Disabled Parenting: Kids Books Featuring Disabled People

Hi, I’m Elki and I’m going to talk to you about being a disabled parent. I have a physical disability that affects my mobility and energy levels and am a part-time wheelchair user. I have one daughter (under 10), one husband and one cat. None of them are disabled, but that’s ok, I still love them.

I want my daughter to experience a wide range of people living with differences. Obviously, I love to stack our bookshelves with kids books featuring disabled people. I just love books. And I just love disabled people. Put those two together and I’m practically giddy. So here are some of my recommendations for kids books with disabled characters. I’m happy to have seen these books available in my local library as books for all children, not just books for children with disabilities.

Picture Books

What Happened To You? by James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George

Cover of 'What Happened to You?' with an illustration of a child standing on a swing.

I adore this book. It’s the perfect illustration of someone who is disabled just wanting to get on with their day while facing intrusive questions. The main character is bored with all the questions he gets about what happened to his leg. All he wants to do is carry on playing. It’s a great book for teaching children that it’s ok not to know why someone looks different and to gently show them how boring it can be for the person who gets all the questions.

My daughter definitely found not knowing ‘the answer’ hard, but after reading the book through a few times she got used to not needing to know. It’s certainly a great book to refer back to when the ‘what happened?’ or ‘what’s wrong with..?’ questions inevitably pop out of your child.

The book is great for anyone with children and has a wonderful page at the back that gives adults advice on what to do when your child expresses their curiosity about human difference.

I Will Dance by Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Julianna Swaney

Cover of 'I Will Dance' showing illustrations of children dancing.

I Will Dance is a beautifully illustrated book about a young girl who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. She wants to be a dancer but isn’t sure how dance looks for her until she joins an inclusive dance class and finds out. This book was a very emotional read for me, I find the joy the main character experiences to be so overwhelming that I cry every time I read it. I usually dislike it when a story about disability results in tears, but this book makes no attempt to make the reader feel pity for the character or her situation. I think it’s the absolute joy the characters experience and the beauty of the illustrations that get me. The thing I love most about the book is the matter-of-fact way the main character presents her situation in her own voice. The narrative is written to reflect the way the character’s cerebral palsy affects her speech. It’s wonderful, and something that I’ve not come across before. My daughter mainly enjoyed this book because it’s about dancing (which she loves), but I think most of the nuance was lost on her. It’s certainly a wonderful book to familiarise a non-disabled child with disability and normalise the idea of inclusivity. For a disabled child it’s a great alternative to the mainstream message of ‘you can do anything if you put your mind to it’. This can be a very damaging message, particularly for disabled children whose greatest barriers often come from society rather than any medical condition they have.

Chapter Books

The Amazing Edie Eckhart (Book 1) by Rosie Jones

Cover of 'The Amazing Edie Eckhart' with a cartoon of a girl holding a diary.

I wish this book had existed when I was younger. It’s such a realistic portrayal of pre-teen normality when you’re ‘normality’ is different. The main character is an 11 year old girl with cerebral palsy who speaks differently and falls over a lot. This is a great book for a disabled pre-teen to read for some good, solid representation. What I particularly loved about this book is how it shows the positives of having high expectations of disabled people rather than treating them with pity. I’m really hoping that my daughter will enjoy reading this one when she’s a bit older. I think it definitely has enough relatable stuff in it for a kid around the age of the main character.

Wilder than Midnight by Cerrie Burnell

Cover of 'Wilder than Midnight' illustrated in a folk-style, with cartoons of three girls and a wolf.

This is a fun book which uses fairytale tropes in a modern way. It’s full of recognisable elements from different fairytale stories and features strong female characters. The story isn’t specifically about disability but has a good message about the positives of difference. One of the main characters has an upper limb difference that is just a part of her and not a significant plot point. I’d recommend this book for children (particularly girls) who feel a bit different, looking to see themselves represented and enjoy an action-packed fairytale story. I don’t expect that this book will teach my daughter anything specific about living with a difference, but I hope she reads it to appreciate how difference can be celebrated.

If you have any recommendations for other books for kids featuring disabled people then please leave them in the comments section. My list is mainly focused on physical disabilities, so I’d love to bring some more disability-diversity to my bookshelves!

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