Celebrate Disability Pride Month with these Joyous Picture Books
Did you know that July is Disability Pride Month? No? That's ok. It's still pretty new and not yet formally recognized like 2SLGBTQ+ Pride or specific cultural heritage events. But many disabled people around the world have chosen July to unapologetically celebrate our identities as disabled people.
Celebrating disability might seem odd to you, and there are parts of being disabled that are hard, but our disabilities are still an important part of who we are. For those that celebrate, Disability Pride Month is a chance for us to connect with other members of our community and to push back against ableist messaging that tells us that disabled people are a burden, pitiable victims or somehow less deserving of the respect and rights that many able-bodied people take for granted.
One way that we do that is by telling stories about disability. Specifically, happy stories. And that's what this blog post is all about: picture books featuring happy disabled kids. Most children's books about disability focus on teaching able-bodied kids about inclusion and difference. They're anti-bullying books. Or they teach about a specific type of disability. And those books are important. But it's also important for kids, disabled and able-bodied, to see disabled kids just getting to be kids. Having fun with their friends and family, going to school, playing in the park. Doing the things we see able-bodied kids in picture books do all the time.
Here are six children's picture books that do exactly that. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Dancing with Daddy by Anitra Rowe Schulte
This is the book that inspired me to write this blog post. It truly is a joyous book about a girl with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome who attends a father-daughter dance. Throughout the book, we see Elsie navigating the world in her wheelchair, eating a meal using a feeding tube and using picture communication symbols to talk to her family without speaking words. We also see Elsie smiling, laughing, making her own decisions and generally having a good time. And, of course, we see her dancing with her dad!
Thukpa for All by Praba Ram and Sheela Preuitt
Tsering is excitedly heading home for some of his grandmother's thukpa, a delicious noodle soup. Along the way, he invites several of his friends and neighbours to join in their little unplanned community celebration. What's great about this book is that it shows how Tsering, a young blind person, independently travels throughout his community of Ladakh, near the western Himalayas. He is shown using his white cane, as well as non-visual cues, such as the sound of nearby water or the flapping of flags. I also really like that Tsering is clearly a valued member of his community and, while his tactile skills in the kitchen come in handy when the power goes out, there is no sense that he needed to prove himself or earn respect.
Juan has the Jitters! by Aneta Cruz
Tomorrow is the track and field day at Juan's school. Changes in his routine make him nervous so Juan is clapping his hands and sorting his toys to keep the jitters away. But then he finds out that his teacher has made the events about his favourite subjects: math! And he's asked Juan to be the judge, a role that is just right for him. This is a cute book about an autistic, neurodivergent child. There's a couple things that I really like about this book. First, Juan's "stimming" behaviours, like the clapping he does to focus and stay calm, are not treated as a problem or something to be corrected. Second, Juan's integrated into the class activities but is allowed to participate in a way that he's comfortable with. His teacher thought about Juan's needs in advance and found a way to make sure that Juan was included in the events without pushing his boundaries too much.
Ali and the Sea Stars by Ali Stroker
Ali Stroker is a Tony Award-winning Broadway star. Even as a kid, Ali was born to perform. In her new book, child Ali and her friends stage production of Peter Pan on the local beach. But what will happen when a storm rolls in on the day of the performance? A fun, celebratory book featuring a disabled kid who takes charge, has fun with her friends and learns to improvise when things don't go according to plan. Bonus points for showing how beaches and other rough surfaces can be made accessible by creating paved pathways.
My three best friends and me, Zulay by Cari Best
Introducing Zulay! She's a smart, happy girl who is about to discover a new love of running. This is another great book about the experience of a blind child. I love that Zulay has a group of close friends. I love that we see things she is good at, like math and running, and things that are a little harder for her, like drawing or remembering not to speak out during class. We also see that sometimes having a disability does actually make you a little different from other people, like when Zulay receives lessons on using her white cane. I especially love that Zulay doesn't have to fight for the chance to participate in the track and field day. She isn't excluded and she isn't told that she needs to overcome her disability in order to be a runner. She just needs to learn to run on the track in a way that is safe for her.
Just Because by Rebecca Elliot
This is an adorable story about a child named Toby who loves his big sister, Clemmie. There are lots of things that Toby doesn't know, like why certain things make him laugh or why Clemmie's hair is so curly. His answer: "Just Because." He also doesn't know why Clemmie can't walk or talk, but he's not bothered. His answer, again: "Just Because." Clemmie is his sister and they have fun together. That's all that matters to Toby. I love seeing this matter-of-fact approach towards disability, especially in children's books, because kids don't think a disability is weird or bad or sad until they get that message from adults. So let's not send that message. This book also gets bonus points because there's a version in American Sign Language available as an e-video.
For more children's book featuring respectful disability representation, check our our Disability: Read Up On It! booklist.
For more stories and rhymes in American Sign Language, check out our Stories in Sign Language collection.
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