I thought it was hard to find picture books about people celebrating Easter. It’s just as hard to find picture books about people with disabilities.

Take a look at the picture at the top of this post – see those three big stacks of books? Those are the picture books in my collection that do not have any characters with disabilities. The small stack, off to the right? That stack includes all the picture books I have that include characters with disabilities. The book in between, with just one book in it? In that book, someone who has a disability appears in the background in one of the illustrations, but that person isn’t part of the story.

My picture book collection doesn’t really represent the extent of the problem, however. I look for books with disabled characters, the same way I look for Easter books and books about St. Nicholas. And when, from time to time, I weed out my collection, I don’t get rid of books with disabled characters. Those stay with me. So my collection makes the situation look better than it is.

The book collection at my godson’s house is more typical. Four big piles of books with no disabled characters, and two very small stacks that have major or minor characters with disabilities.

Four large stacks of books that have no disabled characters, plus two very small stacks with major or minor characters who have disabilities

How many picture books have disabled characters?

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison analyzes the children’s books that publishers send them every year. Last year, they received 698 picture books. Just two of them – TWO out of 698 – had main characters who had disabilities.

What about the picture books at your house? How many do you have? How many have characters with disabilities?

Why does it matter?

When children 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 be able to treat 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. If you’re looking for middle grade or YA books, 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.

If you’re looking for picture books, I’ve got 14 terrific ones here.

The images of the books in this post are affiliate links. When you use the image links to buy the books, I’ll get a small commission that helps me support this website.
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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 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 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.

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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!

Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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