Disability in a kids book? Unsure about it? Imagine reading it to a disabled child.

Would we happily read this book to our kids if they were disabled? This rule clarified everything for us when we were first making our KidLitCripCrit list last summer. (Updated list coming soon!) 

Looking around to find the best examples we could of disability in picture books was disheartening. A lot of books were getting it wrong. So it was enormously tempting to compromise – to think, well this book is almost fine. There are just a couple of pages which are a bit… icky. 

But then our kids are not disabled. And this informs our judgement. 

So we imagined – what if they were? Would we still be happy to read them these books? 

And when the answer was no, that’s because something in the book felt off, whether that was:

  • the way intimate medical details were presented
  • a message that disabled kids could ‘overcome’ if they just tried hard enough
  • parents shown crying on the birth of a disabled child
  • children encouraged to relinquish privacy to provide teachable moments
  • or kids entreated to try harder to befriend their non-disabled bullies… 

I could go on. 

I hope it’s clear why any of this could be unhelpful, misleading or upsetting for disabled kids. And if it’s not good enough for them, why would we want non-disabled kids reading it? 

Lucy & James  

First posted on Instagram Tuesday 4th May 2021

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. All of these meet this criteria above.

[Image descriptions – slideshow:

  1. A photo of Lucy, James, Mainie & Viola outside in Jericho. Lucy’s a wheelchair user, and you can’t actually see that James has one leg here – but he has. Viola is a baby and asleep. All subsequent images use the same photo as background, just the text changes. Our text reads: ‘Disability in a kids’ book? Unsure about it? Imagine reading it to a disabled child. Would it feel right? If not, that’s your answer.’ 
  2. Same photo, text reads: ‘Most kids’ books with disabled characters are not written with disabled readers in mind.’ 
  3. ‘So disabled kids find themselves reading books that appear to be ‘for them’, but can actually contain unexpectedly hurtful messages.’
  4. ‘And these are the same messages non-disabled kids will take into their relationships with their disabled friends, with disabled parents or grandparents.’ 
  5. ‘So if it’s not good enough for disabled kids, do you really want non-disabled kids reading it?’]

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