I’m so excited to write this post! It’s something that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but honestly never quite got around to it – and then I realized that Disability Pride Month was the perfect time. Today I’m sharing books with disabled or chronically ill characters, or written by disabled or chronically ill authors (or both!). It’s hard to put into words how important it is for disabled people to be represented in books – to feel seen in the things you’re reading. And for non-disabled people, reading about disabled characters, or reading about disability, can help broaden your understanding. It’s so important and honestly, something that’s still really lacking.
I’m going to break this up into children’s books, YA and adult fiction, and memoirs / non-fiction. Most of them are books I’ve personally read and recommend, but some (especially the children’s books) come recommended by people I trust. Please don’t think that this is an exhaustive list, either! And I’m not going to share a full review of the books – that would be quite a long post – but I’ll highlight a few in each category.
Children’s Books About Disability
This is the category with which I have the least experience, so I want to should out @stronglikestella, who generously shared many of these recommendations with me! Reading diverse children’s books is so important because the younger that kids are introduced to disability, the more understanding and inclusive of it they’ll be as they get older! I do want to highlight a few books here – Just Ask! is by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes. I was lucky enough to hear her talk a few years ago, and was really impressed by how she talked about disability! All the Way to the Top is about the incredible disability activists who literally crawled up the steps in DC to advocate for disability rights – it’s such an important story to share! Ali and the Sea Stars is by the amazing Ali Stroker and based on her own experiences about finding herself through musical theater. Finally, When Charley Met Emma and Awesomely Emma are written by Amy Webb (who I follow on Instagram and you should, too!), inspired by her experience with her daughter’s disability.
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YA and Fiction Books about Disability
I’ve read all but one of these myself and can personally recommend them! I’m pretty picky about these kinds of books – nothing takes me out of a story faster than an inaccurate portrayal of disability (even if it’s not “my” disability). It’s just something that’s easy to pick up on if you’re disabled! So you can count on these books being accurate and feeling real. If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love Breathe and Count Back from Ten – it’s about a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, written by a Peruvian-American woman with hip dysplasia, and it’s a perfect coming-of-age story. Just by Looking at Him is written by Ryan O’Connell, who also wrote and acted in the show “Special,” and it follows the same kind of plot about the intersections of sex, disability, relationships, and identity. Seven Days in June is a great romance book where the main character (and the author) have chronic migraines. Baby Teeth is a psychological thriller written by a local Pittsburgh-author who, like her character, has Crohn’s. True Biz is set at a boarding school for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, written by a Deaf author, and has fun ASL lessons interspersed. I loved the Brown sisters trilogy (Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, and Act Your Age, Eve Brown) from Talia Hibbert, who has fibromyalgia – each of the sisters has a disability-related plot to some extent. The only one I haven’t read personally is One for All, but it comes highly recommended, and I do know that the author is disabled, and it’s a gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers. Sounds cool!
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Memoirs and Nonfiction Books About Disability
I haven’t read all of these yet – many are on my TBR list – but the ones I haven’t read are by advocates that I know of and admire! If you’ve talked to me at all in real life lately, I probably raved over Selma Blair’s memoir Mean Baby – it is just truly excellent; one of the top five books that I’ve read so far this year. I thought that Keah Brown’s The Pretty One was so much fun to read – she’s very into pop culture, just like me! A Face for Picasso is a memoir that would also be appropriate for a teen to read, but still relatable as an adult, and is all about growing up disabled. I only finished Easy Beauty last week, and was cheering on Chloé when, after a series of events, she ended up watching a Beyoncé concert in Milan from a chair ON THE STAGE. My new idol! And of course, there are Shane Burcaw’s books, Laughing at my Nightmare and Strangers Assume my Girlfriend is my Nurse. Shane, like me, has SMA. Alice Wong’s collection of essays, Disability Visibility, is a great look at disability from a variety of perspectives. Both Haben Girma’s Haben and Judy Heumann’s Being Heumann are memoirs by activists who I really look up to about their own experiences with disability. Sitting Pretty and Say Hello are both on my own TBR list, but I follow both authors online and am really looking forward to reading their stories. Finally, Demystifying Disability is a great, practical guide for being a good ally to disabled people – highly recommend!
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