The Center for Children's Books


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
A Spectrum of Ability: Exploring Disabilities through Literature Both Realistic and Fantastical - April 2014

Selected and annotated by Alice Mitchell

These books focus on characters living with a variety of disabilities that occurred at different times in their lives, ranging from newly adapting to body changes to having already incorporated their ability status as an identity.


Auxier, Jonathan. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes; written and illus. by Jonathan Auxier. Amulet/Abrams, 2011. 381p. Gr. 4-6.
Thieving is what ten-year-old Peter does best, but his life changes when he steals a box containing three pairs of magical eyes. Having been blind since birth, Peter is excited to try using the eyes but is not ready for the fantasy world that they reveal.

Averett, Edward. Cameron and the Girls. Clarion, 2013. 240p. Gr. 6-9.
The voices in Cameron’s head only speak to him when he doesn’t take his meds for his schizophreniform disorder. He doesn’t mind the voices, however, so he regularly skips his meds. As he grows attracted to a classmate, Nina, Cameron realizes that one of his voices, The Other Guy, seems more aggressive and dangerous than the others.

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Anything but Typical. Simon, 2009. 195p.Gr. 6-9.
Diagnosed with PPD-NOS, a disorder similar to autism, Jason has trouble relating to his peers and keeping his temper. Online, however, he corresponds regularly with Rebecca, a fellow writer on a website called Storyboard. When given the chance to meet Rebecca at a countrywide Storyboard meet-up, Jason worries that Rebecca will reject him and he’ll lose their friendship.

Berk, Josh. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin. Knopf, 2010. 248p. Gr. 6-9.
Will makes the decision to leave his school for the deaf and enter public school. He humorously observes his classmates and becomes friends with geeky Devon. Will also discovers that a deaf ancestor of his died in a mining accident and supposedly haunts the local mine. When a classmate dies in the mines, Devon and Will seek the answer.

Bingham, Kelly. Formerly Shark Girl. Candlewick, 2013. 341p. Gr. 7-10.
In Shark Girl, Jane lost her arm in a shark attack, and since then she has steadily been doing physical therapy in order to recover. Grateful to the helpful hospital staff and touched by the streams of letters of support, she feels called to help others, but she’s torn between that urge and her hope of beingan artist. In the meantime she also has to worry about her choice of college and choice in boys.

Brenna, Beverley. Waiting for No One. Red Deer, 2011. 175p. Gr. 7-10.
After the events of Wild Orchid, Taylor moves on to a biology class at college and starts looking for employment. Her Asperger’s syndrome helps her excel academically but makes it difficult to find a job, as she tries to restrain herself from swearing and cleaning. In the meantime she also has to deal with her father’s new girlfriend and meets two new friends, classmate Luke and his younger brother, Matt, who has cerebral palsy.

Bryant, Jen. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin; illus. by Melissa Sweet. Knopf, 2013. 34p. Gr. 3-6.
African-American artist Horace Pippin thought his creative outlet was lost to him when he sustained an arm injury during World War I. This Sibert Honor-winning book explores how when Pippin ventured into art again, a local art group discovered him, pushing him into the spotlight as one of the most notable vernacular painters of the twentieth century.

Chambers, Aidan. Dying to Know You. Amulet/Abrams, 2012. 275p. Gr. 9-12.
When Karl, who has dyslexia, falls in love with a girl who insists he write to her, he turns to her favorite novelist for help. The novelist sees Karl’s request might be the perfect way to get out of his writer’s block. The novelist also offers Karl sympathy in their shared inability to find the right words.

Christensen, Bonnie. Django; written and illus. by Bonnie Christensen. Porter/Roaring Brook, 2009. 32p. 6-9 yrs.
Jean “Django” Reinhardt initially struggled to support himself as a musician but became famous playing guitar. This biography starts with information on Django’s childhood among the Roma and further tells about the challenges he faced after being abandoned by his father and losing full use of his hand after a fire.

Colasanti, Susane. Waiting for You. Viking, 2009. 322p. Gr. 6-9.
Marisa is determined to make sophomore year better than freshman year, during which she suffered heavily from depression and an anxiety disorder. As she attempts to stave off her depression, she and her friend Sterling also busy themselves with finding boyfriends. In the meantime, Marisa makes friends with geeky neighbor, Nash, and her parents’ marriage is falling apart.

Coley, Liz. Pretty Girl-13. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2013. 344p. Gr. 9-12.
During a campout, a man abducts thirteen year-old Angie, who appears in front of her home three years later with no recollection of what happened to her. At first, she is thought to have amnesia, until it becomes clear that Angie has dissociative identity disorder, revealing at least four other personalities. Angie has to decide whether to undergo experimental surgery that would remove her other personalities or to continue therapy to try to integrate them.

Cushman, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Clarion, 2010. 159p. Gr. 5-8.
Disappointment greets Meggy when she moves to sixteenth-century London under orders from a father she’s never met. Though she expects a beautiful city and a loving family, the city is dirty, and her father, expecting a strong son for an apprentice to his alchemy practice, is disappointed and disgusted by strong-willed Meggy, who is forced to walk with canes due to her “crooked legs.”

de Graaf, Anne. Son of a Gun. Eerdmans, 2012. 121p. Gr. 5-8.
Young Liberian siblings Nopi and Lucky are abducted to fight in their country’s civil war, which results in Nopi being kicked in the head and rendered deaf. The two eventually are separated on opposite sides of the war: Lucky as a child soldier and Nopi as the “wife” of a rebel soldier.

Ellison, Kate. The Butterfly Clues. Egmont, 2012. 325p. Gr. 9-12.
After the mysterious death of her brother, Lo, short for Penelope, feels the need to count out patterns and collect meaningful objects. When she witnesses a girl die, Lo’s obsessive compulsive disorder compels her to find out who is responsible for the tragedy. Her sleuthing leads her to Neverland, the dark side of Cleveland, guided by friendly artist Flynt.

Engle, Margarita. The Wild Book. Harcourt, 2012. 121p. Gr. 4-7
Dyslexic Fefa has to deal with pressure on all sides in this free-verse novel. Her doctors treat her disorder as untreatable, her mother tries to teacher her how to write, and her siblings tease her mercilessly. While Fefa worries about her future being unable to read, her disability becomes an advantage when her family is in danger.

Flake, Sharon. Pinned. Scholastic, 2012. 228p. Gr. 7-10.
Adonis does not have legs but his intelligence is astounding, while Autumn’s learning disability has no effect on her wrestling performance. Autumn keeps asking condescending Adonis on dates, facing rejection every time. Though Autumn is kicked off the wrestling team for her bad grades, Adonis gradually falls for her in this novel that thoughtfully explores unlikely relationships.

Haskell, Merrie. Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Harper/HarperCollins, 2013. 324p. Gr. 5-7.
As the princess of Alder Brook, Mathilda must interact with her future subjects, but she would much rather study than have these strangers stare at her misshapen foot. Tilda and her two friends—Lord Parzifal (affectionately known as Parz) and her handmaiden Judith—decide to become dragon slayers, abandoning the expectations society has for them.

Haydu, Corey Ann. OCD Love Story. Simon Pulse, 2013. 341p. Gr. 8-12.
Bea is excited when she meets Beck, helping him through a panic attack at a school dance. She is mortified to see him again at a group therapy session her therapist urged her to attend. While she obsessively documents the relationship of a couple who also sees her therapist, Bea tries to not let her compulsions run her life—an issue that Beck struggles with as well.

James, Brian. Life Is But a Dream. Feiwel, 2012. 234p. Gr. 9-12.
Sabrina worries that the medication for her schizophrenia will not only get rid of the scary aspects of her disorder, but will also erase important parts of her identity. Institutionalized, she becomes friends with Alec, a fellow patient who advocates against the use of medication, believing that it’s mind control. Sabrina decides to stop taking her pills and escape the institution with Alec, with serious consequences.

John, Antony. Five Flavors of Dumb. Dial, 2010. [352p.] Gr. 7-10.
Piper had her heart set on attending Gallaudet, a college historically for deaf students, but her parents instead spend her college fund on cochlear implants for her younger sister. The resulting anger causes her to taunt a singer in a local band, who then challenges her to get the band a paying gig within the next month. While fulfilling this dare, Piper finds ways to teach her parents about their harmful attitudes towards her deafness.

Johnson, Harriet MacBryde. Accidents of Nature. 2006. 228p. Gr. 7-10.
The late disability activist draws on her own childhood in this historical tale of seventeen-year-old Jean, who finds a summer at disability camp opening her eyes to possibilities beyond merely being as much like the able-bodied as possible.

Kelly, Tara. Harmonic Feedback. Holt, 2010. 278p. Gr. 7-10.
Drea has had to start over in new schools frequently, but still finds it difficult to trust offers of friendship in her new home. She is able to “pass” quite convincingly, hiding her autism spectrum disorder, but she believes that as soon as people discover her disability, their friendship will turn into distance. As she slowly gets to know next-door neighbor Naomi and complicated classmate Justin, however, she begins to learn the nature of true friendship.

Lambert, Joseph. Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller; written and illus. by Joseph Lambert. Disney Hyperion, 2012. 92p. Gr. 4-8.
This graphic novel history lesson follows the friendship between Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Annie’s own visual impairment and teaching helps her help Helen become more social. This closes with a lesser-known experience: when Helen was accused of plagiarism for her story “The Frost King.”

Martin, Emily Winfield. Oddfellow's Orphanage; written and illus. by Emily Winfield Martin. Random House, 2012. 126p. Gr. 2-4.
When Delia moves to the orphanage run by Oddfellow Bluebeard, the teachers and other orphans there, as well as the unique classes, pleasantly surprise her. Delia, who is mute and communicates only through handwriting, and her friends enjoy life in the orphanage with a family of dancing bears, going on adventures to the circus and on an adventure to find a missing baby bear.

Metzger, Lois. A Trick of the Light. Balzer + Bray, 2013. 189p. Gr. 7-10.
When an inner voice instructs Michael to focus on self-discipline, he starts working to purify himself—a goal that leads to his dangerous anorexia. He grows distant from his friend Tamio and instead becomes close with Amber, who shares his passion and encourages his disorder.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Rogue. Paulsen/Penguin, 2013. 228p. Gr. 6-9.
Kiara does very well in school, but has trouble keeping her temper and her friends. After diagnosing herself with Asperger’s syndrome, Kiara gets expelled for getting into a fight. When she tries to make friends with her next-door neighbor Chad, she realizes he’s using her as a drug mule for his parents, but, desperate for a friend, uses her video-production talents to get closer to him and his small community of BMX bikers.

Napoli, Donna Jo. Skin. Skyscape/Amazon, 2013. 341p. Gr. 9-12.
Sep is shocked to wake up on the first day of eleventh grade with white lips and is consequently diagnosed with vitiligo. Worried that the disease will ruin her potential dating life, Sep rushes haphazardly into a relationship with Joshua. As people around her offer her support, Sep learns to accept her body the way it is.

Patterson, James. I Funny: A Middle School Story; written by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illus. by Laura Park. Little, 2012. [320p]. Gr. 4–7.
Jamie Grimm won’t let his wheelchair stop him from his dream of becoming a comedian—his fear of public speaking might accomplish that. With the encouragement of friends and family, he participates in a stand-up contest and wins, getting even more publicity when a video of his performance goes viral. In spite of his success, though, he still has to deal with bullying from his foster brother, talking to girls, and coming to terms with the accident that left him using a wheelchair.

Peet, Mal. Mysterious Traveler; by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham; illus. by P. J. Lynch. Candlewick, 2013. 48p. Gr. 3-5.
Old man Issa discovers a baby girl in the desert after a massive dust storm. Issa, the most skilled guide in the African desert, names the baby Mariama and teachers her so that she can help him as he grows blind with old age. When Issa and Mariama help a group of young men escape from a storm, they make a surprising discovery that will change their lives forever.

Reeve, Philip. No Such Thing as Dragons; written and illus. by Philip Reeve. Scholastic, 2010. 186p. Gr. 4-6.
Ansel’s village gets extremely excited when Johannes Brock, the famous dragon slayer, passes through looking for a servant. Ansel’s puzzlement at why Brock would want a mute servant like him dissipates when he learns that Brock is a conman and that there are no such things as dragons. Their cons go successfully until they’re summoned to a remote town and come face-to-face with a vicious dragon-like creature.

Roy, Jennifer. Mindblind. Cavendish, 2010. 249p. Gr. 6-9.
Nathaniel prefers to stay in his comfort zone due to his Asperger’s syndrome, but ventures outside it occasionally to appease his mother; his neurotypical friends and band mates constantly offer him support. Unfortunately, his father denies that Nathaniel has the disorder and forces him to attend a party, where his anxiety and medication do not mix well with spiked punch, leading to serious consequences.

Saunders, Kate. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop . Delacorte, 2013 293p. Gr. 4–6.
Twins Lily and Oz move with their parents into the home and chocolate shop of their great-uncles in London, where they learn chocolate recipes from the talking family pets. A dark family past comes back to haunt them when great-great-uncle Isadore returns with the terrorist Schmertz Gang looking for the recipe for the immortality chocolate. Lily has dyslexia and struggles with feelings of inadequacy throughout the novel.

Scott, Elizabeth. Miracle. Simon Pulse, 2012. 217p. Gr. 7-10.
Megan wakes up to find herself in an inferno in the woods, the lone survivor of a plane crash. In the weeks after she returns home, everyone treats her delicately, but she falls deeper into depression and PTSD. Margaret, an old woman from her church, is the only person who seems to know what Megan is going through, as Margaret’s partner, Rose, suffered from PTSD after the Vietnam War.

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck; written and illus. by Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 2011. [640p]. Gr. 5–8.
Rose searches for her mother in 1927, while Ben searches for a family and a home in 1977. These two deaf children deal with loneliness and finding themselves, until their stories, fifty years apart, become intertwined. This is a novel that pairs illustrations with text, popularized by Selznick in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Stork, Francisco X. Marcelo in the Real World. Levine/Scholastic, 2009. [320p]. Gr. 9-12.
Marcelo’s father wants him to work at his law office, but Marcelo, who has a cognitive disorder similar to Asperger’s syndrome, would much rather work with ponies at his specialized school. While working at the law office, Marcelo becomes close with Jasmine and is bullied by Wendell, the partner’s son. When the case of a girl disfigured in an accident comes to the office, Marcelo realizes that the world of law is not always black and white.

Sullivan, Tara. Golden Boy. Putnam, 2013. 340p. Gr. 7-10.
A Tanzanian superstition says that the body parts of albinos can bring good luck, endangering people like albino Habo. He always had trouble seeing and working in the sunlight but did not know the extent of the danger he finds himself in until his family moves to Mwanza—a place where the police do not protect albinos from death and maiming.

Tashjian, Janet. My Life As a Stuntboy; illus. by Jake Tashjian. Ottaviano/Holt, 2011. 256p. Gr. 4-6.
After an exciting summer, Derek is not excited to return to school, where he has been dubbed a “reluctant reader.” He wants to take the opportunity to be a skateboarding stuntboy in a movie, but can only do so with the condition from his parents that he keep up in school. He struggles to balance working as a stuntboy and his social life with homework and his learning disability.

Tooke, Wes. King of the Mound: My Summer with Satchel Paige. Simon, 2012. 155p. Gr. 4-7.
After Nick contracts polio, his father, a catcher for the Bismarck Churchills semi-pro baseball team, can only pity the boy. The team owner finds room for Nick helping out with odd jobs, which Nick completes while forcing himself not to wear his leg brace. When the owner puts together a barnstorming team for the 1935 season, Nick receives advice and training from the pitcher, Satchel Paige.

Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Running Dream. Knopf, 2011. 332p. Gr. 6-10.
Running is everything to Jessica, which makes the loss of her leg in a school bus crash particularly difficult. She finds her physical therapy straining and worries about returning to school, but she receives welcomes from her old track team friends and her new friend, Rosa, who has cerebral palsy. Jessica learns that her track team began fundraising efforts in order to purchase Jessica a new prosthesis—one that would let her run again.

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