Yesterday marked the 30th Anniversary of the passage of the American’s with Disabilities Act. I always take time to think about how far we, as a country, have come since this Act mandated access and equality for People with Disabilities and I always think of how much further we need to go towards this goal.
Included are books that I have read and loved that feature or include people with disabilities. This list is heavier on middle grade books since I have been reading more of those recently. Sadly, my list doesn’t have a lot of own voices stories. This is something I plan to dive more into this year and I have found The National Leadership on Developmental Disabilities’ reading list a helpful place to start. I also found a list of 20 Must-Read YA books with Disabled Characters on Book Riot.
For this list I have used the legal / medical definition of “disability” for this list. That means I have included books with Deaf characters even though many of my Deaf friends do not consider Deafness to be a disability.
Finally, I want to address why I didn’t include Wonder in this list. Wonder may seek to encourage people to “be kind” but it is, in fact, the opposite to put people with disabilities on a pedestal as heroes simply because they are living. People with disabilities’ purpose in life is not to inspire others. Instead, I hope this list of books provides an opportunity to see individuals with disabilities as people first.
MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS
Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow.
In this breakthrough story, reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, from multiple Coretta Scott King Award-winner Sharon Draper, readers will come to know a brilliant mind and a brave spirit who will change forever how they look at anyone with a disability. from Goodreads.
Autumn and Adonis have nothing in common and everything in common. Autumn is outgoing and has lots of friends. Adonis is shy and not so eager to connect with people. But even with their differences, the two have one thing in common–they’re each dealing with a handicap. For Autumn, who has a learning disability, reading is a painful struggle that makes it hard to focus in class. But as her school’s most aggressive team wrestler, Autumn can take down any problem. Adonis is confined to a wheelchair. He has no legs. He can’t walk or dance. But he’s a strong reader who loves books. Even so, Adonis has a secret he knows someone like Autumn can heal.
In time, Autumn and Adonis are forced to see that our greatest weaknesses can turn into the assets that forever change us and those we love.
Told in alternating voices, Pinned explores issues of self-discovery, friendship, and what it means to be different. from Goodreads.
Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?
Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears. from Goodreads. #OwnVoices
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. from Goodreads.
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother? from Goodreads.
Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend? from Goodreads. OwnVoices
Ben and Rose secretly wish for better lives. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.
Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories – Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures – weave back and forth in symmetry. from Goodreads.
Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I’m not the only kid who lives here. There’s my sister, Natalie, except she doesn’t count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook’s or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don’t want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to. from Goodreads.
Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die. from Goodreads.
Fall in love, break the curse.
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s pulled into a magical world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin. from Goodreads.
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally. from Goodreads.
Note: I went back and forth on whether to include this book because it has some similarities with Wonder. Neither authors have experience with the community their characters are part of but one fact swayed me in the end. Unlike Wonder, The Curious Incident.. does not encourage people to only pity people with disabilities or put them on pedestals.
Ben Mattlin’s wife, ML, recalls falling in love with his confidence and sheer determination. On one of their earliest dates, he persuaded her to ride on his lap in his wheelchair on their way home from an Elvis Costello concert. Thirty years later, they still travel like this from time to time, undaunted by the curious stares following them down the street.
But In Sickness and in Health is more than an “inspiring” story of how a man born with spinal muscular atrophy–a congenital and incurable neuromuscular condition–survived childhood, graduated from Harvard, married an able-bodied woman, built a family with two daughters and a cat and a turtle, established a successful career in journalism, and lived happily ever after. As Mattlin considers the many times his relationship has been met with surprise or speculation by outsiders–those who consider his wife a “saint” or him just plain “lucky” for finding love–he issues a challenge to readers: why should the idea of an “interabled” couple be regarded as either tragic or noble?
Through conversations with more than a dozen other couples of varying abilities, ethnic backgrounds, and orientations, Mattlin sets out to understand whether these pairings are as unusual as onlookers seem to think. Reflecting on his own experience he wonders: How do people balance the stresses of personal-care help with the thrill of romance? Is it possible that the very things that appear to be insurmountable obstacles to a successful relationship–the financial burdens, the physical differences, the added element of an especially uncertain future–could be the building blocks of an enviable level of intimacy and communication that other couples could only dream of?
We meet Shane Burcaw, a twenty-three-year-old writer, who offers a glimpse of his first forays into dating with a disability. There’s Rachelle Friedman, the “paralyzed bride,” as the media refers to her, and her husband, discussing the joys and challenges of a new marriage and a growing family. And Christina Crosby and her partner, Janet Jakobsen, reflect on how Crosby’s disabling accident called for them to renegotiate their roles and expectations in their long-term relationship. What emerges is a candid glimpse into the challenges and joys of interabled love–from the first blush of sexual awakening to commitment and marriage and through to widowhood. from Goodreads. OwnVoice
Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t Your Body is a Wonderland.)
Zach lives by the mantra: when life gives you wheelchair, make lemonade. Whether recounting a valiant childhood attempt to woo Cindy Crawford, encounters with zealous faith healers, or the time he crapped his pants mere feet from Dr. Phil, Zach shares his fumbles with unflinching honesty and characteristic charm. By his thirtieth birthday, Zach had grown into an adult with a career in entertainment, millions of fans, a loving family, and friends who would literally carry him up mountains.
If at Birth You Don’t Succeed is a hilariously irreverent and heartfelt memoir about finding your passion and your path even when it’s paved with epic misadventure. This is the unlikely but not unlucky story of a man who couldn’t safely open a bag of Skittles, but still became a fitness guru with fans around the world. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the Olive Garden all over again, and learn why cerebral palsy is, definitively, “the sexiest of the palsies.” from Goodreads. OwnVoices
Tell me, please!
Do you have any book recommendations featuring People With Disabilities?
Thank you for the book recs! I’ve definitely been seeking out more books featuring people with disabilities, and want to be sure that I’m not picking up books with harmful representation.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you! Let me know if you find any others you would recommend!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for sharing! My daughter loved Fish in a Tree. One of my favorites is The Year We Fell Down.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oooh, I will have to add that. Thank you! I agree with your daughter – Fish in a Tree was wonderful.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I like your quick thoughts on Wonder. I haven’t read or heard much about what it was about but your take on it is definitely understandable. Great list of recommendations! I still need to go through a Rick Riordan book soon hahaha
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you! I don’t like posting negative reviews and comments on books so I really waffled back and forth on saying anything. Rick Riordan did an amazing job with that series and I love that Hearthstone is d/Deaf and signs and his friends sign with him.
LikeLiked by 1 person