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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.

Multi-character stories that include Disabled people

While the books in the previous section focus specifically on difference – including differences in ability – the four discussed below are primarily about other things. Used together, both types of books help to affirm that the varied ways in which we all experience the world are equally valid. 

In the next section, we look at stories with Disabled protagonists leading the action – but books where they feature but do not stand out are equally important. They tell us that having a disability is one experience amongst many others and that it doesn’t need to be remarked upon or prevent us from joining in. Nobody wants to stand out all the time and it is just as important to feel comfortable in a diverse group as it is to find your tribe.

  • Dinosaur Rap by John Foster and Debbie Harter
  • Outdoor Opposites by Brenda Williams and Rachel Oldfield
  • A Bear Hug at Bedtime by Jana Novotny Hunter and Kay Widdowson
  • Best Friends, Busy Friends by Susan Rollings and Nichola Cowdery

Many schools use national or international celebrations such as History Months to talk about disability and other differences and this can be a powerful way of encouraging children to focus positively on minority identities and educating them about the importance of activism and community. However, not every conversation about disability should revolve around struggle or achievement and Disabled people shouldn’t only be talked about because of their disability. Disabled people are part of families, present in all schools and workplaces and take part in everything that everyone else enjoys or dislikes doing – including doing their homework or helping with the washing up! But how often do we see them doing those things in stories?  A range of identities – be they related to disability, ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual orientation or anything else – need to be a part of all the stories we read.

The books discussed here include Disabled children participating in a range of activities. They affirm that having an impairment – or not – is just one of the many and changing aspects of all our lives and that most of us can do most things most of the time – even if sometimes we need a little help. There is no need to ‘notice’ the disabilities of the characters in these stories. If children point them out, just acknowledge them and move on. 

Dinosaur Rap and its accompanying videos enable us all to learn and join in with the rhyming text. The illustrations suggest lots of ideas for dressing up and choreography. There is a dinosaur glossary (Dinossary?) at the back and information about the Ages of the Dinosaurs from the Triassic to the Quaternary (aka Now). The diverse cast of dancer/rappers includes a child with a hearing aid and another who uses a walking frame.

Outside Opposites also features assorted videos – sung rather than rapped – and a simpler text suitable for younger children. As the title implies, the characters – who are enjoying a camping trip – explore concepts like high/low, fast/slow, whispering/shouting and standing up and sitting down, all culminating in a fireside barbecue. One of the children has a shortened limb.

A Bear Hug at Bedtime is a lovely story featuring a day of imaginative play in which a child who wears a hearing aid travels through jungles, deserts and oceans with their extended, mixed-race family members envisioned as everything from a tiger to a lobster.

Best Friends, Busy Friends follows a twin brother and sister through their day from waking up in their twin beds to their birthday party in the evening. The cheerful illustrations feature an explicitly multicultural cast, challenge stereotypes of gender and include one child using a white cane and another seen both in a wheelchair and using a support cushion.

All the books in this section are published by Child’s Play (as are Quiet! and the One, Two, Three … books) or Barefoot Books (who also publish Children Of The World). Both companies are particularly skilled at including diverse characters in their stories without drawing particular attention to them. Seek out other titles that feature a range of differences in their illustrations and include them in your literacy work and library so that diverse representations – both in relation to disability and other aspects of children’s lives and experiences – become the norm.

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The Full Story

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

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