Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This annual, United Nations-sponsored event aims to â€œfurther raise awareness of disability and accessibility as a cross cutting development issue and further the global efforts to promote accessibility, remove all types of barriers, and to realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society and shape the future of development for all.â€ This year the theme is â€œBreak Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all.â€ In recognition of this day, below is a list of books set around the world featuring characters with a variety of disabilities who are facing a host of barriers in their own lives.
The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna – This 2013 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book follows Taylor Jane Simon, a Canadian teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, as she travels around France during the summer. While I have not yet started this book, one of the main points that has been mentioned again and again in relation to it is the way that Taylor’s voice and perspective shine through.
Enemy Territory by Sharon E. McKay – Sam, an Israeli teen who is waiting to learn whether his leg will have to be amputated, ends up sharing a hospital room with Yusuf, a Palestinian boy who has already lost one eye and is battling the risk of infection in the other. At first, their prejudices make them suspicious of one another, but over the course of one crazy night wandering around in Jerusalem they learn a lot about not only each other, but also about the different cultures that inhabit the city.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein – This companion to Wein’s amazing Code Name Verity (2013 Printz Honor Book) follows a young, female pilot from America during World War II who has come to England to fly planes for the war effort. While on a mission, she is captured by the Germans and sent to RavensbrÃ¼ck, a concentration camp that houses many women, including a group who are permanently disabled due to medical experiments and procedures that the German doctors have conducted on them.
Among Others by Jo Walton – Set in Wales and England, the main character of this book is Morwenna, a young girl coping with the permanent effects of an injury that she received in the same incident that left her twin sister dead. The book follows her as she deals with this injury and her own unhappy family circumstances, involving a distant father and a mother who dabbles in dark magic, which was the root cause of her own injury. This book is also a great option for science fiction fans as significant portions of the book highlight real science fiction books that Morwenna turns to during her period of isolation. These scenes are sure to inspire you to go out and read those books yourself.
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan – In this book, which is another on my to-be-read pile, Habo is a young teen in Tanzania who is obviously different from those around him. In addition to his visual impairment, he also has white skin, yellow hair and very light eyes. While he knows that this impacts how everyone treats him, it is not until he seeks refuge outside of his community that he learns that the term for his condition is albinism, a trait that can put him at great danger in this part of Africa.
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida – The New York Times bestseller that was recently covered on The Daily Show is the autobiography of a 13-year-old Japanese boy who has autism. Unable to verbalize his views, this autobiography was written using a grid with the letters of the alphabet on it. Many reviewers have noted that it gives a rare insight into at least one experience with autism.
Some of these books are ones that I have read and enjoyed and others are on my to-be-read list, but they all highlight stories of people with disabilities. While I hope that these books will pique your interest, this is hardly a complete list of books that offer positive portrayals of characters with disabilities; let me know about any great examples you think I missed in the comments!
– Carli Spina, currently reading Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz