Disability 101: Celebrate Diversity with Children’s Books
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For too long people with disabilities have been seen as “special,” as different, as a totally separate group. People with disabilities have been delegated to the special class, the little bus, to the separate program. Despite several decades of the inclusion movement, encouraging and demanding that people with disabilities be allowed to participate fully in society, we still turn first to our time honored tradition of creating yet another special program.
Why can’t we get past this desire to create special and separate programs? Why does our society still tend to see people with disabilities as so terribly different? Why can’t we begin to recognize that those of us with disabilities are more like the able-bodied than different?
Let’s start at the beginning. Some of children’s first impressions of their world come from reading picture books with parents and teachers. Yet how many children’s books have characters who have a disability? Very few, I’m sad to say.
Too often the children’s books which do have a character with a disability portray that character as “special” and emphasize the differences and the need for everyone else to take care of the character with the disability. They promote the pity factor.
There are a few good books out there, however. I would like to offer some picture books which include characters with disabilities who are portrayed with strength and respect. These books help us to understand that we are more alike than different, that people with disabilities can do some cool things, and they don’t need pity or special treatment. Here’s the list:
Zoom! by Robert Munsch – Told with typical Robert Munsch goofiness, this is the story of Loretta, who gets a new, 92-speed, black, silver, and red dirt-bike wheelchair. A speeding ticket soon follows.
Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher. A preschool age boy has a mother who uses a wheelchair and she zooms him through his imagination.
My Brand New Leg by Sharon Rae North. A girl who uses a prosthetic leg shows her friend how she can run, jump, ride a bike and do just about anything with it.
Featherless (Desplumado) by Juan Felipe Herrera. Tomasito uses a wheelchair but still joins the soccer team and uses his head to make a goal. Story is told in both English and Spanish.
Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. A Native American boy, who is blind, races his horse with other boys in his tribe and finds that he can see through the darkness.
Mandy by Barbara D. Booth. Mandy, who is deaf, shares a wonderful day with Grandma. Grandma’s special pin, given to her by Grandpa just before he died, is lost and Mandy sets out to find it. Outstanding for portraying how people who are deaf experience the hearing world.
Two Tracks in the Snow by Louella Bryant. Ari, a boy who uses a wheelchair, uses his monoski to teach Will how to snowboard.
There are some good fiction chapter books for children as well. Try these: Stranded by Ben Mikaelsen; Deaf Child Crossing, Nobody’s Perfect,and Leading Ladies all by Marlee Matlin (the Academy Award winning actress who is deaf); The Million Dollar Putt by Dan Gutman; Rules by Cynthia Lord; From Charlie’s Point of View by Richard Scrimger; Of Sound Mind by Jean Ferri; and Things not Seen by Andrew Clements.
Our society is defined by its literature. Let’s expand our minds and our libraries by celebrating diversity in all of its many forms.
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