KidLitCripCrit – I Am Not a Label

Mainie (5) is sitting next to her dad James - a one legged white man. He's holding I Am Not A Label. Text reads: '#KidLitCripCrit; disability & children's books'

Would we have started our KidLitCripCrit list without this book? Maybe not. It came out this summer & energised us. It’s uncompromisingly stylish – not the norm when ‘cheerfulness’ often feels like the design priority when it comes to disability. 

Not all books on our list are own voices, but this is – it’s written by former CBeebies presenter & actual disabled person Cerrie Burnell.

Real-life stories in picture books have been having a moment – think Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls & the Little People Big Dreams series. So an illustrated book like this – one page biographies of notable disabled people – is a welcome addition. 

Disability is a massive bracket, covering an enormous range of experience. Choosing the “34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists” must have been daunting to say the least.  

From go-to famous disabled people like Stephen Hawking & Stevie Wonder, to the less well-known: ElizaSuggs – a Black writer and wheelchair user born in 1876, Australian activist Stella Young, software engineer Farida Bedwei. And people you may have heard of but not categorised as disabled, like Lady Gaga. 

In fact when you consider quite how many ways they could have got this wrong it’s eye-watering – congratulations & respect to everyone involved. For taking it on in the first place & doing such a good job of it. 

I can’t promise every disabled person will feel represented by this (or any) book.

And in a way that’s the point here – this genre of books is about exceptional people by definition. 

A book about inspirational women should not be used to shame all women for not becoming eg president. Obviously. Exactly the same is true here. 

But… and this is NOT the fault of this book… disabled people are already expected to be inspirational as default. 

Just bear in mind these people are inspirational because they are exceptional. Do not adjust your expectations of normal disabled people accordingly! Disabled kids especially: they don’t need that. 

  • Text reads: 'These are clearly exceptional people, case in point - Stephen Hawking.' 

This is a great, needed book. It passes our test easily – if our kids were disabled we’d read it to them in a flash. 

You can buy I Am Not a Label from Blackwell’s – with international delivery included (it’s an affiliate link so we make a small percentage.)

If you’d like to support what we do, we have affiliate links to Bookshop UK and Bookshop US – where you can buy most of the books on our KidLitCripCrit list.

Lucy & James

First posted on Instagram on Sunday the 6th of September 2020

[Image description:

  1. Mainie (5) is sitting next to her dad James – a one legged white man. He’s holding I Am Not A Label. Text reads: ‘#KidLitCripCrit; disability & children’s books’
  2. An author photo from the book – Cerrie is a blonde white woman with one arm. Text reads: ‘actually disabled author Cerrie Burnell’.
  3. The book on the garden sofa. Mainie is standing in the background carrying a walking stick. Text reads: ‘Illustrated non-fiction – a good alternative to Just Ask. Own voices.’
  4. Inside pages showing Black author Eliza Suggs, a small woman in a clerical garment. Text reads: ‘Books about disability often go for “fun” or “cheerful” but… illustrator Lauren Baldo made this book beautiful.’
  5. A toy car is careering down the front of the book, a small hand outstretched. Text reads: ‘Incidentally – this book also works as a ramp for toy cars.’ 
  6. Slideshow – the first image shows Stephen Hawking. Text reads: ‘These are clearly exceptional people, case in point – Stephen Hawking.’ 
  7. Slideshow – the second image. Text reads: ‘It’ll always be tempting to look for inspirational narratives in disabled people’s lives. Stella Young was very good on this – and here she is.’
  8. Slideshow – the third image. Inside pages showing Terry Fox running, wearing a prosthetic leg. Text reads: ‘The disabled people the world chooses for fame will reflect the desire for “inspirational” stories. Terry Fox ran 143 days of marathons on one leg, before dying of cancer. It’s seen as an inspirational story of courage. It could also be a tragic story – a man literally trying to outrun death & disability, dying in the attempt.’ 
  9. Slideshow – the last image. Inside pages show Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a Black athlete with one leg. Text reads: ‘”Inspiration” is handled well in this book. But for some disabled people, the expectation we should all be inspirational may make the whole genre of biography in kidlit just too squeamish.’ ]

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