Whether your child is a big reader, nonreader, or somewhere in between, there are many ways to enjoy the valuable resource of children’s books, which play a vital role in a child’s development.
Reading out loud can be a great way to share a book, and to connect and unwind together, right into the tween years. To make family reading time light and engaging, dialogue-rich books are perfect for acting out together as a play—the sillier the actions, accents or embellishments the better! Adding family twists to an existing tale is not just fun, it can also be a stepping stone for children to make up their own stories. As American literacy expert, Pam Allyn, says, ‘Reading is breathing in; writing is breathing out’.
There are so many ways books can open new avenues of learning beyond the page. While a classic book we loved as children may have a theme that doesn’t immediately excite today’s child, “what’s the fascination with trains, Mum?” If shared through an audiobook, the voices and sound effects—such as the chuffing of a steam engine—can bring life and soul to the unfamiliar, opening new channels for conversation and connection across generations.
So, not only are books key literary learning tools, they can also have a powerful influence on how we see the world around us. They open doors to worlds beyond our own experience, and to different ways of seeing our own world. Books, in all their forms—braille, audio, digital and print—are an accessible and engaging way of exploring topics that may be hard to understand or address. And, as such, provide a great resource to nurture positive perceptions of disability.
Research demonstrates that strength-based representation of disabled characters in books promotes attitudes of understanding and acceptance and strengthens perceptions of self-worth1. Additionally, when used as a tool in educational settings, research has found that students with and without disabilities developed compassion for one another and together built a more inclusive classroom culture2. Books have been found to provide a wonderful way to help young people view disabled characters as full and complex beings, with the same dreams, ambitions, and passions as anyone else. Also, books provide important opportunities for disabled young people to see themselves reflected and represented in the world.
We have put together a mini-review of some of our favourite children’s books that promote a positive view of difference.
Aroha’s Way by Craig Phillips
A beautifully written and illustrated book by award-winning New Zealand author Craig Phillips that takes children through the journey of emotions. It includes gentle and practical ways of dealing with each emotion and restoring a sense of calm.
Remarkable Remy by Melanie Heyworth
Remarkable Remy is a story about a young autistic character. It explains how autistic brains are unique, and how neurodivergent brains make the world remarkable.
- Shared experiences
- Positive relationships
Some Brains by Nelly Thomas
Some Brains is a celebration of neurodiversity. It encourages us to appreciate uniqueness, and to look for and recognise strengths—reminding readers that all brains are different, and we need different brains to create a full world.
- Celebrating difference
- Family relationships
Hey Warrior by Karen Young
A book for young people that ‘normalises’ the experience of anxiety. Hey Warrior explores how anxiety feels, including the physical symptoms of anxiety, and the neurobiology behind it in an accessible way.
- Brain facts
- Science behind anxiety
Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
Written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, this story introduces multiple characters, each with their own experience of disability or health impairment. The book celebrates what makes us all unique, and how we can work together to create wonderful things.
- Celebrating diversity
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
The Rabbit Listened is a beautiful story about the importance of empathy and kindness. The story explores how to comfort and heal the people in your life by taking time to listen carefully, lovingly and gently.
Listen by Shannon Stocker
Listen is the true story of world-famous deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. A passionate musician, she was told she would never play music again at 12, when the nerves in her ears began to deteriorate. This is a story of obstacles, strength and determination, and following one’s dreams.
- Hearing loss
- Following dreams
Of Course You Can/ Ka Taea Tonu e Koe! by Karen Hinge
A beautiful story of a young boy’s first day at school, and the nerves he is experiencing about the unknown. As his friends find ways to be inclusive, the boy is made to feel confident to join in all the activities at school as his friends find ways to be inclusive. The story is bilingual (English and Te Reo), and available in several other languages.
- Going to school for the first time
- Wheelchair user
Nathan’s Wish by Laurie Lears
Nathan is a young boy with Cerebral Palsy who helps his neighbour rehabilitate injured birds. The story is based around the care of an injured bird and shows readers that despite some bodies working differently, everyone has the same desires for friendship and purpose.
- Cerebral Palsy
- Helping others
I am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer
An inspiring and engaging story about the life of Helen Keller, who grew up as a deaf and blind young girl. The story highlights that with patience, determination and loving support even the most challenging of obstacles can be overcome.
- Overcoming obstacles
- Vision loss
- Hearing loss
- Hayden, H.E., & Prince, A.M (2020). Distrupting ableism. Strenghts-based representations of disability in children’s picutre books. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 0. Doi:10/1177/1468798420981751
- Adomat, D.S. (2014). Exploring issues of disability in children’s literature discussions. Disability Studies Quarterly 34(3): 1–17.