“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve
Every child with a disability is a hero as they endeavor to persist through the barriers and challenges life has thrown at them. Each and every child deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book.
Disability Book Week during April 23-29 is a time in which students and teachers are encouraged to read books about characters with disabilities or books from authors who live with a disability. It is a special week to raise awareness and promote inclusivity of students with disabilities and to let these students see themselves as heroes.
My mother, an elementary school librarian, and I have collaborated to come up with our favorite novels and picture books that are perfect for Disability Book Week. Nevertheless, it is always a wonderful idea to incorporate these books during the entire school year, and not just isolate them for one week. Let’s dive in with our first book that is sure to make a splash!
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
As a middle school ELA teacher, this book is highly favored among my students. The novel details Iris’ life, a twelve-year-old girl, who is deaf. I have not taught this book as a whole-group lesson. However, over the years, countless students have read this book independently. I have two in my classroom library. Each time, my students rave over it once they’re finished. If that’s not enough of a testimony to how wonderful this book is, read the synopsis:
From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.
When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?
Full of heart and poignancy, this affecting story by Lynne Kelly shows how a little determination can make big waves.
The author, Lynne Kelly, was a special education teacher as well as a sign language interpreter. Lynne brings her real-life experience working with deaf individuals to this novel. Students find Song of a Whale fascinating, deeply moving, and heart-wrenching. They will be immediately inspired by Iris.
Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd
This book isn’t released until August 2nd, but we love Natalie Lloyd so much that we cannot wait till then to talk about it. Natalie Lloyd is the best-selling and New York Times winning author of A Snicker of Magic and Over the Moon. Lloyd’s books contain a sense of whimsy, imagination, joyfulness, and everything I think of when I think of the magic of reading. If you have not read one of her books, I urge you to start now.
Natalie Lloyd is an author with a brittle bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). The main character of Hummingbird is also diagnosed with this disability as well. Natalie Lloyd knows what it is like firsthand to be a child with a disability. She used a wheelchair until the seventh grade, so her personal knowledge will be carried throughout her latest novel. I have no doubt this novel will be an inspiration to so many children. We can’t wait until this book arrives in our classroom and library.
Bestselling author Natalie Lloyd returns with her most personal book to date, a story about a girl who―armed with her trusty, snazzy wheelchair―refuses to let her brittle bone disease stand in the way of adventure.
Twelve-year-old homeschooled Olive is tired of being seen as “fragile” just because she has osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease) so she’s thrilled when she finally convinces her overprotective parents to let her attend Macklemore Elementary. Olive can’t wait to go to a traditional school and make the friends she’s always longed for, until a disastrous first day dashes her hopes of ever fitting in.
Then Olive hears whispers about a magical, wish-granting hummingbird that supposedly lives near Macklemore. It’ll be the solution to all her problems! If she can find the bird and prove herself worthy, the creature will make her most desperate, secret wish come true.
When it becomes clear that she can’t solve the mystery on her own, Olive teams up with some unlikely allies who help her learn the truth about the bird. And on the way, she just might learn that our fragile places lead us to the most wonderful magic of all…
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt
A former teacher, Lynda Mulally Hunt, tells the story of sixth-grader Ally. The young girl sadly struggles with dyslexia until her life is changed at a new school and with a new teacher, Mr. Daniels. Hunt’s description of dyslexia as “letters wiggling on a page,” will help resonate with students who struggle with dyslexia. It connects with children who feel the need to fit in, but are having a hard time emotionally and/or academically. It is also a wonderful read for a teacher and entirely inspiring to the profession.
“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.
All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel
Jennifer Keelan is so excited to attend school, but soon realizes how difficult this is going to be when she is in a wheelchair. However, she does not let this stop her. So much so, that if she must leave the safety of her wheelchair and climb all the way to the top of the Capitol Building to let everyone know her plight, she would. Talk about becoming a hero!
2021 Schneider Family Book Award Young Children’s Honor Book (American Library Association)
Experience the true story of lifelong activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins and her participation in the Capitol Crawl in this inspiring autobiographical picture book. This beautifully illustrated story includes a foreword from Jennifer and backmatter detailing her life and the history of the disability rights movement.
This is the story of a little girl who just wanted to go, even when others tried to stop her.
Jennifer Keelan was determined to make a change―even if she was just a kid. She never thought her wheelchair could slow her down, but the way the world around her was built made it hard to do even simple things. Like going to school, or eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Jennifer knew that everyone deserves a voice! Then the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that would make public spaces much more accessible to people with disabilities, was proposed to Congress. And to make sure it passed, Jennifer went to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC to convince them.
And, without her wheelchair, she climbed.
ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Emmanuel’s story is definitely a tale of a hero, someone who would not give up under the worst of circumstances. This is a must-read for all students, with and without disabilities. You will find yourself cheering him on, wondering how far he is going to go with the strength his mother instilled in him.
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.
Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.
Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.
You Are Enough: A Book about Inclusion by Margaret O’Hair
You are Enough is a perfect book to share with your students to show everyone just how special we all are. It doesn’t matter how we are different. What matters is that each and every one of us is enough. We are all enough to be a friend, a helper, and a leader in a world in which we all belong.
A beautiful and inclusive picture book all about celebrating being yourself from Down syndrome advocate and viral sensation Sofia Sanchez!
It can be hard to be different whether because of how you look, where you live, or what you can or can’t do. But wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same? Being different is great! Being different is what makes you YOU.
This inclusive and empowering picture book from Sofia Sanchezan 11-year-old model and actress with Down Syndrome reminds readers how important it is to embrace your differences, be confident, and be proud of who you are. Imagine all of the wonderful things you can do if you don’t let anyone stop you! You are enough just how you are.
Sofia is unique, but her message is universal: We all belong. So each spread will feature beautiful, full-color illustrations of a full cast of kid characters with all kinds of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities.
This book will also include back matter with a brief bio of Sofia and her journey so far, as well as additional information about Down syndrome and how we can all be more accepting, more inclusive, and more kind.
Disability Book Week Virtual Library
We have created a Virtual Library to help you include some of these awesome books into your classroom and beyond. Click below to grab your FREE Virtual Library today.
It is crucial for students to read all kinds of books. This is especially true concerning books by authors who have faced insurmountable obstacles and books about characters who are facing them as well. We hope this blog post has inspired you enough to include some of the above books in your classroom library. If you did not already know about Disability Book Week, place it on your calendar for next year. However, do not just wait until then. Start now by incorporating these magnificent and moving books into your classroom. You never know what an impact it may make on your students.