I was invited to consult at local elementary school this morning. It’s a school that was founded to be racially and economically diverse (not always the norm for here in Grand Rapids). The past few years, they’ve sought to also do better with respect to disability inclusion and belonging. I saw a lot that I liked in what they’re doing and think it’s great that they’re proactively seeking input on how to do better.
One of the things the school has done intentionally is to make sure that racial and economic diversity is modeled by their artwork and their selection of library books. They asked if I had recommendations for books about disability. I think it’s important not only to have books about disability, but also to have books that feature but don’t focus on disability. A book’s having a disabled character, even if the book isn’t about disability, should be no more unusual that encountering a person with a disability. It’s also important to have books with disabled characters who are also racially diverse.
I told them I’d get them a list of books. Here are some already on my list.
One of my favorite graphic novels is El Deafo.
Ada Twist, Scientist represents a minority girl with delayed speech.
One of our daughters’ teacher wrote this great little book Dot and Box (which is also available in Spanish).
I love Green Pants, in part but only in part, because the main character is named Jameson.
King for a Day is a culturally diverse story that’s visually stunning.
I don’t love everything about Real Friends, but it’s another graphic novel worth mentioning and is the product of a team whose other books the girls love.
And they also love the entire Upside-Down Magic series about a magic school (yeah, it’s no Harry Potter.) I’m convinced that having ‘wonky’ magic is really about disability, even though I haven’t found the author confirm that anywhere.
If the rest of you have any suggestions on what the school should add (or that we should add to our home library!), I’d love for you to note them below.
For kids a hair older than your oldest (the story takes place the summer between 6th and 7th grade), there’s Hello Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly — one of the main POV characters, and heroes of the story, is deaf. The story is told from 4 POVs, each kid is a loner for a different reason, 4 different personalities, 4 different ethnic groups, different family situations, different outcomes from the situation they find themselves in (which was genuinely worrisome). One of my favorite reads last year.
I read Hello, Universe in 2018, and did not find the disability representation to be positive: https://toniasays.blogspot.com/2018/12/30-books-i-read-in-2018-26-30.html
Books like these are always my (12 year old) daughter Natalie’s favorites. Here are her particular favorites: Fish in a Tree (a lead character pretty clearly would be HFA; another dyslexic); A Snicker of Magic (which features a secret benefactor/hero who turns out to be a boy with bright green eyes who uses a wheelchair); Rules (the main character’s younger brother has autism, and she becomes friends with a boy with unspecified speech and gross motor difficulties while waiting for her brother at the OT’s); and How to Speak Dolphin (the main character’s little brother has non-verbal autism, and makes friends with a pretty amazing girl who is blind). She loved them so much she had me read them all, too, and I enjoyed them as well (and hope I am remembering the descriptions right).
I read the book Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper when my daughter’s friend group chose it for their informal reading club in high school. It’s for teens and up, I think, and I really enjoyed it. It really made me think about the assumptions society (and myself) make about those who cannot express themselves in ways that are considered “the norm”.
No, no, no…. Out of My Mind was SO bad. Also read this one in 2018. Check my Twitter thread for more coherent thoughts but PLEASE don’t rec this one, especially not to children: https://twitter.com/Tonia_Says/status/1053730260322267141
If you haven’t yet, check out Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School by Melissa Shang & Eva Shang. It has an MC with a disability (written by a then-middle schooler with the same disability – and her older sister.)