10 Great Reads for Kids about Disabilities, Accessibility and Inclusion

Story books are a critical tool, not just as an aid to help children learn to read and write, but also in helping children learn about the world around them and about themselves. Representation and diversity in books is therefore an important element of this journey.

We are thrilled that there is an ever increasing number of books available out there for children and youth that includes themes about disability, accessibility and inclusion. But perhaps more importantly, there are also an increasing number of books that features protagonists that have a disability.

The following is a list of 10 of our favourite books.

Picture Books for Younger Children

An image of a book cover of a children's book by Arlene Maguire depicting a colourful illustration of a group fo diverse children

Special People, Special Ways

by Arlene Maguire

“Share a joke or a dream. Make someone feel good. We need laughter, hugs, and to be understood…. Though we seem different, inside we’re the same. Our hearts are for caring, no matter our name.” Winner of multiple book awards, this picture book for younger children presents a positive image of persons with disabilities and shares the message that while being different can be challenging, they are to be celebrated and that people share more similarities than differences. Arlene Maguire’s rhyming text delights, accompanied by beautiful and warm illustrations.

A colourful drawing of a young girl with red hair and a cat on a see-saw

Susan Laughs

by Jeanne Willis

“Susan laughs, she sings, she rides, she swings. She gets angry, she gets sad, she is good, she is bad.”  Told in rhyme, this story follows Susan through a series of familiar activities that many other kids do. She swims with her father, works hard in school, plays with her friends and even rides a horse. Lively, thoughtfully drawn illustrations reveal a portrait of a busy, happy little girl with whom younger readers will identify. Not until the end of the story is it revealed that Susan uses a wheelchair. Told with insight, and without sentimentality, Susan Laughs by multiple award winning author, Jeanne Willis, this is a lovely story about one spunky little girl who just happens to use a wheelchair.

A colourful drawing of a young boy in a wheelchair flying kites

King For A Day

by Rukhsana Khan

“King for a Day” is a beautiful and empowering story from multiple-award winning Canadian author, Rukhasna Khan. Set in Lahore, Pakistan, the arrival of spring also heralds Basant and the annual kite-flying contest: an eagerly anticipated event in the city’s calendar. Young Malik is determined to win the competition but in his way, is the town bully. This is a beautiful story that touches on multiple universal themes: tradition, craft, kindness and dedication. The fact that Malik uses a wheelchair does not impede his ambition, talent and spirit. A must read.

An image of a book cover for "A boy and a Jaguar" by Alan Rabinowitz depicting a lion and a boy hiding among some trees

A Boy and A Jaguar

by Alan Rabinowitz

Based on author Alan Rabinowitz‘s true life story, “A Boy and A Jaguar” is a moving and empowering story about a young boy who wonders if his teachers think he is “broken” after he is removed from a regular class due to his stutter. The boy however talks fluently when he speaks to animals, and promises the caged jaguar at the Bronx Zoo that he will be a voice for the animals – a promise he keeps as he grows up to become an influential and respected zoologist. The School Library Journal calls it “a fierce testament to the fierce beauty of jaguars and the human spirit.”

Image of a book cover of "My Friend Isabelle" featuring an aerial view of a several houses, a road and park

My Friend Isabelle

by Eliza Woloson

Isabelle and Charlie are friends. They enjoy doing many things together: drawing, dancing, reading and play acting. They also share a love of Cheerios. But like most friends, they also have things that make them different and unique and that’s okay. For instance, she does some things in a different way than Charlie because she has Down Syndrome. This heartwarming book, accompanied by simple but beautiful and dynamic illustrations and text, is a lovely story about friendships and acceptance.

Books for Middle-Graders

El Deafo

by Cece Bell

“El Deafo” is a graphic novel memoir loosely based on author Cece Bell‘s personal childhood experiences growing up with a hearing impairment. “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. However, she soon discovers that the hearing aid which helps her hear her teachers has also imbued her with special super powers. “El Deaf” is a funny, heartening and poignant coming-of-age story about acceptance, and the pains and joys of growing up.

A drawing of a teenage girl in a wheelchair doing a wheelie and juggling a pie

Roll With It

by Jamie Sumner

“Ellie’s a girl who tells it like it is. That surprises some people, who see a kid in a wheelchair and think she’s going to be all sunshine and cuddles. The thing is, Ellie has big dreams. She might be eating Stouffer’s for dinner, but one day she’s going to be a professional baker. If she’s not writing fan letters to her favorite celebrity chefs, she’s practicing recipes on her well-meaning, if overworked, mother.” An unexpected move threatens to upend her dreams. “Roll With It” is an upbeat and delightful story of a precocious and feisty young woman with a plan.

A drawing of a child riding on shoulders of a bigger person

Freak the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick

Published in 1993, “Freak the Mighty” is as relevant and popular today as it was when it first hit the bookshelves. This multiple award-winning book is a funny, gritting and moving story of the friendship between two boys, both of whom have a disability. On their own, Kevin and Max are immersed in doubt about themselves. But the duo finds strength in each other and are able to confront the challenges in their lives and begin to believe in themselves.

Collage of drawings of a wheelchair, baseball and pennant flag

Mascot

by Antony John

Noah lost his father and the use of his legs in a tragic accident. Now, he uses a wheelchair to get around and feels that everyone is treating him differently. He dislikes going to physical therapy, and is tired and angry that he does not have the same kind of control over his body as he used to. He misses the things he used to be able to and is afraid that he will never be the same person he was before. “Mascot” is a wonderfully-written and poignant universal story of loss, change, community and inner strength.

The Real Boy

by Anne Ursu

For fans of the more fantastical – “The Real Boy” is the story of Oscar, a young assistant in a shop owned by the town’s most powerful magician, where he works quietly in the shadows. Oscar is different from most people, something which he is reminded of often by the people in town – leading him to think that he is not a real boy. Among other peculiarities, he avoids eye contact and has difficulty deciphering non-verbal clues. Although it is not specifically named in the book, author Anne Ursu confirms that Oscar has autism. His world is turned upside down when a mysterious illness begins affecting the children in town. Brilliant and moving, “The Real Boy is an unforgettable story of transformation and belonging—a spellbinding tale of the way in which the power we all wield, great and small, lies in the choices we make.”

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