Keep Cripping The Library

Happy World Book Day!

As a child I spent hours secretly scouring libraries, looking for stories and characters I could relate to. I was secretive about it for two reasons – I didn’t have the words to describe what I was looking for, and by the time I was eight I’d already internalised the idea that being disabled or neurodiverse was shameful and not something to be celebrated.

A character called ‘Clumsy Cleo’ from a short story in the Little Storyteller magazine became incredibly important to me, I even started a ‘Clumsy Cleo Club’ at school! On the surface this story, which was only a few pages long, wasn’t about disability at all, but I recognised something of myself in Cleo, and I read her story as often as I could. I can’t imagine how excited I’d have been to know it was written by a disabled person.

As an adult I’m still drawn to books in which characters with different bodies and minds have exciting adventures together. It’s great that there’s a bit more choice now and that the characters are more nuanced than ‘Clumsy Cleo’. But I’m still not sure how easy it would be for children to find these stories.

A couple of years ago, to celebrate World Book Day, I gave three local primary schools a pack of books each. All the books were written by disabled authors. I also shared information about the books in a blog post, so that if other people or schools wanted to diversify their library, they could use my list as starting point.

A photograph of a stack of colourful children's books resting on a deep blue bedspread. The books are grouped into sets each including a letter to the school or nursery they are for. A sticker that reads with love and solidarity secures each pack of books.

There are now even more great children’s books written by disabled people, so to celebrate this World Book Day, we’re giving four local schools and nurseries a new pack of stories. Here are the books we’ve included:

1) You’re So Amazing (ages 3-6) by James Catchpole and Lucy Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George. This is the second book about Joe who has one leg. It gently tackles the issue of disabled children being told they are amazing for doing ordinary things.

2) Can Bears Ski (ages 3-6) by Raymond Antrobus, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.
This tells the story of a deaf bear and his dad – it’s full of authentic-feeling details and love for deaf children.

3) Come Over to My House (ages 4-8) by Eliza Hull and Sally Rippin, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. This book is so great! It shows lots of different families with disabled members. Through its pages you spend time visiting the families in their homes, and the children that inspired the story are profiled at the end as well.

4) No Horn Unicorn (ages 4-8) by Shani Dhanda, illustrated Letizia Rizzo is about Ugo, a unicorn with no horn, and the challenges and opportunities that come with being different. It’s inspired by the Social Model of Disability and there’s a great video about it by the young people at Whizz Kids.

5) Ruby Hastings Writes Her Own Story (ages 7-11) by Rachel Charlton-Dailey, illustrated by Betsy Falco. This is the book that my young Dyspraxic self really needed (probably instead of ‘Clumsy Cleo’). It’s a book about school, neurodiversity and the power of writing and sharing stories.

6) A Kind of Spark (ages 9-14) by Elle McNicoll, is an award-winning book and CBBC TV show. It’s about Addie who campaigns for a memorial in her town to people accused of being witches. She makes her voice heard and challenges her community to think differently.

For the nursey I included the books below instead of the two aimed at older children.

7) Biscuit Baking and Welly Walks (ages 2-4) by Hannah Ensor. These are great books for younger children that show everyday adventures from the perspective of young wheelchair users.

Stories are powerful: through them you can learn new things about the world and about yourself. Good stories stay with you, settling in your brain, your heart and your soul, making new connections, and taking you to exciting places. Not finding yourself in books can feel lonely and dispiriting, as is encountering characters who are flat, don’t ring true, or who are props in the adventures of others. The thing I liked most about these books was the gorgeous, rich details of disabled life which made me feel proud, optimistic and valued. I really hope the children and schools receiving our World Book Day packs enjoy them and feel some of these things too.

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