These positive children’s books about disabilities are wonderful ways to begin conversations about differences , disabilities and disability rights!
Children’s Books About Disabilities Spark Powerful and Important Conversations
As the mom of a child with cerebral palsy, I can say this with one-hundred percent certainty: finding great children’s books about disabilities is tough.
In fact, in a 2019 study, only 3.4 percent of children’s books featured disabled main characters.
Not only are these stories few and far between, but many of the books I was able to find felt out of touch, didactic, and extremely dated.
Simply put: disability representation in children’s literature is rare — and rarely felt authentic.
Luckily, there are some new children’s books about disabilities that my family and I have been enjoying tremendously. Written by authors with first hand experience of living with disabilities, the stories on our new list are organic, insightful, and, oftentimes, true. These books have sparked important conversations in our home.
Disability Representation in Kids’ Books Fosters Empathy
Not only have many of the stories on this list of children’s books about disabilities helped us discuss our differences, but they have also helped us embrace our own unique characteristics.
Further, these books are imperative to read to help children understand that disabilities are not tragedies. Many children and adults alike identify as disabled and do not see themselves as anything less than whole. Their stories combat harmful stereotypes that are so often perpetuated about people living with disabilities. Perhaps even more importantly, their stories (as do all books featuring diverse characters) foster empathy in the best ways.
It is heartening to see that there is a push for more thoughtful representation of disabled persons, and I am thrilled to share some of the books our family has been learning from and enjoying.
We hope you find these stories as valuable as we do. Enjoy!
RELATED: Looking for more diverse books for children? Happily Ever Elephants has you covered!
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Our Favorite Children’s Books About Disabilities
Joe only has one leg, and, frankly, he is sick of being asked the same question over and over again – what happened to his other one? He just wants to play pirates like the rest of the kids on the playground, without the constant interruptions and questions! We appreciate the way this story shows kids that they don’t need to know the medical details or personal stories about another’s life before playing together. Instead, we can simply choose to respect one another’s differences without having any expectation that a disabled child – or any child, for that matter! – share specifics with those he encounters. Based on the author’s personal experiences, this is a meaningful, authentic perspective that is child centered and powerfully resonates with kids of all ages. It also includes helpful notes from the author about setting boundaries and discussing disability with children. This is one of the best books we added to our collection this year!
We LOVE this book about one young girl’s determination to make changes for people with disabilities. Jennifer Keelan was only a little girl when she realized that people with disabilities needed help. After all, she moved with the help of a wheelchair, and the world wasn’t always easy for her to navigate. Even things that should have been easy were so tough — like going to school and eating in the cafeteria! Jennifer knew that all people needed a voice, and when the Americans with Disabilities act was proposed to Congress, Jennifer climbed the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to make sure it got passed – without her wheelchair! This is such a remarkable story that mesmerizes children and teaches them about ableism and the power of our voices.
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This gorgeous and inspiring book tells the story of Zion Clark, an elite wheelchair racer currently seeking to medal in the Paralympics. With indomitable spirit and a refusal to see his body as anything less than whole, Zion’s story — from his early childhood years spent lost in the foster care system, to his rise as a high school wrestler, to his current quest for a gold medal — is moving, motivating and incredibly powerful. With a message of following our dreams and pursuing our passions no mater what obstacles are in the way, this book has become an immediate favorite in our home, with Zion becoming an instant role model for my boys.
This is a beautiful, vibrant book about all the ways people move through the spaces around them. When we all move together, we are sure to move differently, with some riding bikes or scooters and others using crutches, walkers or wheelchairs. The book follows a mixed-ability group of children as they see first hand that some places are welcoming for all people, whereas others are more challenging for people with assistive devices. Together, their questions and curiosity help them learn to navigate barriers and discover meaningful new ways of understanding one another.
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This compelling anthology about 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists is SO inspiring! We were captivated by the short biographies in this book, with each telling stories of the unique challenges these icons faced and the incredible ways in which they overcame the obstacles that stood in the way of achieving their dreams. From Ludwig van Beethoven to Frida Khalo, Stephen Hawking to Stevie Wonder, this book combats so many misconceptions we have about disability and mental health, and it’s a must read!
Little Bear feels his way around the world, from his bed rumbling when he gets woken up in the morning, to the floor shaking when his teacher tries to get his attention by stomping. He also can’t seem to understand any of his friends’ jokes, and why does everyone keep asking him “can bear’s ski??” One day, Little Bear’s dad takes him to the audiologist which is where Little Bear learns he is deaf and will begin to wear hearing aids. Little Bear’s world is so much louder with his hearing aids, and it will take some time to navigate, but with dad’s help, he’ll be just fine! We love this gentle own voices book and the way the author draws on his own experiences to tell the story. Wonderful!
From the phenomenal Little Senses series, this is an important story about what happens when a day at the beach turns too loud and too sandy for one sensitive boy. Preparing to see the ocean is so exciting, but when you get there, and things get overwhelming, what to do? One clever dad has some ideas and tricks to help his little one work through the sounds, sites and sensations that are a bit too much to handle. Another fabulously sensitive portrayal of a child with autism or sensory processing disorder! For our full review of the Little Senses series, click here!
It’s time for Lauretta to get a new wheelchair, and she insists on one that zooms fast! Her mom wants her to get something a bit more sensible, but Lauretta eventually prevails! But then she takes her new wheels for a spin… and she flies so fast she gets a speeding ticket during her one day tryout! Lauretta’s parents think this crazy fast wheelchair should go back to the store in exchange for something much — slower. But then Lauretta’s brother has an accident, and only one person has the power to get him to the hospital on time. Lauretta and her wheels to the rescue!
What a tremendously powerful book to convey that some children have words that get stuck in the back of their mouths, words that don’t come out the way they want them to. This story centers around a young boy who stutters and his loving father who uses the river to help the boy find his voice. Just as the river ebbs and flows, so, too, does the child’s voice. This important story pulls children into the world of those with dysfluency, written by the author’s own personal experiences.
This is an incredible biography of Louis Braille, a boy who lost his sight when he was just five years old. Louis was determined to live his life just like any other child, and he was especially determined to learn how to read. But how does one read without the ability to see? Louis invented his own alphabet, one that was tactile and read through the use of touch. It was a whole new writing system, and it was so ingenious that it continues to be used widely today. This beautiful picture book biography mesmerizes children by showing them all Louis lost along with his sight, and how he doesn’t give up until he is able to gain back a love of learning through books.
Back in the day, children with disabilities were unable to go to school. This all changed in 1971 when 7 children and their families wanted to make a big change and fight for all kids to get an education – even those with disabilities. Knowing that every child had an unalienable right to equal education, they went to court to fight for this right. And in Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, laws were made to ensure that disabled kids would receive a free and equal public education. This is a fabulous book celebrating this monumental court case, and we simply love it!
This stunner of a book blows my students’ minds every time I read it in our library. Born in Ghana, Emmanuel had a deformed leg and was dismissed by many, including his own father. But his compassionate mother told him he could do anything he wanted, including hopping on one leg to school two miles each day, playing soccer, and riding a bike. In 2001, Emmanuel rode his bike 400 miles across Africa, spreading the message to all who could hear and see that “disability is not inability.” Powerful and oh-so-inspiring, this book is a treasure.
Rescue always thought he would be a Seeing Eye Dog. Jessica never imagined she would lose her legs and use prosthetics to walk. When Rescue learns he is going to be a service dog to help Jessica, he worries he isn’t up to the task. But with Rescue at her side, Jessica’s life becomes a bit easier to navigate. Rescue and Jessica’s powerful relationship is conveyed on every page. Not only does Rescue help Jessica regain the abilities she once thought lost, but Jessica helps Rescue achieve his goals as a rescue dog.
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Oh how we LOVE this book featuring real life photographs of people with all kinds of bodies moving in a variety of ways. With walkers and wheelchairs and prosthetics and more, this powerful little book celebrates all types of mobility and ability, and we cannot rave about it enough. What a gem.
BUY THIS BOOK FROM: Little Feminists
Mama’s wheelchair is a zooming machine, and we love the way she moves through the day, zooming and snuggling with her kiddo on her lap. This wonderful little story celebrates what a parent can do in a wheelchair, combating some of the stigma that comes with having a disability, and normalizing mobility aids. We simply love how this story uses Mama’s wheelchair as a source of fun and adventure!
Did you know that more than a billion people around the world have a disability? This great primer helps begin a discussion about disability as a normal part of the human experience, showing children that people move in all different ways and that just talking about disabilities helps eradicate stigma. From helpful pointers as to how to begin conversations (a simple, “hi, how is your day?!” will always suffice!) to questions that are inappropriate to ask, to the reminder that people with disabilities are in no way broken, this is a straightforward book that serves as a terrific resource to begin conversations with children of all ages.
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