Children's Books Starring Children with Disabilities
The authors of these three coming of age stories seem to be heeding the advice of, “Write what you know,” attributed to Mark Twain. In all three children’s chapter books, the protagonist is struggling with a disability. R.J. Palacio once encountered a girl with a dramatically disfigured face, Vince Vawter has struggled with a stutter for 60 years and Sharon Draper’s daughter has cerebral palsy. These experiences are the inspiration for the following highly recommended fiction books. Click on the titles to see if they are available at your local branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Years ago, R.J. Palacio was in an ice cream shop with her children. When a girl with a dramatically disfigured face sat next to them, Palacio’s son cried in fear and they hurriedly left the shop. When she returned home, Ms. Palacio could not stop thinking of the girl with the facial deformity and, thus, began Wonder, one of the most compelling books I’ve read. August is a smart, funny and brave homeschooled 10-year-old boy with a loving and supportive family. He is about to become a middle schooler, the new kid on campus, but is wondering how he’ll fit in, looking so different. August was born with a facial anomaly that has required 27 surgeries and, when seen for the first time, causes shock and fear. The book offers not only August’s experiences entering middle school with an incredible facial deformity but also describes the courage it takes to be August’s sister, parents, and classmates. This is an unforgettable story of courage, love and hope.
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
The 11-year-old main character in Paperboy has a talent for baseball but a debilitating stutter. He’s about to take over his friend’s paper route for the month and, although communicating with the customers will be imperative, he can barely say a word without stuttering. The story takes place in segregated Memphis, Tennessee where Little Man, as he is called by his live-in black housekeeper named Mam, meets flawed, supportive, and frightening characters along his route. One such character is the neighborhood junkman who even puts Little Man and Mam’s life in danger. This is a semi-autobiographical, heartfelt historic fiction story of courage, friendship, and understanding.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Melody, a fifth grader, can’t talk, walk, write or even feed herself. She is, however, brilliant. With the help of technology, Melody is finally able to communicate and show the world what she is really capable of. Although with her new communication device, Melody gains some peer acceptance, she continues to feel overlooked, avoided and rejected. This is an intense novel that describes the incredible difficulties and brutal realities of a young girl trying to become herself in spite of her cerebral palsy.
All books reviewed by Lynne Haase, Children's Librarian at Chestnut Hill Branch Library.