How can children’s literature help kids understand the challenges of their classmates with disabilities?

Growing up in the 1950s, there were a lot of topics people just didn’t talk about. One such topic was disabilities. Often, we were told not to stare at individuals with differences because it was impolite. People just didn’t talk about being differently abled back then. Today, there are more open discussions, and there are some books on the market for school-aged children on a variety of topics involving disabilities. Why did it take so long?

Beverly Cleary is quoted as having said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.” ( A celebrated author with many awards including a Newbery, Ms. Cleary grew up on a farm in a town that didn’t even have a library. Yet, she was determined to tell the stories she felt worthy of sharing. This 103 year old author’s books have sold over 91 million copies.

Toni Morrison once tweeted the following, ” “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” She won a Pulitzer prize for her book Beloved, and she and her now deceased son Slade wrote several children’s books. She is a recipient of the President’s Medal of Freedom along with many other honors. Having grown up in a steel town, her family didn’t even own a televison until she was grown. She knew she had stories that must be told.

Children need to see themselves in stories.

Also, these stories need to be told to help children in the mainstream understand the world of a child with special needs.

Here are some ways these stories in children’s literature can help both the child with the disability and his or her classmates:

  1. Show examples of specific disabilities for classmates to observe
  2. Show examples of specific disabilities so children with special needs feel represented
  3. Foster a better understanding of differences
  4. Open discussions after reading these stories to help classmates understand how they can communicate and interact optimally with a child with a disability
  5. Initiate discussions about bullying
  6. Help classmates become more sensitive to challenges

When I taught college-level English and MLA Research, I always used diversity as a theme for my classes. So it would seem natural that when I decided to write a children’s book it would include include persons with disabilities.

I am happy to announce that my book entitled The Legend of Eddie the Whale is expected to go live on later this month. I will keep you posted.

My book includes examples of a sax player with a cochlear implant, a mother and daughter telling each other “I Love You” in American Sign Language, a homeless man as well as other examples of diversity.

So the connection to these quotes by Beverly Cleary and Toni Morrison is that I am hoping to continue the trend and to write stories about disabilities and other forms of diversity because there are many stories that still need to be told.

Let’s keep moving forward. These stories are long overdue.

(Illustration by Chris Hammond)

10 Replies to “How can children’s literature help kids understand the challenges of their classmates with disabilities?”

  1. Wishing you tremendous success with your new book! I’m available if you need help with anything–Warmly, Nancy

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