Recommended Reading

This list of Read in Color recommended reads explores experiences of persons with disabilities. These titles are recommended by Little Free Library’s Diverse Books Advisory Group and others. The list of books includes options for early readers, middle and YA readers, and adults and advanced readers.

View all of the Read in Color Recommended Reading lists. These lists are far from exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for exploring different perspectives. We recognize that categorizing books can be limiting and are working to show the intersectionality within our reading lists.

Disability + Neurodiversity (Early Readers)

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A Friend for Henry

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song (36 pp, Chronicle Books, 2019). In Classroom Six, second left down the hall, Henry has been on the lookout for a friend. A friend who shares. A friend who listens. Maybe even a friend who likes things to stay the same and all in order, as Henry does. But on a day full of too close and too loud, when nothing seems to go right, will Henry ever find a friend—or will a friend find him? With insight and warmth, this heartfelt story from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum celebrates the everyday magic of friendship. Ages 5-8.

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi Ali (32 pp, Sourcebooks, 2020). Jennifer Keelan was determined to make a change―even if she was just a kid. She never thought her wheelchair could slow her down, but the way the world around her was built made it hard to do even simple things. Like going to school, or eating lunch in the cafeteria. Jennifer knew that everyone deserves a voice! Then the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that would make public spaces much more accessible to people with disabilities, was proposed to Congress. And to make sure it passed, Jennifer went to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC to convince them. And, without her wheelchair, she climbed. ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP! Ages 4-8.

Emmanuel's Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (40 pp, Schwartz & Wade, 2015). Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story is nothing short of remarkable. Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled. Ages 4-8.

I Am Not a Label

I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present by Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo (64 pp, Wide Eyed Editions, 2020). In this stylishly illustrated biography anthology, meet 34 artists, thinkers, athletes, and activists with disabilities, from past and present. From Frida Kahlo to Stephen Hawking, find out how these iconic figures have overcome obstacles, owned their differences, and paved the way for others by making their bodies and minds work for them. Ages 6-12.

I Talk Like a River

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (24 pp, Neal Porter Books, 2020). When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him. Ages 4-8.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball

Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo, illustrated by Lea Lyon (32 pp, Tillbury House Publishers, 2009). Even though Davey is blind, he is quite capable―until he tries to play kickball. After several missed kicks and a trampled base keeper, no one wants Davey on the team. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a solution that will work for everybody. Ages 6-8.

Mama Zooms

Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher (32 pp, Scholastic, 1995). A boy’s wonderful mama takes him zooming everywhere with her, because her wheelchair is a zooming machine. Ages 4-7.

My Brother Charlie

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (40 pp, Scholastic, 2010). “Charlie has autism. His brain works in a special way. It’s harder for him to make friends. Or show his true feelings. Or stay safe.” But as his big sister tells us, for everything that Charlie can’t do well, there are plenty more things that he’s good at. He knows the names of all the American presidents. He knows stuff about airplanes. And he can even play the piano better than anyone he knows.Actress and national autism spokesperson Holly Robinson Peete collaborates with her daughter on this book based on Holly’s 10-year-old son, who has autism. Ages 6-10.

This Beach Is Loud!

This Beach Is Loud! by Samantha Cotterill (32 pp, Dial Books, 2019). Going to the beach is exciting. But it can also be busy. And loud. Sand can feel hot or itchy or sticky…and it gets everywhere! In This Beach Is Loud!, a sensitive boy gets overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and sensations at the beach. Luckily, this kiddo’s dad has a trick up his sleeve to help his son face these unexpected obstacles. Ages 3-7.

What Happened to You?

What Happened to You? by James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George (32 pp, Faber & Faber, 2021). Imagine you were asked the same question again and again throughout your life…. Imagine if it was a question that didn’t bring about the happiest of memories…. This is the experience of one-legged Joe, a child who just wants to have fun in the playground. Constantly seen first for his disability, Joe is fed up of only ever being asked about his leg. All he wants to do is play Pirates. Based on experiences the disabled author had as a young child, What Happened to You? genuinely reflects a disabled child’s perspective for both disabled & able-bodied readers. Ages 0-5.

When Charley Met Emma

When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard (32 pp, Beaming Books, 2019). When Charley goes to the playground and sees Emma, a girl with limb differences who gets around in a wheelchair, he doesn’t know how to react at first. But after he and Emma start talking, he learns that different isn’t bad, sad, or strange—different is just different, and different is great! Ages 3-7.

Disability + Neurodiversity (Middle Readers)

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El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell (248 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2014). Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway … in the teacher’s lounge … in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different … and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend? Ages 8-13.

Finding Balance

Finding Balance by Kari Gardner (344 pp, Flux, 2020). Jase Ellison doesn’t remember having acute lymphocytic leukemia when he was three years old. His cancer diagnosis only enters his mind twice a year. Once at his yearly checkup at the oncology clinic and one when he attends Camp Chemo in the summer. No one in his real life knows about his past, especially his friends at Atlanta West Prep. Mari Manos has never been able to hide her cancer survivorship. She wakes every morning, grabs her pink forearm clip crutches, and starts her day. Mari loves Camp Chemo, where she’s developed a healthy crush on fellow camper Jase. At Camp, she knows that shell never get the look or have to explain her amputation to anyone. Jase wants to move on, to never reveal his past. But when Mari transfers to his school, he knows she could blow his cover. That’s the last thing he wants, but he also cannot ignore his attraction to her. Mari wants to be looked at like a girl, a person, and not only known for her disability. But how do you move on from cancer when the world wont let you? Ages 14-17.

Fix

Fix by J. Albert Mann (288 pp, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021). Everything was fine before. When Eve and Lidia could hide their physical differences inside goofy Burger Hut costumes. When Lidia shook Eve up and Eve made Lidia laugh. When Lidia was there. Everything is different now. Cut open … rearranged … stapled shut, Eve is left alone to recover in a world of pain and a body she no longer recognizes. Her only companions being a bottle of Roxanol and an infuriating (but cute) neighbor, Eve strikes up a relationship—and makes a pact—with the devil. Sacrificing pieces of a place she doesn’t know to return to a place she does. What will she discover when she unravels her past? And is having Lidia back worth the price? In verse and prose, Fix paints a riveting picture of a teen struggling to find herself and move forward with her life in a sea of opioids, regret, grief, and hope. Ages 14 and up.

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit (336pp, Dial Books, 2020). Vivy Cohen is determined. She’s had enough of playing catch in the park. She’s ready to pitch for a real baseball team. But Vivy’s mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl on the team, and the only autistic kid. She wants Vivy to forget about pitching, but Vivy won’t give up. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, Vivy knows exactly who to choose: her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Then two amazing things happen: A coach sees Vivy’s amazing knuckleball and invites her to join his team. And VJ starts writing back! Now Vivy is a full-fledged pitcher, with a catcher as a new best friend and a steady stream of advice from VJ. But when a big accident puts her back on the bench, Vivy has to fight to stay on the team. Ages 8-12.

Good Kings Bad Kings

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (336 pp, Algonquin, 2013). Bellwether Award winner Susan Nussbaum’s powerful novel invites us into the lives of a group of typical teenagers―alienated, funny, yearning for autonomy―except that they live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. This unfamiliar, isolated landscape is much the same as the world outside: friendships are forged, trust is built, love affairs are kindled, and rules are broken. But those who call it home have little or no control over their fate. Good Kings Bad Kings challenges our definitions of what it means to be disabled in a story told with remarkable authenticity and in voices that resound with humor and spirit. Ages 14 and up.

How We Roll

How We Roll by Meredith Russo (272pp, Square Fish, 2019). Quinn is a teen who loves her family, skateboarding, basketball, and her friends, but after she’s diagnosed with a condition called alopecia which causes her to lose all of her hair, her friends abandon her. Jake was once a star football player, but because of a freak accident―caused by his brother―he loses both of his legs. Quinn and Jake meet and find the confidence to believe in themselves again, and maybe even love. Ages 12 and up.

Not If I See You First

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom (336pp, Poppy, 2016). Parker Grant doesn’t need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart. When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there’s only one way to react–shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that’s right, her eyes don’t work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened–both with Scott, and her dad–the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken. Ages 15 and up.

Show Me a Sign

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (288 pp, Scholastic, 2020). Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there — including Mary — are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage. But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability. Ages 8-12.

The Silence Between Us

The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (320 pp, Blink, 2019). Deaf teen Maya moves across the country and must attend a hearing school for the first time. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she also has to adjust to the hearing culture, which she finds frustrating—and also surprising when some classmates, including Beau Watson, take time to learn ASL. As Maya looks past graduation and focuses on her future dreams, nothing, not even an unexpected romance, will not derail her pursuits. But when people in her life—Deaf and hearing alike—ask her to question parts of her Deaf identity, Maya stands proudly, never giving in to the idea that her Deafness is a disadvantage. Ages 14 and up.

Unbroken: 13 Stories Featuring Disabled Teens

Unbroken: 13 Stories Featuring Disabled Teens, edited by Marieke Nijkamp (320 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today’s teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis―and their characters reflect this diversity. Ages 14-18.

Wonder

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio (320 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012). August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. Ages 9-11.

Disability + Neurodiversity (Adult Readers)

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Being Heumann

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann, with Kristen Joiner (232 pp, Beacon Press, 2021). A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society. Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy’s struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a “fire hazard” to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, Judy’s actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people. As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples’ rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann’s memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine and make real a world in which we all belong.

Disability Visibility

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong (336 pp, Vintage, 2020). One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people. This anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love.

Far From the Tree

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (976 pp, Scribner, 2013). Solomon’s startling proposition in Far from the Tree is that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition—that difference is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, and Solomon documents triumphs of love over prejudice in every chapter. All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent should parents accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on ten years of research and interviews with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma (288 pp, Twelve, 2020). The incredible life story of Haben Girma, the first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, and her amazing journey from isolation to the world stage. Haben defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. She learned non-visual techniques for everything from dancing salsa to handling an electric saw. She developed a text-to-braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people. Haben pioneered her way through obstacles, graduated from Harvard Law, and now uses her talents to advocate for people with disabilities. Haben takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman’s determination to find the keys to connection.

The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (352 pp, Berkley, 2018) Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases—a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old. It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice—with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan. Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic.

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber (204 pp, University of Nebraska Press, 2017). Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. What about on a scale of spicy to citrus? Is it more like a lava lamp or a mosaic? Pain, though a universal element of human experience, is dimly understood and sometimes barely managed. Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System is a collection of literary and experimental essays about living with chronic pain. Huber addresses the nature and experience of invisible disability, including the challenges of gender bias in our health care system, the search for effective treatment options, and the difficulty of articulating chronic pain. She makes pain a lens of inquiry and lyricism, finds its humor and complexity, describes its irascible character, and explores its temperature, taste, and even its beauty.

The Pretty One

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown (256 pp, Atria Books, 2019). From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America. Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective. By smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself, Brown aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

The Reason I Jump

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell (208 pp, Random House, 2016). You’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within. Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.

The Secret Life of a Black Aspie

The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir by Anand Prahlad (240 pp, University of Alaska Press, 2017). For the first four years of his life, Prahlad didn’t speak. But his silence didn’t stop him from communicating—or communing—with the strange, numinous world he found around him. Ordinary household objects came to life; the spirits of long-dead slave children were his best friends. In his magical interior world, sensory experiences blurred, time disappeared, and memory was fluid. Ever so slowly, he emerged, learning to talk and evolving into an artist and educator. His journey takes readers across the United States during one of its most turbulent moments, and Prahlad experiences it all, from the heights of the Civil Rights Movement to West Coast hippie enclaves to a college town that continues to struggle with racism and its border state legacy. Rooted in black folklore and cultural ambience, and offering new perspectives on autism and more, The Secret Life of a Black Aspie will inspire and delight readers and deepen our understanding of the marginal spaces of human existence. Ages 14 and up.

Sitting Pretty

Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig (256 pp, HarperOne, 2020). A memoir-in-essays from disability advocate and creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty Rebekah Taussig, processing a lifetime of memories to paint a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most. Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Rebekah Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), inspirational (Helen Keller), or angelic (Forrest Gump). None of this felt right; and as she got older, she longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling. Writing about the rhythms and textures of what it means to live in a body that doesn’t fit, Rebekah reflects on everything from the complications of kindness and charity, living both independently and dependently, experiencing intimacy, and how the pervasiveness of ableism in our everyday media directly translates to everyday life. Disability affects all of us, directly or indirectly, at one point or another. By exploring this truth in poignant and lyrical essays, Taussig illustrates the need for more stories and more voices to understand the diversity of humanity.

What Can A Body Do?

What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World by Sara Hendren (240 pp, Riverhead Books, 2020). Furniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets—nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider—or reconsider—the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built. In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it—from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture—Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.

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