Updated April 2022

How many of the picture books at your house include characters with disabilities? The book collection at my godson’s house is probably typical. Four big piles of books with no disabled characters, and two very small stacks that have major or minor characters with disabilities.

Mary Mecham discovered that the same thing was true at her house. Mary has two daughters who are disabled, and it struck her at some point that her daughters’ books didn’t include disabled characters. That seemed like a miss. She decided to count all the books in her home, to see how big the miss was. She counted 2,186 books in her home. Only 16 of them had disabled characters. That’s why she started Disability Book Week, which is held the last week of April.

Why does it matter?

All children love to see characters who are like them in the books they read. And all children need to see characters who are not like them. When children who don’t have disabilities, and perhaps don’t know people with disabilities, meet people with disabilities in books, they learn that disabilities exist, and that neither the disability nor the disabled person is a cause for worry or fear. They can satisfy their curiosity without embarrassing anyone. And later, when they meet a disabled person in real life, they will see them as an ordinary person who just happens to have a disability.

But if you want your children to read these books, you’re going to have to make an effort to get them. Here are some resources to help you find them.

For middle grade or YA books, you can check out the books about ability and disability at Books Matter, the disability category at A Mighty Girl, and the Honor Roll at Disability in Kidlit.

For picture books, I’ve got a bunch of terrific ones here.

Picture books with characters who use wheelchairs

People who use wheelchairs are over-represented among disabled characters in picture books. I think that’s because authors and publishers think that mobility impairments are easier to represent, and easier to understand, than other disabilities.

My Pal, Victor by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

In this bilingual (English/Spanish) book, Dominic and Victor are best friends. They do everything together. You don’t learn until the last page of the book that Victor uses a wheelchair.

Read my full review of My Pal, Victor.

Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari

Hello Goodbye Dog is about a biracial girl who uses a wheelchair to get around. But the book is not about race, and it’s not about disability. It’s about the relationship between the girl and the dog who adores her. And it’s one of the most delightful picture books I’ve ever read.

Read my full review of Hello Goodbye Dog.

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan

For the kite-flying festival of Basant, Malik creates a small, speedy kite that he names Falcon. His wheelchair isn’t an obstacle for the festival; he can fly his kite from the roof of the building where he lives. If he can snag all the other kites out of the sky, he’ll be King of Basant.

Read my full review of King for a Day.

The picture book Arabella has a picture of an elaborate model sailboat sitting in the window

Arabella by Wendy Orr

Matthew wants to rescue his grandfather’s model boat, which has been swept out to sea in a storm. So he takes his grandfather’s real sailboat out, without permission, and discovers that the storm isn’t really over yet.

Read my full review of Arabella.

All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimental

All the Way to the Top is the true story of Jennifer Keelan’s participation in the Capitol Crawl, back in 1990, when Jennifer was just 9 years old. It’s a great story. And children will relate to Jennifer’s feelings of frustration, of unfairness, and, at the end, of victory.

Read my full review of All the Way to the Top.

Catherine’s Pascha by Charlotte Riggle

Catherine’s best friend, Elizabeth, sometimes uses crutches and sometimes a wheelchair. It’s no big deal to Catherine. She loves her friend, and she loves Pascha!

Read reviews of Catherine’s Pascha.

The Saint Nicholas Day Snow by Charlotte Riggle

Elizabeth has a bigger role in this book than in Catherine’s Pascha. She’s spending the night at Catherine’s house because her parents had to leave town suddenly to look after her grandmother. And, as in Catherine’s Pascha, she uses a wheelchair and crutches according to the situation.

Read reviews of The Saint Nicholas Day Snow.

Picture books with characters who have limb differences

A limb difference is when someone’s limbs are different from most people’s. Sometimes, people are born with limb differences. Sometimes, the limb difference is the result of an injury. Learn more about limb differences.

When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb

Charley knows that different isn’t weird, sad, bad, or strange. It’s just different. And he knows that different is OK. Until he meets Emma. Emma has limb differences, and she uses a wheelchair. Charlie isn’t sure what he thinks about Emma’s differences. But with the support of his mom and Emma’s sister, the two children spend time together and become friends.

Read my full review of when Charley Met Emma.

The Dancers by Thomas Peacock

The Dancers is a charming story of loss and strength and courage and love set in a Native American family. It’s also a story about disability. In this story, it’s not the child protagonist who is disabled. It’s her beloved auntie, who lost her legs while serving in the military.

Read my full review of The Dancers.

Picture books with blind characters

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best

This book is absolutely delightful! Zulay is a cheerful first grader who is Black (which doesn’t matter to the story) and blind (which is essential to the story). She is learning to use her white cane to get around, and that doesn’t make her happy. Not until she decides she wants to run in a race.

Read my full review of My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay.

Looking Out for Sarah by Glenna Lang

A day in the life of Perry, a guide dog, and his blind human, Sarah. The story is meant to teach the reader about what blind people can do, and how their guide dogs help them. It’s particularly valuable, because Sarah is a real person, and Perry was her real guide dog.

Read my full review of Looking Out for Sarah.

Picture books with characters who are deaf

The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin

This story is based on the life of a real person. William Hoy was one of the first deaf people to play professional baseball, and some say he was the person who introduced hand signals to the game.

Read my full review of The William Hoy Story.

The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree by Angeliki Pedersen

This book introduces deafness for children through conversations between a little girl named Angelia and her classmate Jacob, who is deaf.

Read my full review of The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree.

Dad, Jackie, and Me by Myron Uhlberg

This book is a baseball story. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the story of a boy who could hear and his father who was Deaf. The boy loved baseball. His father, not so much. Until Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. The boy’s father saw something of his own life in Jackie’s. As the father and son bonded over baseball, the boy came to understand why his father was enraptured by Jackie Robinson.

Read my full review of Dad, Jackie, and Me.

Picture books with characters who have dyslexia

The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos

We honestly don’t know much about St. Euphrosynos. In this version of his story, Euphrosynos struggled in school. He couldn’t learn to read. He’d much rather work in the fields, or go to church.

Read my full review of The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave.

Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

This story, like many of Polacco’s stories, is based on her own life. She was severely dyslexic. What a blessing for all of us that her own Mr. Falker taught her to read, and to write, so she could give us so many wonderful books!

Read my full review of Thank You Mr. Falker.

Picture books with neurodiverse or autistic characters

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey

Henry is a little boy with autism. And Henry wants a friend. He doesn’t quite know how to figure out who might be his friend. He considers the teacher, and all the children in his class, and even Gilly the goldfish. And Gilly helps him find his friend.

Read my full review of A Friend for Henry.

The Suitcase by Jane G. Meyer

The subtitle says this is a book about giving. It’s also a book about what happens when you accept a child with autism just exactly the way they are. (The book doesn’t say that Thomas, the main character, is autistic. But his behavior is almost entirely consistent with autism.)

Read my full review of The Suitcase.

A Miracle at Bates Memorial by Gin Noon Spaulding

Li-Li is a Black girl who has a speech delay and sensory issues, and Bates Memorial is her church. She loves her church. But sometimes church is too much for her. Sometimes, to avoid a total meltdown, she needs a miracle.

Read my full review of A Miracle at Bates Memorial.

Jump-O-Ween by Gin Noon Spaulding

In Jump-O-Ween, the third book in Gin Noon Spaulding’s “Adventure of Li-Li” series, it’s Halloween. Li-Li’s church has borrowed the neighborhood school for their annual Halloween party. It’s full of kids, cousins, costumes, candy, and best of all, the jumpy! Jumping is one of the things that Li-Li loves most. What could possibly go wrong?

Read my full review of Jump-O-Ween.

With Two She Flew, a children's book with a stylized red bird on the cover, sitting on a field guide to birds, open to the page with cardinals

With Two She Flew by Catherine Bodega

With Two She Flew is a chapter book, not a picture book, but it’s such an extraordinary book that I wanted to call it out anyway. The narrator is Daisy, a young girl with autism. The story centers Daisy’s perceptions, her experiences, her way of interacting with the world. And that’s only the first extraordinary thing about the book.

Read my full review of With Two She Flew.

Picture books with characters who have other disabilities

There are many, many different kinds of disabilities. The main characters in the books in this section have disabilities that are less commonly seen in picture books.

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen

Brother Theophane was a young monk in the Middle Ages. If he lived in another century, he might have been diagnosed with ADHD. He struggled to stay focused on his routines and on the tasks in the scriptorium, until he was given a job that kept him outdoors and moving most of the time.

Read my full review of The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane.

Itzhak: A boy who loved the violin by Tracy Newman

This picture book biography covers the first 13 years of the life of the famous violinist, Itzhak Perlman. When Perlman was just four years old, he got polio. He survived, and like so many polio survivors, he would always need crutches and braces to walk. Music, though, was his passion, and he was soon an accomplished violinist playing with professional orchestras and even on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Read my full review of Itzhak: A boy who loved the violin.

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

In this book, Alan Rabinowitz tells the story of his childhood. He had a stutter that was so severe, he couldn’t get words out. Unless he was talking to animals. He told his pets, and a jaguar at the zoo, that if he ever found his voice, he would speak for them. As an adult, he kept that promise.

Read my full review of A Boy and a Jaguar.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

Dan Santat wrote After the Fall as a love letter to his wife. The fall in the book is not Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. It’s Humpty Dumpty’s fall from the wall. And this book tells the story of his recovery from fear. It’s one of the most powerful picture books I’ve ever seen.

Read my full review of After the Fall.

Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s book introduces children to a wide range of disabilities in a friendly and matter-of-fact way. From diabetes (which Sotomayor has) to Down syndrome, asthma to autism, the book encourages children to recognize and accept differences. And if people are different in ways you don’t understand, it’s okay to just ask.

Read my full review of Just Ask.

This post was first written in September 2018, and most recently updated in March 2021.

Read More

17 Essential Picture Books for Orthodox Christian Kids: These seventeen picture books all have Orthodox Christian characters.

Six Exceptional Multicultural Easter Picture Books: If you want books that show people celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, start with these six books. They’re all fabulous.

And check out 3 Children’s Books with Disabled Main Characters, a Kidlit Karma review I wrote as a guest post on Angela Isaac’s blog. It covers A Splash of Red, a picture book biography of artist Horace Pippin, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, a middle grade novel, and The Dragon Slayer’s Handbook, a fantasy for tweens and teens. It was fun to review the books for older kids — and all three books are fabulous!

Books by Charlotte Riggle

Make Catherine's Pascha part of your Easter celebration.
This holiday classic shares the joy of Pascha through the eyes of a child. Find it on Amazon or Bookshop.org.

This delightful story is filled with friendship, prayer, sibling squabbles, a godparent’s story of St. Nicholas, and snow. Lots and lots of snow. Find it on Amazon or Bookshop.org.

In this collection of essays, women who are, or have been, single mothers share stories of their relationships with saints who were also single mothers. Charlotte’s story of the widow of Zarephath highlights the virtue of philoxenia. Find it on Amazon or Park End Books.

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