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Guest post: Where are the disabled characters in children’s fiction?

TruthandTails Community member Posts: 2 Connected

Children’s fiction has a huge lack of disabled characters, which means many children find they do not have characters that they can relate to in the books they read. There have recently been advances in the toy industry, with the sale of so-called ‘disability dolls’ but as yet we’re not seeing this coming across into our children’s books – why is this?

It may be the case that for many authors it just doesn’t occur to them to write in a disabled character, but in a world where all the information we could possibly want is at our fingertips, this doesn’t feel like a good enough excuse.

Introducing Roxy the Raccoon

Cover of Roxy the Raccoon book - a blue cartoon raccoon in a wheelchair

These thoughts led us – Truth & Tails – to write a children’s book about a disabled character called Roxy the Raccoon, an independent and intuitive raccoon who uses a wheelchair.

Truth & Tails is run by three people: Phoebe Kirk (that’s me), Alice Reeves, and Ben Galley. All our books are aimed at ages 5-8 years, and focus on messages of understanding and acceptance; so we felt it was only right to create a story about disability and how the world can be made a more enjoyable, workable place for all.

Making the forest accessible

In creating this book, we asked people in the disabled community about their experiences with accessibility to help us get this book as spot on as we could. We took a great deal of direction from their helpful critique, especially in determining that the focus of the story should be on Roxy educating her friends on the right ways to help not only her, but all of the animals in the forest.

By encouraging her friends to be mindful and to make a few small changes to their environment, Roxy teaches them how to make the forest a more fun and inclusive place for everyone. With a few small changes, everyone living in the forest will be able to access all of the different places, from Brad the Beaver’s dam, to the treetop of the tallest tree.

Over the course of the story, Roxy’s friends learn how to think of others and include everyone in their fun activities, without diminishing Roxy as a personality and putting her into the typecast of a victim. We wanted to challenge damaging and incorrect tropes, showing a disabled character as a capable individual and not weak or helpless in any way.

Picture of a blue cartoon raccoon in a wheelchair in front of a door

Teaching children to accept differences

Books with disabled characters are not just beneficial for disabled children, but for all children to understand how they can be kind, helpful and accepting of others who may be different from them. We believe it is incredibly important to encourage younger generations to grow up with the tools they need to accept and help other people with kindness and dignity, and this is something we try to get across in our books.

Phoebe Kirk
Truth & Tails

To find out more about Roxy the Raccoon and other Truth and Tails stories, visit the Truth and Tails website.

What’s your view on disabled characters in children’s books? Can you recommend any books? Let us know in the comments below.

Our mission is to use children’s fiction to eliminate prejudice, encourage acceptance and aid understanding by addressing life’s hard-to-deal-with concepts – from social issues to scientific theories – through simple, sensitive and beautiful stories featuring loveable characters.


  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,671 Disability Gamechanger
    How brilliant! I also like the work of Dan White who created the Department of Ability comic books featuring his daughter.

    I think it is so important that disabled people are featured in TV, books and film
    Senior online community officer
  • AlexW_Scope
    AlexW_Scope Scope Posts: 225 Pioneering
    Great post - this is something that Scope and others have been campaigning on for many years. To see a selection of books, take a look at http://www.scope.org.uk/support/families/books/children

    Happy reading!

  • iza
    iza Scope Member Posts: 703 Pioneering
    I think this book should be in each primary schools to teach the children sensitivity to others. 
  • TruthandTails
    TruthandTails Community member Posts: 2 Connected
    Thank you Iza, that's the plan for the future hopefully! 
    Our mission is to use children’s fiction to eliminate prejudice, encourage acceptance and aid understanding by addressing life’s hard-to-deal-with concepts – from social issues to scientific theories – through simple, sensitive and beautiful stories featuring loveable characters.
  • mossycow
    mossycow Scope Member Posts: 500 Pioneering
    That's great! Can I add how important seeing people with all different bodies and behaviours helps children who have disabled parents or siblings too.  I think it has helped our family see it as more 'normal' and makes it easier for our daughter to talk about our family situations.

    I agree that 'able bodied' children will benefit from learning more about everyone in the world around them.  As a disabled adult, I find most disabled characters are the baddies.....
  • jonblake
    jonblake Community member Posts: 44 Courageous
    I'm the author of about 60 children's books.  I have to admit it had never occurred to me to create disabled characters, but since Jordi, our son, was diagnosed with CP about seven years ago I've written 'Oshie' and 'Thimble Monkey Superstar' featuring main characters with CP, and am currently writing another for the OUP which should reach many schools.  In my experience few schools are much concerned about teaching about disability, but I do believe this can change. One thing which may greatly help is for a book with a disabled character to win a major award, and now Thimble Monkey Superstar has been shortlisted for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud) awards, this has become a real possibility.  It's decided by voting, and while I wouldn't want anyone to vote without liking the book, it would be great if people are at least made aware of it.  There's more about it, and a link to the voting site, at my website.  Jordi, meanwhile, has turned out to be a fabulously eloquent writer himself, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he becomes an author too.  He has his own website also!
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