Children's literature has the power to help form perceptions and ignite understanding and compassion through a reader's empathy with a well-loved character. For this reason, many teachers and parents turn to kids' books to help teach about differently-abled persons. From award winning nonfiction, to entertaining fiction with characters who are in wheelchairs, each of these books will help teach empathy and compassion.
Books for Young Children
Teaching young children the values of empathy and compassion, these books gently take young readers on a journey to discover what it is like to be in a wheelchair.
Written by beloved children's television personality Mr. Rogers, Extraordinary Friends offers young children an honest but gentle discussion on how to talk to people who are in wheelchairs or who have disabilities. Rogers explains that feeling awkward or unsure of what to say is normal, but that people with disabilities are really the same as everyone else. Winner of the 2001 Notable Social Studies Trade Book award, Extraordinary Friends will help students discuss and explore how to interact with other students in class who may have visible disabilities.
Rolling Along: Taylor and His Wheelchair
Rolling Along comes from Chicago's famed Institute of Rehabilitation in an effort to explain to children what it is like to be in a wheelchair as well as the idea that children in wheelchairs are just like other kids with dreams, goals, and abilities. Taylor, the main character in the book, has cerebral palsy. He tells readers what his day is like, and more importantly explains how helpful his wheelchair is in letting him get around and play with other kids - especially his twin brother Tyler. The School Library Journal suggests it's a good book for younger children, and is a great tool to use to explain disabilities.
Books for Early Elementary
Using fictional heroes and heroines, these stories offer early elementary students a subtle glimpse into the reality of living in a wheelchair, building empathy as kids root for their favorite characters. Building on the idea that wheelchair-bound kids can do great things too, these stories will stay with kids for years to come.
Creative storyteller and children's author Robert Munsch offers a great heroine in his book Zoom!. Savvy dare-devil Lauretta manages to convince her mother to buy her the most outrageous, 92-speed, dirt bike model wheelchair. While she gets into trouble with the law because she doesn't want to go slowly in her wheelchair, she also manages to save her brother as only she, in her speedy wheelchair, can get him to the hospital in time. While the story offers a great heroine who doesn't fit the mold of what many young kids may think when they see someone in a wheelchair, readers delight in the action-packed fun the story offers.
In this poignant chapter book, Saffy discovers by accident that she is adopted. While her family reassures her that it doesn't matter, it's her unlikely friendship with the neighbor Sarah (aka "the wheelchair girl") that helps Saffy come to terms with her adoption and life in general. Winner of an ALA Notable Book Award, this book offers quirky humor, and a consistent message of love and acceptance.
Loop the Loop
Charming fictional picture book Loop the Loop offers a touching and heart-warming look at an intergenerational friendship between main character Anne and her yo-yo wielding neighbor Mrs. Simpson, who is wheelchair bound. Anne learns a few things from Mrs. Simpson about yo-yo tricks and being a true friend. It's no wonder that Publisher's Weekly calls this one of the best intergenerational stories. Loop the Loop is a great book for teaching children about the themes of friendships, especially in the context of befriending someone who is different.
Books for Older Elementary-Aged Kids
Books featuring characters in wheelchairs for this age group tend to focus on characters and people doing extraordinary things with their lives, overcoming obstacles, and maturing against all odds. These are heart-warming stories and biographies that can leave kids inspired to do more in their world.
Heidi is a classic book beloved by many generations of children. After all, it is hard not to love the spunky Heidi who changes the lives of all who know her, including crippled and wheel-chair bound Clara. Originally written in 1880, Heidi is a true tale of perseverance with an overarching theme of the fragile nature of freedom. Although it's written on an easy-to-read level for most 2nd and 3rd graders, the tale is long and can be intimidating. Consider it to be a must-read on your read-aloud list. The Swiss tale is so popular that it has been made into a movie several times over.
Chuck Close, Up Close
Chuck Close, Up Close is an inspiring biographical look at famed American painter and photographer, Chuck Close. Award winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan teamed up to interview and explore Close's life and art in-depth. Close, who has been wheelchair bound since he was 48, offers an inspiring glimpse of a man who has overcome several learning difficulties as well as physical difficulties to succeed as the artist that he is. A Horn Book Award honor book, this inspiring look at one of America's best photo realists will encourage students to overcome adversity.
Author of the Jigsaw Jones books for younger kids, James Preller delivers a winning tale with Six Innings. While the book is centered around the six innings of a championship Little League game, the deeper tale of Sam and Mike, who are best friends, emerges as they both try to come to terms with the fact that Sam cannot play in this year's championship game because he is in a wheelchair, having been recently diagnosed with bone cancer. Boys especially will love this tale with its fast-paced descriptions of the triumphs and trials of a Little League championship game, however, everyone will be hooked on the story within the story of the book's characters. Winner of Bank Street College's Best Children's Book of the Year in 2009, reviewers on Amazon love the tale and give it rave reviews for an engaging plot line told in a unique way.
The View from Saturday
Newbery Award winning title, the View from Saturday is a coming of age tale with quirky Mrs. Olinski and her four brainiac students who gather for tea parties every Saturday in order to study for the Academic Bowl. For Mrs. Olinski, who is now wheelchair bound because of an accident, the group provides a means for her to regain confidence. Her students learn their own lessons in this funny and often humorous tale.
Reading to children about a variety of disabilities can help kids put themselves in other's shoes. Not only may these books help kids relate to others with physical disabilities, it may help inspire them to overcome obstacles in their lives as well. Running the gamut from telling stories of the disabled to featuring heroes that are wheelchair-bound, these books are great for teaching disability awareness.