A couple of years ago, I began wondering about the availability of similar literary experiences for kids with disabilities, especially students like those I have worked with the most (i.e., students with a wide variety of often complex disabilities and differences who read and write at emergent or beginning levels). A quick pass through my shelves found a wonderful variety of great books with characters who have disabilities and interesting, rich lives and experiences: The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night, Freak the Mighty. Flowers for Algernon, So. B. It, Mockingbird, Skallagrigg, Whale Talk, and more. Great books, interesting characters, rich themes, none of them accessible to kids learning how to read. It seems like you shouldn't have to learn to read at fairly sophisticated levels (upper elementary or beyond) to find yourself in a book.
So, I enlisted a couple of colleagues: Barb Wollak (a retired SLP) and Ashley Pennell (a former early elementary classroom teacher working on her doctorate at Appalachian State). We put together some characteristics we sought in what we view as inclusive literature. These included: disability as a part of a range of human characteristics possessed by the character(s), the message of the book not being some form of "see how this person with disabilities despite his or her differences is just like you" or "see how this person with disabilities conquered his/her disability to achieve greatness," a rich and complex storyline. A key question for us was whether we'd be embarrassed as educators for any of our students or ourselves if we chose to read the text aloud in an inclusive setting.
We'll be submitting a paper this summer for publication describing the need for such literature, classroom uses, and some of the books we found. In the meantime, you can find a copy of the list of books we have identified so far at Barb's website, linked at the bottom of the page. Thanks for the gentle reminder, Jerriann.