The best books about people with disabilities

17 authors have picked their favorite books about people with disabilities and why they recommend each book.

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Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

By Meg Grigal (editor), Joseph Madaus (editor), Lyman Dukes III (editor), Debra Hart (editor)

Book cover of Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

High school graduates with disabilities are often unaware of today’s new and rapidly developing options and limitations to postsecondary educational resources. This comprehensive guidebook provides excellent strategies for students who will be requesting disability access in preparation for the transition from high school into two and four-year colleges. Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities includes an array of this information for both college-bound students and disability support staff. These include user-friendly campus resources, lessons for understanding and requesting access to campus accommodations, support for applying for financial aid, and strategies for meeting professional expectations.

Who am I?

Having worked on college campuses for 25 years as a professor, administrator, and first-year experience program designer, I’ve seen first-hand how freshmen are increasingly failing at “adulting” because they are unprepared for the realities of campus life. I take on this needed preparation as co-author of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) and as the creator of the Talking College™ Card Deck, discussion prompts for college-bound students and their parents/guardians. I share my insider knowledge with college-bound students and their parents at talks and workshops throughout the U.S. My goal is to help both groups thrive as they prepare for the upcoming transition.


I wrote...

How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, Lara Hope Schwartz,

Book cover of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

What is my book about?

The only book of its kind that guides first-year students to thrive in the transition after high school graduation and throughout their first year on campus, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

Janine and the Field Day Finish

By Maryann Cocca-Leffler,

Book cover of Janine and the Field Day Finish

Janine is good at lots of things like singing, spelling, and cheering.  But she’s not good at sports and is bullied and teased by her competitive classmate, Abbie. Janine runs the race and doesn’t mind being in last place. She’s just glad to participate.  When Abbie falls, Janine is the one who stops, helps her up, and together they cross the finish line.

Janine is the best kind of competitor – kind and encouraging as she urges everyone to do their best. Children with different abilities are included in all the activities making this book an inclusive celebration of sportsmanship.


Who am I?

As a children’s librarian, teacher, and parent, I know that children have big feelings. I write heart-filled books that speak to the issues that they deal with while navigating new experiences. I was inspired to write Evie’s Field Day because of the frustrations most children deal with when they lose. I hope that my book will encourage children to enjoy the process of playing sports and games with others and the rewards of being a friend and a good sport.


I wrote...

Evie's Field Day: More Than One Way to Win

By Claire Annette Noland, Alicia Teba (illustrator),

Book cover of Evie's Field Day: More Than One Way to Win

What is my book about?

Evie loves to run, jump, hop, and win. So, when the school’s field day comes around, she plans to add to her growing collection of ribbons and trophies. Unfortunately, Evie struggles and loses each competition. She wants to be happy for her friends, but it is so hard to lose! Finally, Evie finds herself ahead of the pack but when faced with a choice she learns that there is more than one way to win.

Children will root for Evie as she learns to navigate the playground in this celebration of competition, teamwork, friendship, sportsmanship, and the challenge of losing. The backmatter includes suggestions for helping children learn to be good sports whether they win or lose.

Rules

By Cynthia Lord,

Book cover of Rules

12-year-old Catherine’s feelings toward her younger, autistic brother are complicated. She’s protective of him and also appears to be embarrassed by his behaviour. All she wants is a “normal” life. When she becomes friends with a paraplegic boy she’s forced to think about what “normal” really means. This book is hopeful, humourous, thoughtful, and explores what it means to interact with someone who is neurodivergent. The author is the mother of a child with autism and the complex relationships and friendships in the book felt real and captured the mixed-up emotions of middle-graders. 


Who am I?

I’ve been an elementary school classroom teacher and teacher-librarian for over 25 years and I’ve had the privilege of teaching many amazing students with neurodiversity. I was inspired to write the Slug Days book when I was teaching a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I wrote the book to imagine what life might be like for that student so I could be a better teacher. I believe a school library should represent all our students and I’m always on the lookout for excellent books that feature neurodiverse characters.


I wrote...

Slug Days

By Sara Leach, Rebecca Bender (illustrator),

Book cover of Slug Days

What is my book about?

A charismatic illustrated novel about the ups and downs of school and home life for one little girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

On slug days Lauren feels slow and slimy. She feels like everyone yells at her, and she has no friends. On butterfly days Lauren makes her classmates laugh, goes to get ice cream, or works on a special project with Mom. With support and stubbornness and a flair that’s all her own, Lauren masters tricks to stay calm, understand others’ feelings, and let her personality shine.

Look Up!

By Jin-Ho Jung, Mi Hyun Kim (translator),

Book cover of Look Up!

In ​Look Up! by Jung Jin Ho the reader slowly comes to understand that the main character is a child sitting on a small balcony outside a tall building in a wheelchair. This child is lonely and isolated. The reader can feel the angry emotion coming off the pages as the child feels frustrated that no one sees them. Everyone on the streets below goes about their day and never notices the child even when she pleads, “Look up!” Jin-Ho uses a black and white color scheme and a combination of lines and objects to evoke melancholy emotions… until the last page when color is used to show happiness, contentedness, and relief. Someone has finally “looked up” and seen more than a wheelchair

Who am I?

I believe stories help heal our hearts and give us “new eyes” to see ourselves and others. I write to celebrate the courage shown by children as they meet challenges, perhaps the loss of a parent or a friend, the sting of rejection because of being “different.” Stories show us how others face fear or failure. Stories help us celebrate who we are. As a child psychologist, I worked with families and educators on the Pacific island of Saipan to develop programs for students with disabilities so all children could continue their education. My books have been given a variety of awards but the best reward is when a child reading one of my books, smiles, and says, “I am in this book.”


I wrote...

I Will Dance

By Nancy Bo Flood, Julianna Swaney (illustrator),

Book cover of I Will Dance

What is my book about?

Eva longs to dance. But unlike many young people, Eva is in a wheelchair. She has Cerebral Palsy (CP). She doesn’t know what dance looks like for someone who uses a wheelchair but Eva is determined to dance, not alone, not pretend, not imagine. In this picture book we follow Eva’s journey from her first tentative decision to try to audition for an all-abilities dance company to the scary moment of actually “rolling into” the studio, and eventually to becoming a true part of a dance community, a dancer! 

I'll Meet You There

By Heather Demetrios,

Book cover of I'll Meet You There

All the characters in this book felt totally real and the situations they find themselves in and live through are honest.  And I’m not just talking about the main characters here – all the supporting characters have their own personalities and don’t resort to stereotypes as shorthand.  The romance developed organically and felt like something healthy that both Josh and Skylar needed in order to really accept who they are.


Who am I?

I’m a YA writer who likes to tackle difficult subject matter. My books cover things like euthanasia, drug abuse, coming out, and accessing sex as someone with a disability. If my books are found by even just one person who needs to see themselves in a story, then I feel like my job is done.


I wrote...

Stumped

By Kate Larkindale,

Book cover of Stumped

What is my book about?

Ozzy has a super-hot girlfriend who’s ready to take their relationship to the next level.  But a missing condom scuttles his plans for seduction. Furious, Ozzy takes his girlfriend home and drives off—into the path of an oncoming truck. He wakes up with both legs amputated above the knees.

When his girlfriend runs out gagging after one look at him, Ozzy knows he’s a hideous freak. Determined to prove he can be a man despite his disability, Ozzy throws himself into dumping his virginity, but finds there are few people willing to touch legless dudes in wheelchairs. His obsession takes him into an underworld where he discovers the difference between sex and intimacy, and that sometimes the price is much higher than a sex worker’s fee.

Izzy, Willy-Nilly

By Cynthia Voigt,

Book cover of Izzy, Willy-Nilly

Izzy is a nice girl. She’s pretty, popular, and smart. But one ride with a drunk driver changes her entire life. With one leg amputated, she must embrace a new life and find new friends who see her as more than a girl with a handicap. I liked Izzy so much, and it was thrilling to see her believably move on with her life. I see disabled young people with different eyes since reading Izzy’s story.


Who am I?

All my life I’ve been pushing against limits. Being the oldest of five children born to a farm couple who became mill workers, I was frequently reminded by family that “people like us” did not need much education, didn’t get the good jobs, and shouldn’t “rise above themselves.” Being a girl, I had additional limits. Naturally, when I learned to read, I was drawn to books in which characters broke through unfair restraints to have adventures and accomplish great deeds. I wanted to be one of those people. By the time I came of age, I knew I had a shot at becoming the heroine of my own story!


I wrote...

Halley

By Faye Gibbons,

Book cover of Halley

What is my book about?

Halley is a fourteen-year-old girl in Depression-era Georgia. Her father has died and she, along with her mother and brother, must move in with her domineering preacher grandfather. Pa Franklin has no sympathy for Halley’s desire to get an education. The only future he sees for her is marriage and children. Until then he considers any money she earns as rightfully his.  In fact, he is ready for her to drop out of school and go to work at a local mill. Waiting for the Rapture, when Jesus will return, may satisfy others, but Halley wants more. She yearns for some control over her own life. An education, she hopes, might allow that.

Unbroken

By Marieke Nijkamp,

Book cover of Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens

This is an anthology for teens that explores disability from a fictional lens, so that it entertains as it teaches tolerance and compassion. Each short story’s author lives with a disability and writes about first loves, friendship, hardship, and adventure. Unbroken is for teen readers to step into the shoes of teens with disabilities so that they can understand other experiences besides their own. Understanding differences and recognizing one’s own positionality and privilege helps teen find their own agency, purpose, and empowered hope for the future. 


Who am I?

My love of helping others to heal started early. From the garden I started when I was 8-years-old to the baby ducks I found a home for when I was 10, I have always been passionate about nurturing life. I feel deep empathy for the complexities of others’ pain and am compelled to stand against the context of injustice that causes it. Using this keen understanding of why people suffer, my unique and varied training, rooted ethics, and 25 years of trauma-informed clinical experience, I now help the helpers release what they don't want, recover their energetic bandwidth, and grok a socially conscious life of overflowing joy. 


I wrote...

Anxiety...I'm So Done with You: A Teen's Guide to Ditching Toxic Stress and Hardwiring Your Brain for Happiness

By Jodi Aman,

Book cover of Anxiety...I'm So Done with You: A Teen's Guide to Ditching Toxic Stress and Hardwiring Your Brain for Happiness

What is my book about?

If you are done with anxiety running your life and want to end that destructive, toxic relationship, this book is for you. Getting back this control over yourself and your life is teachable. The path is not esoteric and mystical. It is practical. In this book, there are repeatable, doable steps at your fingertips. It shows you how to release fear and confusion that causes anxiety, depression, and self-doubt to free you up to trust yourself. This guide will give you permission and know-how to engage in the joy of adventure, creativity, and purpose in your life.

Small Steps

By Louis Sachar,

Book cover of Small Steps

Armpit (aka Theodore), after his release from Camp Green Lake Juvenile Correctional Facility, follows his counsellor's advice to take small steps to get his life back on track. Unfortunately, because of how other people perceive him, one of his steps – avoiding situations that might turn violent – is not always easy to do. I've read this a few times and love it because Theodore is such a kind character. If you've ever been in a situation where you're trying to do the right thing while juggling the conflicting needs of a friend who wants help, and a boss who depends on you, you'll relate. The story is fast-paced, funny at times, filled with diverse characters, and has plenty of dialogue, which I love.


Who am I?

I love writing and illustrating all sorts of children's stories. The only thing my stories have in common is that none of their heroes eat meat, drink milk, or take part in the egg and spoon race. I write the kind of stories I want to read. I don't want to read about sex or violence. And I don't want to read foul language. I want something meaningful, something with a concluding note of optimism. Consequently, well-written children's stories often appeal to me. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that these are not just children's stories, they're good stories that anyone can enjoy.


I wrote...

Little Chicken Classic - Luke Walker: animal stick up for-er

By Violet Plum, Miranda Lemon (translator),

Book cover of Little Chicken Classic - Luke Walker: animal stick up for-er

What is my book about?

Eight-year-old Luke Walker is confident, outspoken, and defiant. He's a maverick, as brave as Robin Hood, and as logical as Commander Tuvok. Determined to do the right thing, Luke has to disobey, vandalise, lie, steal and sabotage. He thinks aloud, he acts aloud, and he doesn't suffer fools. He's a hero. He's a role model. He's a self-declared outlaw who will stop at nothing to save and protect animals, even if it means he gets into trouble. And it usually does.  

This Little Chicken Classic contains all sixteen funny and exciting chapters from the first two Luke Walker books.

I Am Not a Label

By Cerrie Burnell, Lauren Mark Baldo (illustrator),

Book cover of I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present

I chose this illustrated collected biography because it highlights a wonderfully diverse array of real people living with visible and invisible disabilities. Featuring both famous and non-famous people of various races, genders, and sexualities, with both physical and mental health conditions, it’s incredibly inclusive. The people’s stories, at one page or less, are short enough to keep kids’ attention and the back matter includes an important glossary of terms for talking about disabilities. This book celebrates many different ways people live and work with disabilities and encourages openness and inclusion.


Who am I?

I’ve lived most of my life with invisible disabilities that affect my daily activities, and I hope to encourage nuanced, empowering, and inclusive conversations about disabilities with my book, So Much More to Helen! All of my nonfiction picture books—Miep and the Most Famous Diary, Winged Wonders, Cougar Crossing, Ocean Soup, Make Way for Animals!, and more—are about “solutionaries” who help people, animals, and the planet. They’ve won Golden Kite and Eureka! Nonfiction Honor Awards, starred reviews, and spots on best book and state reading lists. Mostly, I hope they inspire compassion, curiosity, and action.


I wrote...

So Much More to Helen: The Passions and Pursuits of Helen Keller

By Meeg Pincus, Caroline Bonne-Müller (illustrator),

Book cover of So Much More to Helen: The Passions and Pursuits of Helen Keller

What is my book about?

Most folks know the same famous story of Helen Keller—a DeafBlind girl who learned to understand sign language at the family water pump. But what do you really know about her? Did you know she was an activist, a rebel, a writer, a performer, a romantic?

There is so much more to Helen than we usually learn in school! In this picture book, the story of Helen Keller’s passionate, boundless life unfolds—reminding us that she was, as we all are, many things. 

Disability Visibility

By Alice Wong,

Book cover of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

Alice Wong is an incredible writer and self-advocate and has put together an anthology of writers who share first-person experiences through. Variety of formats, including essays and interviews. It is eye-opening for anyone who is not disabled and also presents all of the work that our society needs to do to create accessibility and disability justice.


Who am I?

I'm writer, educator, disability advocate, and mother of a teenage son with multiple disabilities. Since my son’s diagnosis with autism at age three, I've been on a quest to not only understand the way that his unique brain works, but also to advocate for a more just and equitable world for people with disabilities and their families. When researching my book The Little Gate-Crasher, I discovered how much my great-grandmother was a powerful advocate for her son Mace who was born with a form of dwarfism. Our society has evolved in the last one hundred years in terms of inclusion and accessibility—and yet, people with disabilities and their loved ones are often isolated.


I wrote...

The Little Gate-Crasher: The Life and Photos of Mace Bugen

By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer,

Book cover of The Little Gate-Crasher: The Life and Photos of Mace Bugen

What is my book about?

Mace Bugen might have been an achondroplastic dwarf—forty-three inches tall with an average-sized head and a torso set on small, twisted legs—but that didn’t mean he was an idiot or a pushover. In truth, he was smarter than most; over the years, he learned to effectively turn what society in those days called a handicap into a powerful tool he could use to his advantage.

At a time before cell phones or Andy Warhol, you could say that Bugen was the world’s first practitioner of the celebrity selfie. Or maybe you could say more accurately that he was the world’s first selfie photobomber. Over a period of three decades, Mace engineered photos of himself with some of the biggest celebrities of his day.

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