The Full Story image

The Full Story

How books for early years and primary age children can be used to promote disability inclusion.

The Full Story resources promote disability inclusion through reading. Include every child and make sure every child sees themselves, their families and friends represented positively in their school.

We are proud to be adding to the Union's Breaking the Mould series of resources, which support early years and primary phase teachers to think about the books they are using in their classrooms. Using a wider range of good literature is a practical, positive and effective way to promote inclusion.

The Full Story will help you to promote disability inclusion and good outcomes for children and young people through reading about the world around us. We have based this resource on the social model of disability, which means recognising that people are disabled by the attitude and structures around them, in society, rather than by their individual impairments. It is society that needs to be adapted, not Disabled people.

The resource is designed to help you include every child and make sure every child sees themselves, their families and friends represented positively in their school.

Order these books for your school or classroom. Share this resource with colleagues and discuss attitudes towards disability in your staff meetings and training days. Reflect with colleagues on what opportunities are being missed to talk positively the experiences and perspectives of Disabled people, within your day to day teaching. This can help build understanding that Disabled children are equal, and usual rather than different, special or hidden.

This guide will help you to think about how your school can use books and reading across the whole of your curriculum and create a sense of place and belonging for your students.

We think you will enjoy reading about these fantastic books!

Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted

Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union

This resource considers how books for early years and primary age children can be used to promote disability inclusion. It follows the NEU’s earlier Every Child, Every Family and Breaking The Mould resources, which look at LGBT+ identities and gender stereotypes and Getting EVERYONE Reading For Pleasure which discusses in more detail the value of inclusive literature and also contains tips for supporting Disabled pupils with reading.

Literature is vital in helping children to explore and learn about the world. Books are key tools in promoting inclusion and challenging prejudice, but to be effective they need to include everybody. All children need to see themselves in books – and to see a full range of other diverse characters as well. 

People are not defined solely by their ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, sex or gender – or their abilities. Arguably, the group least well served by children’s literature are Disabled people. Depictions of disability are still relatively rare. Where they do occur, they are often part of bullying narratives or feature people ‘overcoming’ their impairments to achieve great things, neither of which necessarily aid inclusion. In the best titles, Disabled characters are shown to enjoy many of the same things and to have much in common with the rest of us. They are neither victims nor heroes – just ordinary people getting on with the business of living. 

Many Disabled people still have to navigate a world that sees their impairments first and everything else second and makes assumptions about their needs and abilities based on one aspect of their lives. Literature can act as a powerful counter to this by showing us a world in which disability is acknowledged but not necessarily remarked upon and where people are defined by their interests and aspirations rather than other people’s assumptions.

The books in this resource take a number of approaches. Some talk specifically about diversity in all its forms and can be used to ensure that disability is included in wider conversations about both our differences and the many things we have in common. Some feature Disabled protagonists (although their impairments are not what defines them) and many just include Disabled children as part of the action. All have value but, arguably, this last group are the most important. For some children, the first people they may associate with disability are Paralympians or someone like Stephen Hawking. Such high achievers are valuable in terms of how, for example, they challenge common stereotypes about disability – but their lives do not reflect those of most Disabled people. 

Reading stories that feature familiar situations and in which disability is just one aspect of many people’s lives is one of the best ways of promoting disability inclusion. We have also largely avoided narratives that feature bullying since these frequently show Disabled characters as excluded and focus almost entirely on that one aspect of their experience. Our suggested books also include a range of ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations and other differences since Disabled people are as diverse as everyone else and fictional depictions should reflect those intersectional identities.

Just as thinking about everything we have in common is at least as important as identifying our differences, thinking about how we can include Disabled people by making positive changes is likely to be more beneficial than focusing on negative aspects of their experience.  Many of the books exemplify the social model of disability which recognises that people are disabled by the attitudes and structures of society rather than by their impairments. It is because the world is ‘set up’ for people who are not disabled that many of the barriers faced by Disabled people exist. These barriers can be physical but may also be seen in the way some people perceive or behave towards people with impairments. Understanding this is the key to creating change – it is society that needs to be different, not Disabled people themselves. We can all be a part of this change – for example, by not assuming that Disabled people can't do certain things. The rounded, integrated portrayals in these books help to challenge narrow, stereotypical views of disability.

The selection isn’t exhaustive – there are many books we do not have space to include here. Think of this resource as a guide to the types of books that are likely to be most effective at promoting disability inclusion. We have sometimes suggested titles for particular ages but most will work for a wide age range – you and your pupils will be the best judge of the books they enjoy.

Remember as well that people with impairments should be included and visible across the whole curriculum. For instance, it is often noted that Relationships, Sex and Health Education can fail to include Disabled people. Think about everything from classroom displays to the examples you create for maths and science problems. Just as materials should include a range of ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations and genders (and challenge stereotypes about all these), so should they regularly include representations of disability. And, rather than focusing primarily on one-off displays or events that foreground disability, ask yourself whether ensuring the integration of such representation across the whole school isn’t, ultimately, more beneficial. Celebrations needn’t be one-off affairs – they can also be about increasing representation in everything we do.

Teaching will always be both demanding and hugely rewarding. Educators enlighten, inspire, challenge and inform. They also have the power to change lives. I hope that you and your pupils enjoy these books. They will help you to reflect the diversity within your classroom and broader society. Here's to a more inclusive world!

Mark Jennett

  • Amazing by Steve Antony  ISBN 978-1444944716 
  • A Bear Hug at Bedtime by Jana Novotny Hunter and Kay Widdowson  ISBN 978-1846439889 
  • Best Friends, Busy Friends by Susan Rollings and Nichola Cowdery  ISBN 978-1786284655 
  • Children of the World by Tessa Strickland, Kate DePalma and David Dean  ISBN 978-1782853329 
  • Dinosaur Rap by John Foster and Debbie Harter ISBN 978-1782853022 
  • Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George  ISBN 978-0330511186 
  • Happy in our Skin by Fran Manushkin and Lauren Tobia ISBN 978-1406378887 
  • Happy to Be Me by Emma Dodd ISBN 978-1408355701 
  • I Am Not a Label by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Baldo ISBN 978-0711247444 
  • Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh ISBN 978-1406373141 
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb by Marina Aizen ISBN 978-1846435126 
  • Me and My Sister by Rose Robbins ISBN 978-1912650002 
  • One. Two, Three… Jump! by Carol Thompson ISBN 978-1846436154 
  • One. Two, Three… Run! by Carol Thompson ISBN 978-1846436161 
  • Outside Opposites by Brenda Williams and Rachel Oldfield ISBN 978-1782850953 
  • Quiet! by Kate Alizadeh ISBN 978-1846438882 
  • Running on Empty by S. E. Durrant ISBN 978-0857637406 
  • A Storm of Strawberries by Jo Cotterill ISBN 978-1848126169 
  • The Twitches Meet a Puppy by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick ISBN 978-1474928144 
  • What the Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt ISBN 978-1447280842 
  • Zeki Can Swim by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson ISBN 978-1907825132 

The books are available from Letterbox Library

Letterbox Library, a not-for-profit social enterprise and workers' cooperative since 1983, is an online bookseller for schools and nurseries committed to celebrating equality, diversity and inclusion in the best children's books.  Their titles show people traditionally under-represented in children's literature including people of colour, Disabled people, LGBT+ people, diverse families, refugees and migrants.  All of their books have been pre-selected by a team of independent volunteer readers which includes teachers, carers and librarians.  Selection services and curated book packs for schools include 'Disability Book Packs' (made up of storybooks starring Disabled protagonists).  Letterbox Library also runs the Little Rebels Children's Book Award. 

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Focusing on diversity

Children’s books that highlight and celebrate our differences – as well as the many things we have in common.

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Multi-character stories

Disability is one experience amongst many others and it doesn’t need to be remarked upon or prevent us from joining in.

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Disabled protagonists

Characters in these books are not primarily defined by their impairments but by their interests and aspirations.

Child's drawing

Exploring the social model

Including Disabled people by making positive changes is more beneficial than simply focusing on negative aspects of their experience.

This resource was written by Mark Jennett.

Resources for primary and early years classrooms

Tips for creating an inclusive early years class and using books in primary to promote disability inclusion.

PHSE: We're all wonders

To recognise that your feelings can change towards people.

Running on empty

Two novels to promote Disability equality.

Other NEU resources

Breaking The Mould is a suite of resources which support schools to challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom and includes advice (It’s Child’s Play) on using children’s literature. Every Child, Every Family looks at a range of picture and chapter books that can be used to support LGBT+ inclusion.

Child's drawing

Breaking the Mould

The NEU worked with five primary schools over two years to consider how ‘traditional’ gender stereotypes could be challenged in nursery and primary classrooms.

Teaching resource
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