amazon Kindle Book web page where you will find a free kindle app available to download onto PC’s mobile phones etc. This app gives you all of the Kindle Tablet programme to allow you the get your copy of Four Wheeled Hero as well as thousands of other titles, some free of charge.

    Best Regards

    Brenda Green


  14. Jann Weeratunga

    I’ve just released ‘Polly’s Piralympics’. Set on Treasure Island the pirates hold their own Paralympic Games. Events include a 3 legged race, climb the rigging gymnastics, walk the plank diving and pirate Masterchef competition.
    We all have dissabilities, can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t count, can’t ride a bicycle, one leg, no arms a stutter, one eye, some are just more obvious than others. We learn than if we tease others about their disability then maybe we may be teased about our.
    Through the vuvuzela playing Zulus, tattooed Maoris, yellow turbaned Indians, kilted bagpipe playing Scots, Cowboy Americans and Abba singing Viking pirates we learn its not cool to cheat and how friends overcome dissabilities, turning we can’t into we can

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