When I go shopping for children’s books, I am always on the look-out for prominently and positively featured disabled characters. This is quite the treasure-hunt, partly because the treasure is so rare! But also because when I finally find something, there is always a chance it could be fool’s gold. What I mean by this, is that there are a few books on the market which may feature disabled characters but do so in an inaccurate or tokenistic manner. Fortunately, there are some real gems out there, and I wanted to share a few that I particularly like:
El Deafo (Cece Bell, Abrams)
I have a bit of a soft spot for comics, and El Deafo is truly one of my favourites. As an “own voices” graphic memoir, it explores the author's experience of growing up deaf. The artwork is wonderful, and it all feels so real despite the fact that the characters are all played by animals.
'It's an honest and rather sweet tale of a girl coming to terms with her disability, and as such the kind of story that will strike a chord with any child who has felt ostracised or different. El Deafo is heartfelt, eye-opening, funny and beautifully drawn.' - Financial Times
Cyborg Cat (Ade Adepitan, Piccadilly Press)
Cyborg Cat is a memoir series by Ade Adepitan, based on his childhood growing up with the after-effects of contracting polio as an infant. Adepitan doesn’t shy away from the trickier issues, such as when your friends say hurtful things unintentionally, and how to process this. Overall the stories are super fun and echo childhood experiences that everyone will find familiar.
“Entertaining and accessible, this is a book that is sure to achieve its goal of inspiring young people to channel their determination and pursue their own goals. The historical perspective may also encourage the reader to consider how far disability sport and attitudes to disability have come - as well as how far we still have to go.” - Book Trust
Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability (Shane Burcaw, Roaring Brook Press)
This is a bold and positive book which answers the questions repeatedly asked of people with visible or otherwise obvious disabilities.
“Not So Different offers a humorous, relatable, and refreshingly honest glimpse into Shane Burcaw’s life. Shane tackles many of the mundane and quirky questions that he’s often asked about living with a disability, and shows readers that he’s just as approachable, friendly, and funny as anyone else.” - us.macmillan.com
The State of Grace (Rachel Lucas, Macmillan)
The State of Grace is a real trailblazer of a book. Expertly written by Rachel Lucas it is a rare example of a truly authentic book about the autistic experience, and in addition, that of a teenage girl.
“If the State of Grace can give people a glimpse into what it can be like and demystify the whole A-word thing a little bit, it will do awesome things. I urge you to read it whether you’re autistic or not because I think Rachael has written an incredibly honest, warm hearted and funny book that deserves the widest possible audience.” - Live Otherwise Blog
Can You See Me? (Rebecca Westacott and Libby Scott, Scholastic)
This is a fabulous Middle-grade book about a young girl’s life growing up autistic. Another “own voices” novel, it is essential reading for any girl (or woman!) on the autistic spectrum.
“This innovative book is a collaboration between author Rebecca Westacott and a talented young blogger (herself autistic). In addition to helping shape the characters and plot, Libby supplies Tally's diary entries, thus offering the reader an authentic insight into one girl's perspective of the condition, along with valuable practical tips.” - Booktrust
Max The Champion (Sean Stockdale, Alexanda Strick and Ros Asquith, Frances Lincoln)
Max the champion is a truly delightful picture book, and perfectly achieves the delicate art of making a book that prominently features disabled characters, but that does not use disability as a main plot point.
“From the moment he wakes up, sport is on his mind. As we follow him through his day, the bouncy illustrations show us Max’s parallel imaginative life. As he dives into his cereal, Max imagines participating in a diving competition, cycling to school is the chance to dream of a bobsleigh race, handwriting practice turns into javelin practice… there is no limit to Max’s imagination.” - Booktrust
Amazing (Steve Anthony, Hodder)
A charming book which details the relationship between a boy and his dragon, Zibbo. This book especially stands out as it’s main character is a wheelchair user and takes centre stage on the front cover (practically unheard of for a book which is not explicitly about disability).
“A delightful story about friendship and being oneself.” - Booktrust
“Me and My Sister” & “Talking is Not My Thing!” (Rose Robbins, Scallywag Press)