Great Books About People (and a Very Special Dolphin) with Disabilities

Our world is peopled with individuals with differences. Those who do not live with these challenges often do not understand them, and are sometimes uncomfortable in the presence of those who do have them. This list is a sample of some excellent and inspiring (mostly) contemporary fiction and nonfiction titles for children and young adults on this important topic. Adults will also find these books to be worthwhile reading, and will want to share them with the young people in their lives. 


Hooway for Wodney Wat

by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

We cannot help but feel for the hapless Rodney Rat (after all, there's a little Rodney in all of us) as he endures teasing at school because he can't pronounce the letter R: "What's your name, Wodney?" asked the other rodents. "Wodney Wat," whispered Wodney. "What's another name for bunny?" they asked knowingly. "Wabbit," he mumbled. "And how does a train travel?" They winked at each other. "A twain twavels on twain twacks," Wodney replied miserably. This priceless book offers hope to any child who has been on the receiving end of ridicule and bullying. Lynn Munsinger's spot-on illustrations add to the charm and humor of a story that should be a classic.


Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio

by Peg Kehret

The prolific author of children's thrillers turns her pen to the devastating period in her life when she was the only child in her hometown to contract polio in 1949. For children for whom the disease has little meaning, this memoir is an eye-opener that has the reader riveted from the first page.



by Cynthia Lord

It is hard to believe that this is Cynthia Lord's first book. In her novel, we meet Catherine, a 12-year-old girl with an eight-year-old autistic brother, David. Catherine's dreams of a "normal" life with a "normal" sibling ring true (as do the family relationships), and she indulges in them until she meets Jason, a severely disabled boy who offers her a different way to view her world.


Her Life In Pictures

by George Sullivan

This is not a typical biography but, as the title suggest, a pictorial record of Helen Keller's life. The photographs present a side to the phenomenal personality often missing in standard biographies.


The Cay

by Theodore Taylor

The classic tale of prejudice and love is also an inspiring story of a boy's learning to survive alone on an unpopulated tropical island despite losing his eyesight. Closure to Phillip's remarkable story is provided in the prequel/sequel, Timothy of the Cay.


The Man Who Loved Clowns

by June Rae Wood

Another unforgettable debut novel. Thirteen-year-old Delrita loves her uncle Punky, who has Down's Syndrome. What sets this book apart are the themes of love, friendship, and acceptance, the memorable characters, and Delrita's honest, occasionally humorous narrative. A word of warning: whoever reads this novel is advised to have some tissues handy.


Mandy Sue Day

by Roberta Karim, illustrated by Karen Ritz

Mandy Sue is a member of a close-knit farm family. She is treated with love and respect, and expected to do her share of chores. The beauty of this warm picture book is that the reader is not made aware that Mandy Sue has a disability until the very end.


The Raging Quiet

by Sherryl Jordan

Jordan takes the reader back in time to an era where people with disabilities were not only misunderstood, they were believed to be possessed. Sixteen-year-old Marnie, who marries an aristocrat much older than herself to save her parents' home, discovers residents of her new community beating a young man considered to be insane. Marnie soon learns the truth—that the youth is not mad, but deaf. The atmosphere of ignorance and fear is palpable, and the characters are well-rounded and believable.


Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned To Swim Again

by Craig Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff

A fisherman makes a disturbing discovery: a baby dolphin caught in a crab trap. Rescuers rush her to the Clearwater (Florida) Marine Aquarium, a premier rehabilitation facility. Thus begins the incredible true story of Winter, the dolphin who, despite the loss of her tail, reacquires the ability to swim—and inspires children and adults the world over, especially those who are living with similar challenges. With the publication of this beautiful book, readers can be uplifted by Winter's amazing tale.


The London Eye Mystery

by Siobhan Dowd

As twelve-year-old Ted informs the reader, his brain is "wired differently" from that of most people, a characteristic that makes him a whiz at facts and statistics but less successful socially. Ted's narration of the events in this edge-of-your-seat mystery gives the reader a real sense of what it is like to have Asperger's Syndrome.