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, I examine eight kids books with a character in a wheelchair. Some of this feedback is based on my own personal experience as someone in a wheelchair, and the other is focused on the story and publishing aspects of these books.
A Very Special Critter (Look-Look) by Mercer Mayer (1993) 4/5 stars.
Aside from the title really bothering me (and not having anything to do with the story), I liked it. However, the first negative was in the beginning when the father gave advice, which wasn’t the best solution. It would have been better if the main character, who said he’d never met anyone in a wheelchair before, came to the conclusion himself, that the new critter wasn’t any different than him. Instead, the dad says, on page 5: “’Just because he’s in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean he’s any different than the rest of you. He probably just needs some special help once in awhile.’ I thought that made sense.” Other than that, I liked the perspective angle of another student interacting with a character in the wheelchair. And even though the character in the wheelchair is the main story, he’s not the main character. I think this shift in storytelling from an able-bodied kid works, 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.
Arnie and the New Kid (Arnie) by Nancy Carlson (1992) 2/5 stars.
The 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 relationship/friendship between the two characters. It also read like a lesson rather than a story for kids. What bothered me the most was that someone can only be friends/understand someone in a wheelchair was only if you experienced the same issues as the person in the wheelchair, and only include them after they know what it’s like being in a wheelchair. I prefer A Very Special Critter by Mayer over this one any day. This was so 90’s attitude of showing the interactions/world perspective of wheelchair inclusion.
Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher (1995) 5/5 stars.
This was a very fun, sweet, and exciting read. It was filled with fun stories that made me smile, and inspired me to play with a kid. The ending/overall message was super adorable! If I had a child, this would definitely be a book I would read a loud, 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.
Dad Has a Wheelchair by Ken Jasch (2014) 5/5 stars.
This book is told from a kid’s perspective with an educational theme to it that all about ASL (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 stories are also very cute. From some research, I realized this was a family creation and put together by the actual real father who had ASL (the father has passed), 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 loves the dad bond more than anything. This was just a sweet aspect of goodness.
This was a bit too passive for me and the mom seemed to do all of the action and leading the story forward. It would have been more fun if the main character did all of the action (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 are the best–they really 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 (not well blended into the story). The ending was not very satisfying or fully developed; the main character should have led the story.
A Rainbow Of Friends by P.K. Hallinan (2005) 4/5 stars.
I really enjoyed this book and it had a fun rhyme book feel to it with a sweet story element to it with great inclusion aspects and diversity in 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.
Don’t Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability by Pat Thomas (2002) 2/5 stars.
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: “When you assume, you are just making a guess. Assuming things about people can hurt their feelings and make them feel very left out.” I really don’t see a kid wanting to pick this book up and interact with it. It’s great the book talks about being different and unique in your own way and explaining how to think/understand things but the execution is terrible. Like in this example: “Years ago, children with disabilities went to special schools with special teachers. Because of this people started calling them special.” 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 is more exciting and fun to read.
Look Up! by Jung Jin-Ho, Kim My Hyun (Translator) (2016) 3/5 stars.
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 am glad this book is out there and plays with different storytelling perspectives that included disabilities. 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.