Books Embracing Disability

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Accidents of Nature – Harriet McBryde Johnson

It's the summer of 1970. Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever.

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Good Kings, Bad Kings – Susan Nussbaum

Bellwether Award winner Susan Nussbaum’s powerful novel invites us into the lives of a group of typical teenagers--alienated, funny, yearning for autonomy--except that they live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. This unfamiliar, isolated landscape is much the same as the world outside: friendships are forged, trust is built, love affairs are kindled, and rules are broken. But those who call it home have little or no control over their fate. Good Kings, Bad Kings challenges our definitions of what it means to be disabled in a story told with remarkable authenticity and in voices that resound with humor and spirit.

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Just the Way You Are – Alison M. Boot

Misty Miles, the princess of a faraway land known as Starryton, is like any other woman of her station – except for her disability. She has spent the majority of her 21 years high in a tower so that this, and the wheelchair that accompanies it, will remain a secret. Her parents’ fear of the monarchy appearing weak as a result of Misty’s condition necessitates this course of action. Their efforts to protect both Misty and the monarchy make her question her ability to do much of anything – forget about reigning over a kingdom. Like most princesses, Misty has a Prince Charming. Her love is Derrick Denison, prince of the neighboring kingdom of Mooncrest, who is a gifted dancer. Misty is unable to see Derrick because not only is she stuck in an inescapable room, but there’s also the matter of the long, as of yet unresolved, feud between the two families. This conflict caused the once beloved kingdom of Starrycrest to break apart into two separate kingdoms. The princess soon realizes that she must take matters into her own hands. She goes to Trovella, a troll rumored to grant wishes for a price. Misty’s wish takes her on an interesting journey. She not only stares down self-doubt while ensuring that her kingdom and the kingdom of her beloved prince do not pay the ultimate price, but also contends with the rage of feuding families. To make matters all the more complicated, the princess is also faced with the challenge of finding a little girl she encounters in the course of her journey, who also has a disability, a permanent family.

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Out of My Mind – Sharon Draper

Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can't walk. She can't talk. She can't write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She's the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people--her teachers, her doctors, her classmates--dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can't tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she's determined to let everyone know it...somehow.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher's quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

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Andy and His Yellow Frisbee – Mary Thompson

An illustrated children's book about Andy, a boy with autism. Rosie, the watchful and protective sister, supplies background on Andy and autism, as well as a sibling's perspective.

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Dan and Diesel – Charlotte Hudson

Dan’s dog, Diesel, is a wonder dog. He can do anything. He can ride on trains and planes and in underground tunnels. He can stand next to an enormous smoke-breathing dragon and never flinch an inch. When Dan is with Diesel he can go anywhere. He can go shopping at the market. He can play jazz in the Boogaloo band. He can climb mountains and draw pictures in his head. Together, they can conquer the world. But one day, Diesel is whisked away in a big black van . . .

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Uniquely Wired: A Story About Autism and its Gifts – Julia Cook

Zak is obsessed with watches. Before that it was trains. He owns hundreds of watches and is quick to tell everyone everything about them. Zak also has autism, so he sometimes responds to the world around him in unconventional ways. As Zak describes his point of view, young readers gain a better understanding of his behaviors and learn valuable lessons about patience, tolerance and understanding.

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Petey – Ben Mikaelsen

In 1922, at the age of two, Petey's distraught parents commit him to the state's insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. Struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new "home." Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.

That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time.

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The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo – F.G. Haghenbeck

Acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this book after a series of notebooks and sketchbooks were recently discovered among Frida’s belongings in Casa Azul, her home in Coyoacan, Mexico City. Although her family has never confirmed their authenticity, Haghenbeck imagines that one of the notebooks was a gift from a lover after Frida nearly died. Frida called the notebook “El Libro de Hierba Santa” (“The Sacred Herbs Book”) and filled it with memories, ideas, and recipes for The Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday that commemorates deceased friends and family through the cooking of a delicious feast of exotic dishes.

In a rich, luscious style bordering on magical realism, Haghenbeck takes readers on an intriguing ride through Frida’s life, including her experience with disability.

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The War That Saved My Life – Kimberly Brubraker Bradley

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada's twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn't waste a minute--she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan--and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

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Autobiography of a Face – Lucy Grealy

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her jaw removed, she faced the cruel taunts of classmates. In this strikingly candid memoir, Grealy tells her story of great suffering and remarkable strength without sentimentality and with considerable wit. Vividly portraying the pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasure of wanting to be special, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like as a child and young adult to be torn between two warring impulses: to feel that more than anything else we want to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect

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El Deafo – CeCe Bell

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful--and very awkward--hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear--sometimes things she shouldn't--but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become "El Deafo, Listener for All." And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she's longed for.

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If at Birth You Don’t Succeed – Zach Anner

Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don't Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who's hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn't "Your Body is a Wonderland.") Zach lives by the mantra: when life gives you wheelchair, make lemonade. Whether recounting a valiant childhood attempt to woo Cindy Crawford, encounters with zealous faith healers, or the time he crapped his pants mere feet from Dr. Phil, Zach shares his fumbles with unflinching honesty and characteristic charm.

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Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me - A Graphic Memoir – Ellen Forney

Cartoonist Ellen Forney explores the relationship between "crazy" and "creative" in this graphic memoir of her bipolar disorder, woven with stories of famous bipolar artists and writers. Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passions and creativity. Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to "cure" an otherwise brilliant mind. Darkly funny and intensely personal, Forney's memoir provides a visceral glimpse into the effects of a mood disorder on an artist's work, as she shares her own story through bold black-and-white images and evocative prose.

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Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability – Shane Burcaw

Not So Different offers a humorous, relatable, and refreshingly honest glimpse into Shane Burcaw’s life. Shane tackles many of the mundane and quirky questions that he’s often asked about living with a disability, and shows readers that he’s just as approachable, friendly, and funny as anyone else.

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A Disability History of the United States – Kim E. Nielsen

The first book to cover the entirety of disability history, from pre-1492 to the present, A Disability History of the United States places the experiences of people with disabilities at the center of the American narrative. In many ways, it’s a familiar telling. In other ways, however, it is a radical repositioning of US history. The book casts new light on familiar stories, such as slavery and immigration, while breaking ground about the ties between nativism and oralism in the late nineteenth century and the role of ableism in the development of democracy, as well as triumphant accounts of including disabled miners organizing strikes and disability rights activists picketing Washington. A Disability History of the United States pulls from primary-source documents and social histories to retell American history through the eyes, words, and impressions of the people who lived it.

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Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women – Dr. Sarah Bargiela

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women is a graphic novel that transforms the growing mass of dry, scholarly research on autism and women into intriguing science facts and moving personal accounts.

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Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France – Therese-Adele Husson, Translated by Catherine Kudlick and Zena Weygand

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

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Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability – Edited by: Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen

Beauty is a Verb is a ground-breaking anthology of disability poetry, essays on disability, and writings on the poetics of both. Crip Poetry. Disability Poetry. Poems with Disabilities. This is where poetry and disability intersect, overlap, collide and make peace.

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Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet's Journey with an Exceptional Labrador – Stephen Kuusisto

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

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Different, Not Damaged: Dark Fantasy Short Story Collections Featuring Disabilities in Fiction – Andy Peloquin

Some call them disabilities, but for others they are gifts:

  • A voiceless child painting visions of death.
  • A killer with a deadly message plagued by a burden of guilt.
  • A priestess divinely empowered to absorb others' pain.
  • A soldier fighting for courage in the face of fear.
  • A broken warrior-priest on a mission of vengeance.
  • A thief desperate to escape the burden of his memories.

Betrayed by mind or body, these people struggle to survive in a grim world that takes no pity on the weak. Yet they will discover that they are simply different, not damaged.

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Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens – Marieke Nijkamp

This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today's teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.