Our top picks of books for children and teens starring Mighty Girls with disabilities.
Every child wants to see herself represented in the pages of her books — but if your Mighty Girl has a disability or special need, books featuring characters like her are few and far between. And when characters with disabilities do appear, they are often marginalized, only existing so that the main character of the book can show compassion towards them. In fact, from 1940 to 1970, of the tens of thousands of children's books published, only about 300 featured characters with any sort of disability — a far cry from the actual 10% of the population with some form of cognitive, physical, or mental disability.
Fortunately, authors and publishers are starting to recognize the importance of representation and inclusion of people with disabilities, and in recent years more and more books have been featuring characters with disabilities. These books encourage children to be understanding and accepting of peers with special needs, while also providing children with disabilities all-too-rare role models who represent their struggles and triumphs. After all, a disability may change the way you live your life — but that doesn't make you any less Mighty!
To help parents and educators find high-quality stories that include representation of a variety of disabilities, we've compiled a collection of books in modern settings starring characters with disabilities. While stories about historical figures like Helen Keller are important, these contemporary tales serve an equally critical purpose: showing all children that a disability is only a part of a person's story, not the whole.
Stories of Mighty Girls with Disabilities
When Elmo introduces his friend Julia to Abby Cadabby, Abby is confused: Julia doesn't say hello or look at her. Did she do something wrong? Elmo explains that Julia is autistic, and that she does things a little differently — but that doesn't mean they don't have lots in common. In fact, if Abby lets Julia be herself, it's easy for them to find fun games to play! This book introduces common differences between neurotypical and autistic kids in a nonjudgmental way, allowing autistic kids to see themselves in a storybook and giving neurotypical kids a framework for understanding and accepting their autistic peers.
The little girl in this story is busy doing all sorts of activities: swimming and school, playing on the playground and riding a horse. It's not until the final page, which reveals Susan sitting in a wheelchair, that the reader realizes that there's anything different about Susan at all — and as the previous pages show, that difference really isn't as big as it may seem. The simple verse of the text flows nicely as a read-aloud, while the pastel illustrations cleverly depict Susan doing everything without ever standing unassisted. This book avoids the trap of presenting a child with limited mobility as a subject of pity or as a prop for other children's compassion, instead presenting her as she is: a happy, active child, full of life.
Emma has limb differences and uses a wheelchair, but she knows that different isn't bad, just different. Just like her classmates, she's excited for the field trip to the local art museum! Unfortunately, the world isn't always set up to make things easy, and when she arrives to discover there's no ramp, it spoils the fun a bit. Worse, her friend Charley tries to do everything FOR her, even if she can do it herself! Fortunately, Emma draws on her inner strength to speak up, teaching Charley that help isn't helpful if it's not wanted and showing that her differences don't make her any less awesome. This follow-up to When Charley Met Emma is a celebration of confidence and making your voice heard.
Annie was born without sight, but she and her grandmother have discovered that she can use her sense of smell to help guide her through life. Soon, she's become an excellent cook, mixing spices and creating dishes that not only fill bellies but also make others surprisingly happy, conjuring memories of people and places that give them peace. Over time, her village considers her a wise-woman, able to use food to cure... but one young man, Julian, is lonely and sad no matter what food she makes. It takes a little advice from her grandmother to help Annie figure out how to help her friend — and herself. Lyrical and elegant, this uplifting book celebrates uniqueness and the power to turn what some consider weakness into strength.
Kate is spending her first summer alone with her grandparents at their home on the lake — a big step into independence for a girl with Down Syndrome! Her parents own a grocery story, and her grandfather delivers groceries to everyone on the lake — including the very grumpy Walter. That means Kate gets to help out, and even learns to pilot the boat all by herself! But when her grandfather gets sick, he can't do the deliveries... but people still need their groceries. So Kate faces her nerves and heads out on the lake — proving to herself and everyone else that she's up to the challenge. This empowering picture book, inspired by the author's sister, celebrates the joy of a child discovering they're capable of just about anything.
Lauretta is exasperated by her old, slow, wheelchair, and when her mother takes her to buy a new one, she decides she wants something really fast — like the 92-speed, black, silver, and red dirt-bike wheelchair! Her mother grudgingly decides to let her give it a one-day tryout and Lauretta is thrilled... until she gets a speeding ticket and her parents insist the chair will have to go back. But when Lauretta's brother has an accident and needs to get to the hospital, it turns out that Lauretta is just the one for the job! Kids will giggle and cheer as Lauretta finally gets a set of wheels she really loves.
Zulay and her three best friends are in the same first grade class, even though Zulay is blind. She uses a Braille typewriter and manipulatives for math, so she rarely feels like she stands out -- except when she gets pulled out of class to practice using a cane, something that still makes her self-conscious. When her teacher announces the upcoming Field Day, Zulay decides she wants to run a race, and her peers fall silent, not sure how she can. Fortunately, her understanding and determined teacher assures her and them that the class can definitely find a way for Zulay to cross the finish line! Encouraging and optimistic, this book reminds young readers that a little creativity goes a long way when it comes to including peers with disabilities.
Zara the girl and Moose the dog adore one another, which means saying goodbye is as awful for Moose as "an itch that couldn’t be scratched." So when Zara goes to school, Moose keeps escaping (in more and more elaborate ways) to join her! The only thing that works is confining a lonely Moose to a crate, something everyone realizes isn't a good solution. So Zara takes Moose to her own school — therapy dog school — and Moose returns to the classroom as the class reading dog! This fun story, one of the rare titles depicting a girl with a disability that doesn't make her disability the focus of the story, also includes an endnote with additional information and websites about therapy dogs.
Eva dreams of dancing — but she has cerebral palsy, and she has never seen a dancer in a wheelchair. Then one day, she learns about a dance company which promises lessons for "all abilities." Although Eva is hesitant when she first arrives, she's delighted to see dancers of all sorts, including those using canes, walkers, and prosthetic limbs — and with time, she realizes that she really can be a dancer! This exuberant picture book, which includes a note from the executive director of the real-life Young Dance company, celebrates a love of dance and the impact of inclusion on kids with disabilities.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and award-winning artist Rafael López celebrate kids of different abilities and the power of inclusion in this affirming picture book! Sotomayor encourages kids to ask if they are curious about another child's differences, introducing physical conditions like her own experience with diabetes and Lopez's use of an inhaler for asthma, then broadening the conversation to include neuroatypical conditions like Tourette's and autism; learning disabilities like dyslexia; and even a nut allergy. Throughout, the children in her story work together to create a garden as a powerful visual reminder that we all have the power to make the world more beautiful.
Moon the foal doesn't fit in with the other horses; he can't see, but he can hear so sharply that he notices things that other horses don't, like the crack of a hatchling breaking the eggshell. Another foal, Midnight, helps him when he doesn't know where he is. Nearby, a girl named Clara doesn't speak, and also struggles to fit in — but she can also hear things that other kids ignore, like the hum of her mother's oven as the muffins bake, and she has a gift for writing and drawing. When Clara and Moon meet, they'll realize that their challenges and their gifts are intertwined — and that the right friends will recognize all the ways they are special. This touching story celebrates acceptance and reminds young readers that the world needs all kinds of people.
When faced with "hidden" disabilities like dyslexia, kids can end up believing that they're not as intelligent or capable as their peers. Trisha’s original enthusiasm for school dies when she struggles to understand the squiggles on the page, while her peers race ahead. Her classmates — and soon, Trisha herself — assume that she is a “dummy”, incapable of learning no matter how hard she tries. Fortunately, Trisha's teacher Mr. Falker not only spots the challenge that is holding back her reading, but also her remarkable artistic talent and, with lots of gentle encouragement, helps her reach the magic moment where she can finally read. This semi-autobiographical story from beloved author Patricia Polacco will help give kids with special needs confidence that they can achieve great things. Fans of this book should also check out The Art of Miss Chew, in which an art teacher helps Trisha discover her special gift for art.
Every year, Nellie and her two brothers look forward to their family's trip over the Black Mountains to their beach house. Her brothers always compete about who will see the ocean first, but Nellie never participates until one year, when the shore is shrouded by thick fog. Suddenly, Nellie says she sees the ocean, "an old, old man born at the beginning of time.... When the sun shines, he laughs and gurgles and prattles in the rock pools." It's not until one of her brothers protests that "She can't even see!" that readers realize that Nellie is blind — and yet, as Nellie's mother reminds them, she has her own ways of seeing. Author Estelle Condra draws on her own experiences with losing her sight to create a happy, active, and perceptive Mighty Girl character.
Joyce and Judith Scott were as close as twin sisters could be — but Judith was born with Down syndrome, and was deaf and unable to speak. So when Joyce went to school, Judith was sent to an institution by their parents. Years later, though, Joyce brought Judith home... and realized she was a talented artist. With the support of a family who appreciated her abilities, Judith started creating stunning works with fiber and found objects — artwork that won acclaim from buyers and critics alike! She became famous around the world for her creative gift, helping to prove that people with Down syndrome deserved a chance to achieve their dreams. This poignant picture book, told by Joyce with Brie Spangler and stunningly illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet, is a tribute to a trailblazing artist and the power of giving people a chance to succeed.
All of Rescue's family are seeing eye dogs, but his trainer thinks he's better suited to become a service dog – and Rescue's worried he's not up to the task. Then he meets Jessica, a girl whose leg has just been amputated who is struggling to adjust to her new life. Now Jessica needs Rescue by her side to help her accomplish everyday tasks. And, when Jessica's other leg has to be amputated too, they have to start all over again. It turns out that Rescue can help Jessica see after all: a way forward, together, one step at a time! This unique and thoughtful picture book about acquired disability, service dogs, and the power of hope also includes an introduction to the work of dogs trained by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS).
Jennifer Keelan was just an ordinary girl who happened to use a wheelchair. But she knew her life would be a lot easier if people would think about what people with disabilities needed — like cuts in a curb, lifts and elevators, and most importantly, acceptance from others. She joined adult activists in the disability rights movement, and on March 12, 1990, as Congress contemplated the Americans with Disabilities Act — a law that would make public spaces accessible — she got out of her wheelchair at the bottom of the steps to the Capitol Building and climbed — all the way to the top. This inspiring picture book reminds young readers that anyone, no matter their age, can make an impact.
Evelyn Glennie grew up in Scotland surrounded by music; she played the piano by ear at age 8, and the clarinet at age 10. But then she was diagnosed with degenerative hearing loss; her doctors proclaimed she could never be a musician. Evelyn was sure they were wrong: she could feel vibrations in her body, and wasn't that a kind of hearing? With the help of a progressive music teacher, she learned to play percussion instruments, and she fought her way into the Royal Academy of Music in London. She would go on to become the first full-time solo percussionist in the world, win two Grammy awards, and even be awarded a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II! This beautiful picture book biography celebrates the many ways we can listen — and the incredible creativity of this pioneering artist.
Get to know Aven Green before the events of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus in this early chapter book! Because third grader Aven was born without arms, all the extra cells went to her brain instead (or at least that's her theory.) So it's no wonder that she's a natural-born detective, who's already cracked cases like The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But now she's got two mysteries at once: her teacher's missing lunch bag, and her great-grandma's missing dog. Could the cases be connected? Black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout — including many that show how Aven does day to day tasks with her feet — add visual interest to this book which showcases the main character's witty voice and can-do attitude. It's the perfect early chapter book for aspiring detectives!
Attitudes towards children with special needs are often the most difficult obstacle of all. Tricia, who has dyslexia, is horrified to discover that the special education classroom at her new school is called "the Junkyard" — the kids, including a student with Tourette's Syndrome, a mute girl, and a boy with a visual impairment, are the misfits of the school. But their teacher, Mrs. Peterson, teaches them to adopt the name with pride, taking them to an actual junkyard and showing them the potential that lies within it — and them. And when one of their classmates dies, the Junkyard Wonders pay special tribute to him with something that most people would write off as trash. This heartfelt book will teach readers to seek the unique talents in every person.
Third-grader Meena is an exuberant, creative, color-loving kid.... but recently, she's been feeling a little more blah. Her best friend since kindergarten, Sofía, has stopped playing with her, and she doesn't know why. Worse, she's noticing weird things happening: stretches of time she can't remember, jerky arms, and more. When Meena has a seizure, it means hospitalization, medical tests, and a diagnosis of epilepsy. As she grapples with managing her condition, Meena becomes even more determined to find a way to bring the color back into her life. That means figuring out what's going on with Sofía — and understanding her own part in what happened. This charming illustrated chapter book, perfect for fans of Ramona Quimby, explores friendship, personal secrets, and the ups and downs of life. Meena's adventures continue in Never Fear, Meena's Here.
If you saw the video of a girl using a prosthetic arm that shoots glitter, then you already know about Jordan Reeves! Now, with the help of her mother, Jen Lee Reeves, Jordan gets to tell the story of growing up with a congenital limb difference — and how our attitudes towards disability can either limit kids or set them free. Jordan's frank and funny stories about everything from learning to tie her shoes with a "little arm" to trying every sport she can will intrigue young readers, and her foundation Born Just Right will show them that you're never to young to make a change for the better!
Stella, a beagle, spent years working with her handler, Connie, learning to use her powerful nose to identify explosive chemicals and keep people safe. But then Stella made a mistake — and the resulting explosion killed Connie, leaving Stella grieving and traumatized, panicking whenever she hears loud noises, sees fire, or gets left alone. Foster homes haven't helped, and the humans think they'll have to euthanize Stella until Esperanza, a world-class dog trainer, and her 11-year-old daughter Cloe decide to take her in. Stella's determined to prove herself, and when she realizes that she can smell a chemical right before every time Cloe has a seizure, she has to figure out how to warn them without them thinking she's just having another anxiety attack. Told through Stella's eyes, this is a sweet story about a dog with PTSD and a girl with epilepsy who find futures with one another.
Eliza's ADHD makes her flit from interest to interest, becoming captivated by something but then losing motivation just as quickly. Currently, her obsession is learning to decorate cakes, but her parents insist that the "Cakes with Caroline" class is too expensive given her history of quitting. So when her brother quits a non-refundable taekwondo class, Eliza strikes a deal: if she can see the class through, her parents will let her take the course she wants. At first she has no interest in the martial arts, but as she persists, she discovers new focus, as well as a sense of accomplishment. Eliza's story sensitively depicts the challenges of life with ADHD, as well as confidence boost that comes with finding your passion.
12-year-old Meg has been struggling since her father's death — both because of her own grief and anxiety, and because her mother's spiral into depression means she has to fend for herself. She depends on the school nurse's office as a refuge (and a place to get a snack when there's no food at home.) When she encounters 12-year-old Riley, a Type 1 diabetic who chafes under her overprotective mother's restrictions, it's far from an instant friendship: Riley thinks the freedom Meg has must be wonderful, while Meg doesn't understand why Riley can't see how good it is to have a parent to care for you. But together, with the help of a bag of jelly beans, maybe they'll discover they can lean on one another. This heartfelt novel, which sensitively addresses the challenges facing both girls, is perfect for fans of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.
12-year-old Rose is autistic and has a particular obsession with homophones — so when her father brings her home a dog, she names him Rain, a word with three homophones (rein, reign) that makes him extra special. When a storm causes flooding and Rain goes missing, she is determined to find her beloved dog, but when Rose discovers that Rain may belong to someone else, she faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge: breaking out of her routine and comfort zone to find Rain's owners, and maybe even giving back her beloved friend. Rose's authentic voice in this book captures her struggles with a life full of rules that are critical to her but unimportant or incomprehensible to those around her, but also reveals an observant, loving, and funny girl who finds empowerment by learning how to let go of some of her need for control.
Rebeka Uwitonze was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that twisted her hands and feet — and in Rwanda, there was little medical help to offer. The determined girl taught herself to walk on the tops of her feet by age 7, but she dreamed of getting the care she needed to stay mobile. Then, when she was 9, she received an incredible offer: the chance to travel to the US for the multiple surgeries she needed. To do so, however, she would have to live in America for a year — without her family. “Amahirwe aza rimwe,” her family says: “chance comes once.” With the help of the Davis family in Texas, Rebeka studied English, went through multiple surgeries, and finally learned to walk again. This inspiring book about courage in the face of disability and medical intervention celebrates perseverance and optimism.
After a serious illness at the age of four, CeCe discovers that she’s no longer able to hear. Hearing aids and lip reading provide unexpected challenges, and as she goes out into the wider world she realizes how little people understand about living with hearing loss. All she wants is a friend, but that seems impossible when she struggles to do something as simple as watch a TV show with hearing kids. To succeed in school, she gets a bulky device called a Phonic Ear that allows her to hear her teachers — even when they forget she's listening. Perhaps El Deafo can be a superhero to her peers after all... This delightful graphic novel, a 2015 Newbery Honor book, provides an uplifting and humorous glimpse into life of a hard of hearing child, and even provides tips for how hearing people should interact with those who lip read or use hearing aids.
Caitlin has always depended on her older brother, Devon, to help comfort her: her diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome means that anything other than black and white is confusing and upsetting. But when Devon is killed in a school shooting, her world is truly turned upside down, and her widower father is too deep in his own grief to help. When Caitlin hears the word closure, she turns to her trusty dictionary and determines that's exactly what she needs — but how is she going to find it? With the help of the school's counselor, maybe Caitlin can also learn to find the friendship she desperately wants. This National Book Award winner beautifully captures Caitlin's thought process, which may seem "weird" to others but makes total sense through her eyes.
For Martha, 1805 Martha's Vineyard is a warm, welcoming community: like her, many residents are deaf, and everyone can communicate by sign. Her great-great-grandfather, one of the island's earliest settlers, was deaf, and she's always considered her heritage something to be proud of. But now things a young scientist named Andrew Noble has arrived to "fix" the town's residents. Noble chooses Mary as a "live specimen" for a cruel experiment, and she soon discovers that most people consider her deafness a disability. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability. Inspired by the true history of a deaf community on Martha's Vineyard, this powerful novel explores means to be "normal."
12-year-old Olive is eager for adventure, even though her osteogenesis imperfecta — AKA brittle bone disease — has her parents convinced she needs constant protection. As far as Olive is concerned, with her trusty wheelchair (to prevent falls) and some actual friends, she can overcome any obstacle! When she convinces her parents to let her go to Macklemore Elementary, her first day goes awry — although she does find a friend, Grace, and learn about a magical wish-granting hummingbird that could be the solution to all her problems. But as Olive chases the hummingbird and new opportunities at school — including a chance to perform in the school play — she starts to wonder if she really wants to be a different person after all... Inspired by author Natalie Lloyd's own experiences with OI, and set in a world that deftly combines magic and reality, this is a powerful story about disability, self-acceptance, and finding your own path to your dreams.
12-year-old Libby has Turner Syndrome, a genetic condition that makes some things tough, but she's optimistic, talented at science, and crazy about her family — especially her big sister, Nonny. When Nonny gets pregnant, Libby is over the moon... but she worries about how her sister will manage finances, and whether the baby will be born healthy. So she bargains with fate: she'll enter the the Smithsonian Women in STEM contest with her project about astronomer Cecilia Payne, and she'll give Nonny the prize money. Debut author Sarah Allen, who has Turner Syndrome like her heroine, has created a heartwarming story about persistence, love, and finding yourself.
Musical-loving 6th grader Charlotte would rather not speak than have people make fun of her stutter. But when her best friend Maddie reports bullying on the school bus — and Charlotte doesn't back her up — her silence loses her only friend. When her parents enroll her in a musical theater class, Charlotte is shocked to discover she doesn't stutter when she sings... just as the arts program gets cut. Emboldened by finding her voice on stage, Charlotte starts writing: anonymous letters to classmates (including the bullies); pleas to the school board to keep the musical program; and an essay about her hope to reconcile with Maddie. She realizes that when silence could cost you everything, it's time to speak up. Allison Varnes, author of Property of the Rebel Librarian, drew on her own experiences with stuttering to craft this powerful story about self-doubt, courage, and kindness.
When 13-year-old Nat's family moves from California to New Jersey, it means leaving behind her best friend Chloe and her wheelchair racing team — plus her parents are as overprotective as ever. But when musical-loving Nat discovers there's going to be a kids' production of Wicked, she takes the plunge and auditions — and gets into the ensemble! Her fellow cast members are eager to help her overcome obstacles — both physical ones, like inaccessible venues, and social ones, like stigma and patronizing attitudes. Will they be able to help Nat "Defy Gravity" in every sense of the song? Written by Tony award–winning actress Ali Stroker, the first wheelchair user to be cast in a Broadway play, and playwright Stacy Davidowitz, this is a celebration of musical theater and of one courageous girl determined to fly.
10-year-old Amelia has coped with her auditory sensitivity by wearing noise-cancelling headphones, but in fifth grade, she's getting pushed out of her comfort zone. Not only is her mother discouraging her from wearing her headphones, but she's joining music class — to make noise on purpose. Her dad, who struggles with similar sensitivity, gives her earmuffs to help, but that alienates her from her class — except for Madge, who may be loud and goofy but wants to be friends with Amelia. And that friendship might just help her figure out a way to navigate her noisy world without shutting it out entirely. Author Jennifer Gennari draws on the experiences of family members with noise sensitivity to capture Amelia's experience, and includes a selection of resources to help kids struggling with similar issues.
Iris was born deaf, but the 12-year-old tech whiz doesn't need hearing to repair machines — she can feel the vibrations from the computers and radios she works with. But as the only deaf person in her school, she's isolated from her peers, who either ignore her or, worse, make up "sign language" of their own. When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who sings at a frequency that's unintelligible to other whales, she becomes determined to use her electronics skills to "sing" back to him, letting him know that he's not alone. Written by a sign language interpreter and rich with authentic details about deaf culture and the struggles of families with both deaf and hearing members, this poignant story celebrates the power of communication, whatever form it takes.
12-year-old Nova is dismissed by each new school; she's autistic and nonverbal, and no one but her sister, Bridget, has ever figured out how smart she really is. But after they ran from their last foster home, Bridget didn't come back, so now Nova is trying to manage alone. She's counting down to the January 1986 launch of the Challenger space shuttle because Bridget promised she'd watch it with her. However, her new foster parents see her potential and start advocating for her like nobody has in the past. And when tragedy happens on launch day, it's their love and support that will help her survive. This sensitive and touching story stars a funny, thoughtful, and whip-smart main character who will help neurotypical kids understand that you don't have to speak to have a voice.
13-year-old Blue loves family stories about how her "great-times-twelve grandparents" left treasure underwater near her Sag Harbor home — and she dreams of being the one to track it down. But even with Otis, her diabetic alert dog, Blue's parents are overprotective, and she knows they'd never agree to let her try. When a movie star's daughter, Jules, shows up, Blue is surprised to discover they make a good pair. With Jules' help, Blue might get her adventure — and finally get to escape her reputation as "Diabetes Girl." The challenges of life with diabetes are realistically portrayed in this heartfelt adventure celebrating friendship and self-discovery.
Aven has long since gotten tired of questions about what "happened" to her arms, so she creates crazy stories instead of repeating over and over that she was born without them. When her family moves to Arizona to run a theme park called Stagecoach Pass, she steels herself for even more questions. Then she meets Connor, who also feels isolated by disability (in his case, Tourette's Syndrome.) When the newfound friends discover a mystery at Stagecoach Pass, the real adventure can begin! This quirky story starring a delightfully funny main character is a reminder that others' reactions are often more problematic than the disability itself — and that nothing, not even "lack of armage," has to hold you back. Aven's story continues in the sequel, Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus.
12-year-old Lou's mother is sure she's going to be a singing star, even though Lou hates performing — loud noises and high fives physically hurt. But if Lou won't sing, she and her mom will be stuck in poverty, skipping meals and living in their truck. When an accident results in child services getting involved, Lou finds herself living with her Aunt Ginger and Uncle Dan in Nashville. They offer her stability, while a school counselor tests her for sensory processing disorder and helps her understand that SPD doesn't make her "weak" or weird, just different. And when a new friend encourages her to join a theater club, Lou will finally discover her own voice — something that will help both her and her mom. Jamie Sumner, acclaimed author of Roll with It, has created a moving story about invisible disability, family, and the power of being yourself.
Ever since her father died, astronomy-loving Calliope June has struggled with her mother's constant moves — and faced rejection among new sets of peers when her Tourette's syndrome causes facial tics and noises that she can't control. When they arrive in St. George, Utah, Calli once again tries and fails to blend in, but she finds friendship with her neighbor Jinsong, the student body president and a sports star. But will he be brave enough to make their friendship public? And what if Calli's mom decides to move again just as she's beginning to feel like her differences aren't the end of the world? Told in Calli and Jinsong's dual perspectives, in prose poetry and free verse, this touching story celebrates the power of accepting — and being true — to who you are.
Sally Miyake lives in Sunnyside Plaza, a group home for adults with developmental disabilities; at "8 times 2 plus 3" years old, she takes pride in being able to help in the kitchen. But when a suspicious death occurs, two detectives, Esther Rivas and Lon Bridges, start investigating — and take her under their wings. Sally, it turns out, is tremendously observant... enough that she can crack the case and show that someone at the home isn't trustworthy. Sally's unique and vibrant voice highlights the strengths of the residents at Sunnyside Plaza, providing and empowering and empathetic look at life with a developmental disability.
Rachel is an aspiring athlete planning the best year yet when her doctor tells her that her scoliosis has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace — 23 hours a day. The brace makes everything feel awkward and difficult, but her rigid mother, who had a spinal fusion for her own scoliosis, is completely unsympathetic. That is, until Rachel's friends help her figure out how to assert herself, giving her mother the chance to open up about the fears she never faced during her own treatment. >
12-year-old Ellie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, but she's never considered that something that should define her life. She hates when people assume "the kid in the wheelchair" will be all inspirational sayings, or when her overprotective mother or hovering aide get in her way. Instead, she has plans to become a professional baker. But when Ellie and her mother move to help take care of her grandpa, who's suffering from dementia, Ellie finds herself facing existence as the new kid in school, with a wheelchair, who lives in a trailer park. Fortunately, a neighbor named Coralee and a classmate named Bert provide friendships and acceptance that help her prove she can make it in this new town. Author Jamie Sumner drew from her experiences with her son, who has cerebral palsy, to create this realistic portrayal that shows the challenges of life with a disability while also celebrating friendship, acceptance, and delicious baked goods.
Ally is clever — she knows that, if she's enough of a disruption in class, no one will figure out just how little she can read. But how can she be smart if she can't even read the simplest things? Her newest teacher, Mr. Daniels, seems to see past her brash, troublemaking exterior, and even puts a name to her reading problems: dyslexia. Lynda Mullaly Hunt provides a compassionate look at life with a learning disability, with an ending that's realistic: Ally's happy ending will involve small changes and a lot of hard work! Her reminder that great minds don't always think alike — and that struggles with literacy can affect surprising aspects of a person's life — will provide kids with dyslexia with hope and encourage those without similar struggles to have empathy for the challenges they pose.
Clea wants to be focused, but her brain seems to get in the way. When the seventh-grader impulsively blurts out something that her best friend and chess teammate Red wanted kept a secret, it even affects their friendship. Her teachers and school counselor suggest that the cause might be ADHD, but Clea doesn't even want to think about it. However, when another chess teammate, Sanam, tells Clea about her own struggles with a learning disability, Clea begins to realize that just because a problem is "all in your head" doesn't mean that it's not real — and that it can't get better. Alyson Gerber, the author of Braced, draws on her own experiences with ADHD to create this novel about tackling problems head on.
Melody's classmates and teachers dismiss her as mentally challenged, because her cerebral palsy leaves her unable to walk or speak. But the truth is that Melody's mind is remarkable: deeply intelligent and with a photographic memory, she's capable of much more than anyone expects. And while she's been repeating the same preschool-level ABCs year after year, she's also been planning exactly what she'll say whenever she figures out how to communicate. Then her parents get a computer — one which has a special keyboard that will allow Melody to talk. Melody has found her voice; are people ready to hear what she has to say? Complex and thought-provoking, this novel will open middle readers' eyes to the misconceptions about people with disabilities.
Promising athlete Jessica's life seems to fall apart after an accident results in the loss of her leg. Being able to walk again — with a prosthetic — doesn’t seem that great to a girl who loved to run. And learning that Rosa, a girl with cerebral palsy who Jessica used to ignore, is going to be her math tutor is salt in the wound. But Rosa has a lot to teach Jessica about being comfortable in her skin, and when Jessica’s former teammates raise $20,000 to get Jessica a running leg, Jessica has a realization: the next time she races, Rosa should be getting some of the spotlight too. Jessica's realistic journey, both through the grief of losing a limb and through the guilt of recognizing how poorly she has treated people with disabilities in the past, is sure to speak to teens, and readers will cheer as Jessica finds a new running dream to chase.
When Ariel and her twin sister Zan were diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial condition where the bones of the head fuse prematurely, it was the start of dozens of surgeries that blurred the lines between medical need and making them aesthetically pleasing. As she grew, she began to realize how our society others people: fat people, people with facial differences, people of different races, and more. In this powerful young adult memoir, she explores her thoughts about beauty, identity, and feeling alienated from your own body through the lens of Picasso's life as an artist — and how his misogyny and ableism affected it. Poignant and thought-provoking, this book challenges us to examine our assumptions and urges us to look at people with new eyes.
For Emilie, life is about being safe: since her father died of cancer and she was diagnosed with epilepsy, she's been happy to stay homeschooled, with no one but her seizure alert dog for company. When her mother decides it's time for Emilie to attend public school, Emilie's fears about her recently-adjusted medications failing lurk in the background as she adjusts to busy school halls and newfound friends. Even when she's paired with star athlete Chatham York for a project about Emily Dickinson — and he actually shows interest in her — she can't help but worry what will happen if she has a seizure at school. And when the inevitable happens, Emilie is forced to make a decision: give up on her life, figuratively or literally — or see just what the big world has to offer. This powerful title about overcoming fears and finding friendship and love also recognizes the challenges of life with an invisible disability.
Six weeks ago, Barbara "Babs" Gordon's computer savvy cost her more than she expected when she and her best friend Benjamin tried to intervene in a robbery: a gunshot left her paralyzed and Benjamin stopped talking to her. Now, she's at the Arkham Center for Independence, where she's supposed to learn to adapt to a new life using a wheelchair. Slowly she starts making a few friends, but when one of them goes missing, she's convinced there's something dangerous going on behind the scenes. Or is the trauma of her injury affecting her thinking? Babs will have to learn how to trust her new friends — and herself — to solve the mystery and thrive. This deep and complex graphic novel sensitively explores Babs' adaptation to disability and growing self-confidence as she builds a a powerful new identity.
Veda is a classical dance prodigy in India, and she adores dancing — so the accident that takes her leg is crushing. With her leg amputated below the knee, her dreams of being a dancer are surely ruined. But Veda refuses to give up dancing, and starts taking lessons in the beginner class, using a prosthetic leg. Her connection to one teacher, Govinda, becomes a deeper relationship as they share their feelings about spirituality and dance. "Our ancient scriptures say the best dancers must have ten talents: balance, agility, steadiness, grace, intelligence, dedication, hard work, the ability to sing well, to speak well, and to see deeply and expressively," he tells her. "You’ve only lost the first three talents. Only for a while." Readers will be delighted as Veda finds ways to overcome the obstacles that keep her from her passion for dancing.
Amy was born with cerebral palsy, and she's spend her whole life using a walker, a speaker box — and an adult aide. One day, though, Matthew, one of her high school classmates challenges her bubbly exterior, and Amy decides that relying on adults has kept her separated from her peers. In response, Amy asks her parents to pay her fellow students to help her, and urges Matthew to apply. As they form a friendship, Amy discovers that Matthew's quirks are actually compulsions, and that, in many ways, his undiagnosed and untreated OCD limits him far more than her CP limits her. Together, they face the challenges of high school, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship, and Amy realizes that letting people her own age into her life has taught her to see her possibilities, not her limitations.
Quincy and Biddy are "speddies," graduates of high school special education programs, and now they're taking on a new challenge: life in a supervised apartment space. Quincy is suspicious of everyone — no one has ever been kind to her before, so why would they start now? — while Biddy is terrified of everything beyond their front door. After being paired as roommates, though, what seems to be a poor fit turns into a deep friendship — particularly when Quincy goes through a traumatic experience that Biddy understands all too well. Together, maybe they really can make a life for themselves, even if they learn a little slower than other girls. This novel doesn't shy away from the challenges facing people with intellectual disabilities, including scenes involving physical and sexual assault, but Quincy and Biddy show the power of learning independence, particularly with a friend at your side.
Jillian Daugherty was born with Down syndrome, leaving her parents, Paul and Kerry, flooded with worry and uncertainty — and also overwhelming love. They refused to believe that Jillian was destined for a life of misery and struggle, instead deciding that they would help their daughter achieve everything she was capable of. And they discovered that Jillian was capable of a lot more than the naysayers expected! In fact, her determination and strength allowed her to exceed every expectation that was mistakenly laid on her diagnosis. In his memoir about raising his very special daughter, Paul Daugherty shows how Jillian has inspired those around her to live better and more fully. The day Jillian was born, Paul says, was the last bad day — and this heartwarming book about their journey together captures how much this Mighty Girl has taught her father.
Additional Recommended Resources
- For books about Helen Keller, one of the first prominent disability advocates, visit our Helen Keller Collection.
- Our Guides for Girls Collection includes titles that can be helpful for girls with disabilities, including Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your AD/HD for age 7 to 12; The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (and Their Parents) for age 8 to 13; and The Social Success Workbook for Teens for age 13 and up.