Chapter books and non-fiction
THE TWITCHES MEET A PUPPY by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick
A STORM OF STRAWBERRIES by Jo Cotterill
RUNNING ON EMPTY by S. E. Durrant
I AM NOT A LABEL by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Baldo
As with previous resources in this series, we have concentrated primarily on picture books for a variety of ages. However, it is important that children can also find chapter books and non-fiction that feature Disabled characters. Here are four books suitable for KS2 readers of varying confidence
Some popular children’s titles can be problematic (see the Introduction for more on this). We have avoided books focusing on bullying or about Disabled people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Of course, bullying narratives are important but they are unlikely to aid inclusion when they focus on already marginalised groups. And books about extraordinary achievements generally have little to do with the everyday lives of most children and young people.
We have focused here on positive stories in which the protagonists have real agency. There are challenges and, as in life, not all of them are overcome but all the characters in these stories are defined by their interests rather than their disabilities or other people’s attitudes towards them.
The Twitches Meet A Puppy
The Twitches Meet A Puppy is the third in a series of books about Stevie who owns a doll’s house occupied by four toy bunnies. Unbeknownst to their owner, they come to life whenever her back is turned. So begins two parallel narratives about the disruption caused to the household when Stevie’s dad moves in to look after her while mum is away working. Along with dad comes his husband, Stuart, and Stuart’s new puppy who brings mayhem in his wake.
The real joy of this story lies in the fact that the inclusive elements – dad’s husband; Stevie’s mixed-heritage friend, Eshe; Stuart’s prosthetic leg – are very clearly shown but never remarked upon. We only know that Stuart has a disability because it is apparent in the illustrations. No one in the story, it seems, deems any of these relationships or identities worthy of comment. Implicit inclusion at its best.
The book is probably best suited to Year 3 and 4 readers and is one of a relatively new but very popular genre of highly illustrated chapter books.
A Storm of Strawberries
A Storm of Strawberries is told in the first person by twelve-year-old Darby who has Down’s syndrome. She is looking forward to the family’s annual chocolate hunt although the event is overshadowed by worry over the damage done to her parents’ strawberry farm by a series of storms – and the arrival of her sister Kaydee’s friend, Lissa. As the story unfolds, we realise that Kaydee and Lissa are in love and Darby fears that Kaydee will have less time for her.
Here is a coming of age story about the challenges of dealing with changing relationships – and not always having things exactly as we would like. Darby is an exceptionally likable and perceptive narrator – and, while the story touches on bullying, she is in no sense a victim. She understands that love is important and that people who love each other should be together. She knows how valuable it is to show people love – and that doing so can make things better. And she learns that there is plenty of love to go around – when someone loves somebody else they don't stop loving you.
Perfect for Year’s 5, 6 and beyond.
Running On Empty
Running On Empty is about eleven-year-old AJ who loves to run and is a carer for his parents who have learning difficulties – although, as AJ puts it, “I don’t look after them, we look after each other”. Life is OK until AJ’s beloved grandfather dies and he finds himself dealing not only with grief (“a huge space where he used to be”) but a bewildering world of bill paying and the practicalities of living on a limited income.
The book deals realistically with the challenges and rewards of caring for others and, illustrates all too clearly how problems can be magnified by a society that sometimes doesn’t appreciate, or fails to acknowledge, the needs of Disabled people. At the same time, the story of AJ’s ambition to compete in the cross country trials offers a realistic story of dedication, dealing with setbacks and living hopefully.
Despite its acknowledgement of life’s sometimes harsh realities, this is an uplifting tale that challenges assumptions about disability. It is full of small kindnesses and highlights the importance of community and doing things you love. Without sugar-coating reality, the book shows how there can be positives to living with an impairment or caring for someone with a disability. Like all the books in this resource, it takes something which is not part of everyone’s experience and makes it highly relatable, promoting empathy without a whiff of pity.
Any confident Year 5 or 6 reader will be able to relate to AJ – and the combination of warmth, humour and suspense make his story perfect for reading aloud.
I Am Not A Label
I Am Not A Label offers brief, beautifully illustrated accounts of the lives of a number of Disabled artists, scientists, athletes, activists and others. One of its strengths is that it shows how commitment and hard work are as much a part of success as talent and that achievement is not primarily measured by fame or financial rewards. Focus on the achievements of these people rather than their disability – and challenge any sense in which their success has been attained ‘in spite of’ their impairments. Books like this one are celebrations of often excluded minorities and, used judiciously, are valuable tools for promoting inclusion. Remember that the lives they celebrate are unusual and use this book alongside others in this resource whose stories and characters have more in common with the lives most of us will lead.
The book includes less familiar and ‘hidden’ disabilities and mental as well as physical impairments. It features people, like fashion designer Isabella Springmuhl Tejada, who confound stereotypes about the kinds of careers open to Disabled people and explains how artists like Matisse adapted their working practices in ways that changed how we appreciate art. The achievements of astronomer Wanda Diaz-Merced show how extraordinary scientific advances have come from the passionate desire for knowledge. Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s gentle activism is inspiring and it is good to see model Aaron Philip included when so many Trans and non-binary Disabled people struggle to have their identities acknowledged. Perhaps best of all is comedian Stella Young who rejects the idea that she is in any way ‘inspirational’ or a hero – “Stella knew the truth: disability was normal. It could be wonderful, it could be tedious, it could be hilarious. Just like anyone else’s life.”