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Reading about disability for Children's Book Week

Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,013 Pioneering
edited November 2020 in Coffee lounge
It is Children's Book Week, a chance for primary school children to indulge in the delight of reading for pleasure, which can be both educational and entertaining.
First held in 1919, the annual celebration has become a staple in the lives of several generations, I'm sure we all remember that time of year at school where we would receive a free book or be encouraged even more than usual to visit the library.

opened white book beside a white mug

Educating children about disability through literature

Why is it important to educate children about disability?
 We often say how important it is for disability awareness to be raised amongst the adult population, but arguably it is even more vital that children are educated about the subject. Doing so will:
  • teach them about different kinds of disabilities
  • start to make them aware of the challenges a disabled person may face
  • normalise the subject within society to make things better for future generations
And during Children's Book Week, what better way to do this than through the joy of literature. There are many books about disability that are written for children, some of which are below.

My Friend Isabelle

A story of two friends, Charlie and Isabelle who has Down syndrome. Charlie tells about the things they both like to do together, and also how he and Isabelle are different.
Lively illustrations work beautifully with the text to bring the story to life. The book encourages readers to think about what makes  friendships special and how our differences can make the world more interesting.

Susan Laughs

This book has been used in classrooms as a way of teaching children about diversity and inclusion. Susan Laughs is a short story told in rhyming couplets, it describes a range of common emotions and activities experienced by a little girl, Susan. It is not until the end of the story that the reader discovers that Susan is a wheelchair user. Throughout, Susan is never unassisted but the reader does not realise any of this until it is bought to their attention in the final illustration.
The story delivers a powerful message and provides a positive image of disabled children. It focuses on Susan's abilities rather than on the things she may struggle with and shows that she is like all children.

Thank You, Mr Falker

This book tells the story of a young child called Trisha who can’t wait to learn how to read! She loves listening to her mother and brother read stories to her and is so excited for when she will be able to share the stories as well.
As she grows older and enters each new grade, the words and numbers never seem to make any sense to her. It isn’t until the 5th grade, when young Trisha meets Mr. Falker, that she is given the extra help and understanding she needs.
The story is based on the author’s experiences with dyslexia, who's life was changed for the better by the caring and understanding of Mr Falker, which shows the impact a teacher can have on a child's life.

Quick fire stories from Scope

Scope has published story books featuring disabled children, they're no longer available in physical formats but you can download PDF versions by visiting this page.
The stories include:
  • Celine’s New Splints - A story about Celine, who wears leg splints
  • Fun in the Sun - Peg Ted and Mikki Dolly show how tube feeding does not stop children having fun
  • Jacob’s Traffic Jam - Explains cerebral palsy to young children
  • My Brother is an Astronaut - Lucy's younger brother Jake has sensory needs and sees the world differently

Do you have any other suggestions for children's books about disability? How important is it that children read books that will develop their understanding of the subject?

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  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,680 Disability Gamechanger
    Great post @Ross_Scope
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  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,013 Pioneering
    Thank you @Chloe_Scope :) 
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  • chiariedschiarieds Community champion Posts: 6,292 Disability Gamechanger
    We have had some authors long ago having characters that had a disability; think of Tiny Tim in 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, & Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame;' both characters who either have/gain the reader's sympathy. Lenny in 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck (a novel I personally disliked). Then even more modern day writers such as Mark Haddon who wrote 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time,' & John Green's 'The Fault In Our Stars,' tho perhaps these latter 3 for older children.
    If we look at non-fiction, there's the inspirational autobiography of Helen Keller, a short book by Jean-Dominique Bauby called 'The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly,' & neurologist Oliver Sacks' books, again possibly for older readers, to name but a few that I've read.
    I think on the one-hand, anything that promotes understanding about disability is good, & on the other think that, especially young children, don't see any difference, & just accept another child for who they are. It's probably good to raise awareness, but we're all the same, disabled or not.
    Just to add, all the links given seem to be for a younger age group; a wider reading as children get older may also be helpful.
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,013 Pioneering
    Hi @chiarieds, those are all great examples, thanks for sharing them :) 

    I have the biography of Helen Kellar saved on my phone with the intention of reading it some day, have you read that book? 

    Thanks for the feedback, I think raising awareness is always a good thing, regardless of age, but I don't think it's necessarily always about teaching children about disability, but even just exposing them to literature with disabled characters in, which is something that personally never happened to me in school.

    Having things that cover that wider age range as children get older is important, so possibly it's something we could talk about in the future :) 
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  • chiariedschiarieds Community champion Posts: 6,292 Disability Gamechanger
    I've read all of the above books except Victor Hugo's. Helen Keller's story I must have read as a child as I thought about it shortly after I qualified & worked with Mark, a little boy who'd been battered by his father as a baby. This left him completely blind, & with just a little hearing in one ear. He used to sit all day in a chair, at times banging his head repeatedly against the wall behind him. He got upset if touched; the nurses couldn't cuddle him as he scratched, & the only time he seemed happy was when he was spoon fed.
    My initial 'treatment' was to pick him up & cuddle him in; I went home with the back of my neck badly scratched on many occasions. But just holding him whilst talking gently on his 'good' side paid off, & then I was able to work properly with him, & eventually got him walking with a rollator, after an orthopaedic surgeon agreed it was worthwhile to lengthen his achilles tendons so he could put his heels down.
    I got a speech therapist involved, who said she would be able to help him feed himself, which with minimal help he became able to do. One of the best sights I saw walking onto the ward one day, was to see him sat on a nurses knee as she was singing nursery rhymes to him. He had stopped head-banging, & I'll never forget the radiance of his smiles. :)
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Community Team Posts: 2,013 Pioneering
    I can't imagine how witnessing that transition in his actions must have made you feel @chiarieds, to make that difference to a child's life must make it all worth it. Especially when they've been through such appalling experiences.
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