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Review of 8 Kid’s Books with a Character in a Wheelchair Part I

Since this is a press dedicated to focusing on disability inclusion, it is important to look at books already out in the market. For this review, Luda examines eight picture books with a character in a wheelchair. Some of this feedback is based on her personal experience as someone in a wheelchair, and some is focused on the story, character, and thematic analysis of these books.

Each purchase made with our affiliate Bookshop link (in the title of each book mentioned) goes to support authors, illustrators, and staff with disabilities! Books that aren’t on Bookshop have been linked to Goodreads.

4/5 stars
4/5

A Very Special Critter book coverAside from the title really bothering me (and not having anything to do with the story), I liked it. The first drawback was in the beginning when the father said to the main character “Just because he’s in wheelchair doesn’t mean he’s any different than the rest of you. He probably just needs some special help once in awhile.” It would have been better if the main character, who said he’d never met anyone in a wheelchair before, came to the conclusion that the new critter wasn’t any different than him on his own. Other than that, I liked seeing the perspective of another student interacting with a character in a wheelchair. And even though the character in the wheelchair was the main focus of the story, he was not the main character. I think this shift in storytelling from a non-disabled kid worked, and it built the world of a kid who, for the first time, was experiencing what it was like to interact with someone in a wheelchair. 

2/5 stars
2/5

Arnie and the New Kid book coverThe overall feel to this story was boring and sad. The focus was more about the ability status of the secondary character and not about the friendship between the two characters. It also read like a lesson rather than a story for kids. What bothered me the most was the book promoted the idea that someone could only be friends/understand someone in a wheelchair if that person experienced the same issues as the person in the wheelchair, and could only include the friend in a wheelchair after the non-disabled person knew what it was like being in a wheelchair. I prefer A Very Special Critter by Mayer over this one any day. This was a display of a “so 90s” attitude regarding wheelchair inclusion.

5/5 stars
5/5

Mama Zooms book coverThis was a very fun, sweet, and exciting read. It was filled with fun stories that made me smile and inspired me to play like a kid. The ending/overall message was super adorable! If I had a child, this would definitely be a book I would read aloud, and then we’d create our own Mama zooms story. This was a cute family bonding time book filled with great use of imagination and creativity.

5/5 stars
5/5

Dad has a Wheelchair book coverThis book is told from a kid’s perspective with an educational theme to it that was all about ALS (a muscle weakening disease). My favorite part was how it was told in a sweet way from the daughter’s eyes by sharing all the things she did with her dad. The rhymes in the story were also very cute. From some research, I realized this was a family creation and put together by the actual real father who had ALS (he has passed away), and the daughter. I do like the disability aspect and not pushing it away but rather having the kid talk about it in her own way and how she loved the dad bond more than anything. This was a sweet book filled with goodness.

3/5 stars
3/5

Zoom! book coverThe main characters in this story were a bit too passive for me. The mom seemed to do all of the action and lead the story forward. It would have been more fun if the main character had this role instead (think Goldilocks). For example, on page 10: “Then Lauretta’s mother said, ‘Well, how about this? Look at this! A nice new 15-speed wheelchair. It’s fantastic. It’s purple, green, yellow. It costs lots and lots of money.’” Even though the text was weak, the illustrations made the book hilarious. I liked the concept because it is pretty relatable. The brother bothered me and was just thrown in there for something to happen and was not well blended into the story. The ending was not very satisfying or fully developed; the main character should have led the story.

4/5 stars
4/5

A Rainbow of Friends book cover.I really enjoyed this book. It had a fun rhyme book feel to it with a sweet story element. It also had great inclusion aspects and diversity among friends that didn’t feel forced. My favorite part was the theme of friendship and illustrations that showed a great lesson of being a friend to anyone.

2/5 stars
2/5

Don't Call Me Special book cover.The idea behind this is great, but the execution was too adult-driven. This read was definitely not a story; more like an educated blog post in a book form. For example: “Years ago, children with disabilities went to special schools with special teachers. Because of this, people started calling them special.” I really don’t see a kid wanting to pick this book up and interact with it. It was great that the book talked about being different and unique in one’s own way and explained how to think/understand things, but it was extremely preachy. For example one of the story’s lines is: “When you assume, you are just making a guess. Assuming things about people can hurt their feelings and make them feel very left out.” From start to finish, each new page felt like an adult jumping around, talking about different things without a linear theme that connected all the pages together. A Rainbow of Friends by Hallinan has the same idea and was more exciting and fun to read.

3/5 stars
3/5

Look Up! book cover.This was an interesting concept, but it felt flat to me. All in all, this could have been a really powerful book with a stronger ending if more work was put into developing the story and purpose of this book. However, I was glad this book was out there and played with different storytelling perspectives that included disability. Also, the journey of showing and not showing the main character and even her wheelchair was problematic to me and didn’t make this story memorable at all. However, I liked the high and low illustrations to show the main character’s interactions with the world.

If you want to check out the review videos, there are videos on Youtube. If you want more book reviews, you can find them in Review of 8 Kid’s Books with a Character in a Wheelchair Part II. Do you have picture books featuring a character in a wheelchair that you like or don’t? Let us know in the comments below or on social media. #includas #IncludasReviews

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