Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Picture Books Representing Kids with Special Needs
Actions speak louder than words. When we choose to share stories that include a wide range of abilities and characters, we are showing all children that their experiences matter.
Our schools in the Bay Area are “full-inclusion,” and yet I wonder if our stories fully reflect all students. This collection of stories for young readers portrays children with disabilities, engaged in day-to-day experiences and dreams.
“Back to Front and Upside Down,” by Claire Alexander (Eerdmans; 26 pp.; $16.00; ages 4-7). Frustrated kids will relate to the troubles that Stan the puppy has learning to write. He tries his hardest, but letters come out “back to front and upside down, and some didn’t look like letters at all!” Students with dyslexia will especially relate to Stan’s struggles, but its gentle encouragement makes this an important story to share with all.
“A Boy and a Jaguar,” by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien (Houghton Mifflin; 32 pp.; $17.99; ages 5-9). Based on his own life, Rabinowitz recounts how he felt isolated because of his uncontrollable stuttering, and yet he was able to speak fluently when he was alone with animals. As an adult, he became a respected scientist speaking for the protection of endangered jaguars. Beautiful and inspiring.
“Junkyard Wonders,” by Patricia Polacco (Philomel; 40 pp.; $17.99; ages 7-10). Drawing on her own experiences in school, Polacco writes about being in a special-ed class known as “the junkyard,” where Miss Peterson insists that each child has her own unique talent. As Trisha’s tribe works together to repair a model plane, they bond together, believing in themselves and standing up for their group. A moving, inspiring story.
“West Meadows Detectives: Case of the Snack Snatcher,” by Liam O’Donnell, illustrated by Aurélie Grand (Owlkids; 128 pp.; $15.95; ages 7-9). Third grader Myron loves solving mysteries, and he notices details that others miss. Myron is autistic, as he tells a girl in his new class, and it means that his brain works differently from others. This mystery for young readers shows a diverse elementary school with many types of learners, in a fun school-based mystery reminiscent of the “A to Z Mysteries.”
“Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,” by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade; 40 pp.; $17.99; ages 5-9). From an early age, Emmanuel’s mother encouraged him to go after what he wanted, even though he was born with one deformed leg. In 2001, Emmanuel rode his bicycle four hundred miles across Ghana to spread his powerful message: disability is not inability. He faced life with courage and fortitude, and his story will help readers think about how we face life’s challenges.
“Cy Makes a Friend,” by Ann Marie Stephens, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Boyds Mills; 32 pp.; $16.95; ages 4-8). Cy loves making robots and toys, but he finds it difficult to make friends. Because he is awkward and nervous, this cuddly cyclops has to practice making the right facial expressions and what to say. Although it’s never specifically stated, Cy’s special needs will resonate with kids on the autism spectrum.
“My Brother Charlie: A Sister’s Story of Autism,” by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane Evans (Scholastic; 40 pp.; $17.99; ages 5-9). Young Callie shares how much she loves her autistic twin brother. Their love is strong, but still there are difficult days when he won’t speak or ruins playdates. The authors’ endnote and family photograph adds a special, personal note to this
“The Prince Who Was Just Himself,” by Silke Schnee, illustrated by Heike Sistig, translated by Erna Albertz (Plough; 32 pp.; $16.00; ages 4-8). In calling him “the Prince Who Was Just Himself,” Noah’s family accepts and loves him for who he is, even though he “looks a little different.” His Down syndrome is not specifically mentioned, except in the author’s endnote. When he disarms the evil knight Scarface with a kind touch, Noah becomes the hero and saves his kingdom — a sweet, gentle fairy tale with a message of acceptance.
“MyaGrace Wants to Get Ready,” by Jo Meserve Mach and Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, illustrated by Mary Birdsell (Finding My Way; 54 pp., $20.99; ages 4-9). MyaGrace, a teen with cerebral palsy, autism and intellectual disabilities, is excited to go to her school’s big dance. She tries on different dresses, practices dancing with her brother and gets her nails painted. As her family writes in the introduction, they help support her in the activities she chooses — and this positive commitment radiates throughout this picture book.
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian at Berkeley Unified School District. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.