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Find more Classroom Connections
Children find me interesting. Perhaps I should be more specific to avoid overstating myself: children find my prosthetic arm interesting. When I worked as a librarian in a public library, I answered kids’ questions about my arm so often that I was able to hone my responses to simple, concise explanations that put their minds at ease and satisfied their curiosity.
I had no idea how important that experience would be in the long run. Now that I am the mother of a preschooler, I find the questions come up even more as I regularly come into contact with young children at playgroups, preschool, and community events. I know just what reassurances to offer (No, it doesn’t hurt) and what details are likely to interest them (I can even tie my own shoes). I also have an arsenal of books to recommend and share to make my words stick. I recommend this list of picture books, novels, and memoirs about young people with physical disabilities to help kids and their parents understand that looking a little different doesn’t mean that I am so very different from them.
Catherine’s Story. By Genevieve Moore. Illus. by Karin Littlewood. 2010. 32p. Frances Lincoln, $17.95 (9781845076559). PreS–Gr. 3.
Catherine is different, and when her cousin Frances asks why, Catherine’s dad answers with facts and love. Catherine does not talk, and she walks with special boots. When Frances tries them on, she realizes the difficulties Catherine overcomes with every step. Watercolor portraits show the father-daughter bond as Catherine’s dad helps her keep her balance, listens to her special claps, and tucks her into bed.
The Handiest Things in the World. By Andrew Clements. Illus. by Raquel Jaramillo. 2010. 48p. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416961666). 612. PreS–Gr. 2.
One of the main questions I hear is, “How do you [fill in the blank]?” Kids—and, quite frankly, adults—are fascinated with how I do everyday tasks just a little differently than they do. This book featuring color photos of what hands can do and the tools that help them do those tasks is a great opportunity to discuss how I do things with one hand—either using tools or on my own—that other people do with two. It is also a good way to introduce the idea of assistive technology like my prosthetic arm.
Hands Can. By Cheryl Willis Hudson. Illus. by John-Francis Bourke. 2003. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763616670). Also available in a board-book edition. PreS.
What can your hands do? This simple picture book with engaging color photos shows small hands engaged in various activities. I like to use this book to have kids imagine doing (or, depending on the activity, trying to do) the tasks with only one hand.
Harry and Willy and Carrothead. By Judith Caseley. Illus. by the author. 1991. 24p. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780688094928). PreS–Gr. 1.
Being born without a left hand doesn’t keep Harry from being a normal kid. Harry is a confident boy who jumps to the defense of a classmate who is being teased. Featuring bright, lively drawings, this book treats having a limb deficiency as hardly different from having red hair, which is a great message.
Mama Zooms. By Jane Cowen-Fletcher. Illus. by the author. 1993. 32p. Scholastic, paper, $4.99 (9780590457750). K–Gr. 2.
A little boy describes all the things his mother can do in her wheelchair. This is a good choice to highlight pretend play or to open up a discussion about parents who are different. Colored-pencil artwork shows the mother with her son on her lap as she maneuvers through puddles, across the boardwalk, and elsewhere to inspires all sorts of fantasies for her son.
Susan Laughs. By Jeanne Willis. Illus. by Tony Ross. 2000. 32p. Holt, $17.99 (9780805065015). PreS–K.
In this picture book featuring spirited crayon-and-pencil pictures, readers see Susan at home, at school, and out and about with her family. She swims and splashes. She gets mad and sad. Susan seems like a regular kid, and it is only at the end of the book that an illustration shows Susan in a wheelchair; her disability is never mentioned in the text.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. By Mem Fox. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. 2008. 40p. Harcourt, $16.99 (9780152060572). Also available in a board-book edition. PreS–K.
This is one of my favorite titles to share with preschoolers to open a discussion about my limb deficiency. Before reading it, we count our fingers and talk about how I was born with 5 fingers, and they were born with 10, emphasizing that everyone is born different. This leads into the book very nicely and helps young listeners who aren’t quite sure what I mean when I say that I was born this way.
One-Handed Catch. By Mary Jane Auch. 2006. 272p. Holt, $17.95 (9780805079005); Square Fish, paper, $6.99 (9780312535759). Gr. 4–6.
Herm Auch, the author’s husband, lost his hand in an accident as a kid, and this story is based on his experience. Whether it is the story’s authenticity or the author’s superior writing skills that make this book what it is, I cannot say. I can say that I have never read a book that so realistically typified my experience as a one-handed person on so many levels.
Out of My Mind. By Sharon M. Draper. 2010. 304p. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416971702); paper, $6.99 (9781416971719). Also available in audio and e-book editions. Gr. 5–8.
Brilliant fifth-grader Melody has cerebral palsy and has no way of communicating with anyone until she gets a computer that allows her to speak her mind about being stuck, because of her physical limitations, in a special-education class that repeatedly covers the ABCs. Once she is able to communicate, she makes it known that her mind is not nearly as limited as her body.
Stranded. By Ben Mikaelsen. 2000. 288p. Hyperion, paper, $5.99 (9781423133629). Gr. 6–8.
After losing her foot in an accident, 12-year-old Koby feels isolated. She spends a lot of time alone, but after she rescues two stranded whales, Koby finds herself drawn back into a social existence when she joins the team nursing the whales back to health and releasing them into the wild. Koby’s feelings of self-consciousness about her prosthetic foot are complex and sensitively portrayed.
Accidents of Nature. By Harriet McBryde Johnson. 2006. 240p. Holt, $17.95 (9780805076349). Also available in an audio edition. Gr. 8–11.
Jean doesn’t consider herself disabled. So what if she has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair? She knows who she is and what she is capable of. Then she spends a week at “Crip Camp” with other teens who have disabilities, and she finds that the answers she always took for granted may not be the whole story. The author, a wheelchair-user with muscular dystrophy, deftly explores the difference between how we view ourselves and the way others see us.
Izzy, Willy-Nilly. By Cynthia Voigt. 2005. 336p. Atheneum, $17.95 (9781416903406); Simon Pulse, paper, $6.99 (9781416903390). Gr. 7–9.
This now-classic teen novel follows Izzy as she adjusts to life after a drunk-driving accident and a resulting amputation. Her conflict between not wanting to ask for help and being grateful when it is given is particularly well drawn.
North of Beautiful. By Justina Chen Headley. 2009. 384p. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316025058); paper, $8.99 (9780316025065). Also available in an e-book edition. Gr. 9–12.
Terra was born with a port-wine stain covering part of her face. Although this may not be a disability, it does affect how people see her, or at least how she believes people see her. She covers her face in a thick layer of makeup every day to appear “normal,” until a chance meeting with Jacob, a goth with a cleft-palate scar, initiates a transformation in both Terra and her mother.
The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California. By Mary Hershey. 2007. 288p. Razorbill, o.p. Available in an e-book edition. Gr. 7–10.
Alastair, a 13-year-old amputee, was not expecting his estranged father’s new wife to be an amputee herself. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is planning to make the summer he is “stuck” with them as miserable as possible. Of course, that’s before he finds himself training for a major race that involves swimming, biking, and rowing.
The Running Dream. By Wendelin Van Draanen. 2011. 352p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375866678); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780375966675). Also available in audio and e-book editions. Gr. 7–10.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica is a runner, but when an accident leaves her with one leg, she thinks her life is over. She slowly comes to realize that losing a limb doesn’t mean giving up her dream or her identity, although it may mean fighting a little harder to make people see that she can do anything she wants to do.
Shark Girl. By Kelly Bingham. 2007. 288p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763632076); paper, $8.99 (9780763646271). Also available in an e-book edition. Gr. 7–10.
In this novel in verse, a teen named Jane loses her arm in a shark attack and must relearn how to do simple tasks like dress herself and wash her hair. Because art has always been the most important thing in her life, Jane is most worried about whether she will be able to learn to draw with her left hand.
Stoner and Spaz. By Ron Koertge. 2002. 176p. Candlewick, paper, $6.99 (9780763621506). Also available in an audio edition. Gr. 8–12.
This teen novel explores romance (including sexuality) from the perspective of a teen boy with cerebral palsy. Ben strikes up a startling friendship with Colleen, the school’s infamous druggie, much to his prim grandmother’s horror. Colleen turns out to be an unlikely self-esteem booster, and Ben has a surprising effect on her: she becomes less abrasive and even occasionally sober. Koertge continues the story in a sequel, Now Playing (2011).
Tripping. By Heather Waldorf. 2009. 344p. Red Deer, paper, $12.95 (9780889954267). Gr. 8–12.
There are not many books for kids or adults that use the words amniotic band syndrome, and that puts this title on my must-read list for just that reason. Rainey was born without part of her leg, and she spends her life overcoming the “wimpy gimpy girl” stereotype. There is a lot going on in this book, and being a congenital amputee is just part of Rainey’s story.
Adult Memoirs for Teens
Autobiography of a Face. By Lucy Grealy. 1994. 256p. Harper Perennial, paper, $13.99 (9780060569662). 362.1.
Grealy, poet and childhood cancer survivor, writes frankly about her life, her illness, and the resulting disfigurement of her face in this memoir for adults. Despite the pain, fear, and loneliness she experienced, the author describes her efforts to transform her misfortune into a source of revelations about the beauty and mystery of life.
Double Take. By Kevin Michael Connolly. 2009. 240p. Harper, $19.99 (9780061791536); paper, $14.99 (9780061791529). Also available in an e-book edition.
Connolly has been stared at all his life. Perhaps you too would do a double take at the sight of a legless man with a camera riding a skateboard. If you did, Connolly would likely take your picture. In this memoir, the author chronicles his quest to take photographs of people caught staring at him as he traveled around the world. These photos became a traveling exhibit titled The Rolling Exhibition.
Poster Child. By Emily Rapp. 2007. 240p. Bloomsbury, $23.95 (9781596912564); paper, $14.95 (9781596915053).
This memoir details the life of a woman who wears an artificial leg after a childhood amputation due to a congenital difference in leg length. Rapp discusses her childhood surgeries, her adjustment to her prosthesis, and her struggles with self-esteem as she grew into adulthood.
Guidelines for Sharing Books about Physical Disability
When selecting books about physical disability and sharing them with young people, keep the following tips in mind.
Mindy Rhiger is the collection development librarian at Mackin Education Resources in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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