Focusing on diversity

CHILDREN OF THE WORLD by Tessa Strickland, Kate DePalma and David Dean
HAPPY IN OUR SKIN by Fran Manushkin and Lauren Tobia
HAPPY TO BE ME by Emma Dodd

Disability is not well represented in children’s books.  When it is, it is often singled out for particular attention which can leave the impression that it is unusual and that people are defined more by their impairments than other aspects of their lives.  Placing disability within a broad context of difference – where all humans are seen as combinations of different characteristics, experiences and preferences – can help to challenge this.

There are many children’s books that highlight and celebrate our differences – as well as the many things we have in common – and some are better than others.  Here are three that include disability holistically and unselfconsciously.  Using them will help to dispel notions that disability is unusual or rare and thereby help to promote inclusion.  You can simply enjoy the many things going on in the pictures or discuss some of the differences they show. 

You may wish to use these books alongside the ones on diverse families included in the NEU resource Every Child, Every Family.

Children Of The World

Children Of The World is a book that everyone can find themselves in – as well as discovering identities they may not have been aware of.  Endorsed by UNICEF, it includes sections on home, work, play, travel, food – and some you might not expect like how we keep clean.  One of the spreads illustrates how different our bodies are and includes children with Down’s, a shortened limb, an eye patch and pigmentation changes alongside one using a wheelchair and another wearing spectacles.
On other pages, there are splints, mobility aids and a diabetes monitor.  Signing is included on the page about languages. 

Ask

  • Does anyone know how we can communicate without using our mouths? Learn some basic signing with the children (many classes may already use Makaton signage).  Explore other ways of communicating.

Some of the images are ambiguous – one might refer to alopecia or to treatment for cancer or another condition.  Do we always need to know why someone looks a certain way – or can we just accept that they do?

Of course, no book can show everything and you could talk about the hidden differences, including disabilities, that some of us have.  One page challenges us to think about how different people in the pictures might be feeling and could be an opportunity to mention things like depression or other mental health impairments.

This is a big, encyclopaedic book that will work across a large age range.  Younger children will enjoy the colourful spreads with relatively brief text and older ones (and adults) can explore the notes at the back that expand on each section - and remind us, amongst other things, that all bodies both change and work differently from each other.  

Happy In Our Skin

Happy In Our Skin joyfully celebrates how clever and useful our skin is – as well as ‘keeping the outsides out and your insides in’, it grows, heals and responds to the environment.  And skin comes in all sorts of different shades and colours as well.  This book is perfect for KS1 with lovely pictures, rhyming text and lots of cuddles, affection and fun.
The disability representation is subtle and very much part of a wider discussion of diversity.  It is good to see vitiligo, birthmarks and freckles shown as just another way in which all our skins are different.  

Happy To Be Me

Happy To Be Me, also for younger readers, celebrates the things our bodies can do, reminds us that all of them are different and includes and acknowledges disability through the illustrations.  In particular, it explicitly challenges the idea that people with impairments can’t or don’t do certain things – a child wearing a hearing aid is involved in a whispering game and another wearing thick-lensed spectacles is reading out instructions while friends construct a robot. 

All these titles offer opportunities for children to see themselves and others who are different from them while also noticing all the things we have in common.