14 Great Books to Support Disability Inclusion

Text "14 Great Books for Disability Inclusion" with illustrated image of little boy with Down syndrome sitting on the ground and smiling as his dog licks his face. Artwork from Best Buddies by Best Buddies by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Arthur Lin.
Headshot image of Capstone Content Strategist Bea Rendon

Bea Rendón, Capstone Curriculum Content Strategist

14 Great Books to Support Disability Inclusion

April 19, 2023


As a former elementary teacher, some of my fondest memories are curating my classroom library and helping students discover just the right book for them. We know intuitively as educators, as well as from neuroscience and psychology, that students need to feel physically and emotionally safe before they can effectively learn. The young people in our classrooms need to feel a deep, authentic sense of belonging and community in order to progress academically, socially, and emotionally. One of many pathways toward building inclusion is through our classroom texts.

The incomparable ‘mother’ of multicultural children’s literature, Rudine Sims Bishop, created the metaphor of books as windows, mirrors, and sliding-glass doors: Through stories, we may see into the experiences of others, see our own reflected back to us, or step through a threshold into entirely different worlds. Given that 14% of U.S. students have disabilities and only 3.4% of children’s books feature disabled main characters, there is a need for many, many more mirrors and windows.

Here are a few of my favorite Capstone titles that feature characters with disabilities. They represent a wide range of mirrors and windows because sometimes you need a text that skillfully explores a specific disability, while other times you simply want a story of realistic kids experiencing real life—and some of them may happen to have a disability.


Book cover image of Best Buddies by Lynne Plourde and illustrated by Arthur LinBook cover image of Best Buddies by Lynne Plourde and illustrated by Arthur Lin

1. Best Buddies

By Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Arthur Lin

Best Buddies introduces a boy-and-dog duo who are BEST FRIENDS and who do EVERYTHING together! So how will they manage being apart when the boy heads to school for the first time? Find out how a clever boy with Down syndrome and his loyal pet find the perfect way to feel close even when they can’t be together. A sweet, inspiring story that will ease concerns about the first day of school and other big changes for kids. 

This lovely story is told from the perspective of the beloved dog who adores his human buddy. The boy in the story has Down syndrome, but that isn’t the focal point of the plot. Animal lovers of all ages will relate to this book and the beautiful relationship between the boy and his dog. Read and discuss this with students as you would any other title about the first day of school or feeling homesick. You may end up having an organic conversation about Down syndrome, but more than likely, your discussion will be around managing big feelings on the first day of school.
(Also available in board book and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Party Problems by C. L. Reid and illustrated by Elena AielloBook cover image of Party Problems by C. L. Reid and illustrated by Elena Aiello

2. Party Problems

By C. L. Reid, illustrated by Elena Aiello

Emma is excited about Izzie's birthday party. But she's also nervous. Is her dress too fancy? Will she know anyone else at the party? Did she buy the right gift? Will Emma's worries ruin her chance to have fun? Find out how Emma handles her party problems in this early chapter book from the Emma Every Day series. Emma is Deaf and often uses sign language to communicate, and each book includes an ASL fingerspelling chart, a sign language guide, a glossary, and content-related questions.

Party Problems, like all the books in the Emma Every Day series, are written by author C.L. Reid. Just like Reid, Emma is Deaf, has a cochlear implant, and uses sign language. The author’s lived experiences inform this sweet story, and its universal themes of friendship worries will resonate with readers. The entire Emma Every Day series would be a top pick for my K-3 classroom, not only because of the authentic voice of the author, but also because of Emma’s relatability and the beloved short chapter format that builds early readers’ confidence.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Cheer Champs by Elliott Smith and illustrated by Amanda ErbBook cover image of Cheer Champs by Elliott Smith and illustrated by Amanda Erb

3. Cheer Champs

By Elliott Smith, illustrated by Amanda Erb

In this 32-page sports fiction title, Leah wants to use her gymnastics skills by joining the cheer squad. Leah is Deaf, and she worries that this will make cheer difficult. She struggles to keep up with the count of the routine in the first practice. Then Leah meets Monica, who offers to help. Will the girls be able to come up with a plan so the team can nail the routine on competition day?

This title would make a perfect short chapter book read aloud for K-1 or an independent book for early readers. Cheer Champs provides a brief look into Leah’s life and experiences as a Deaf girl who speaks, signs, and read lips—but it also models important friendship and empathy skills through the character of Monica, who is kind and supportive to Leah without being condescending. The back matter includes ideas for kids to create their own cheer routines and a writing prompt to put readers in the shoes of one of the characters—a fun way to incorporate movement into the school day and/or extend reading through writing.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Princess is Tired by Kay Scott and illustrated by Mélanie FlorianBook cover image of Princess is Tired by Kay Scott and illustrated by Mélanie Florian

4. Princess is Tired

By Jay Dale, illustrated by Melanie Florian

Princess is just so busy! She is writing a new play, she is going to the zoo with her class, and she has basketball practice. But will Princess be able to do all these things if she is too tired? Connect to the nonfiction text pair, Healthy Habits.

As teachers, we need a variety of texts that fit a variety of purposes, whether that’s a compelling read aloud, a mentor text, an assessment, or a leveled reader. Regardless of purpose, these texts should be representative of our students and communities. The main character in the leveled reader Princess is Tired happens to use a wheelchair, but it isn’t part of the plot. Even when our students are focused on a literacy concept like cause and effect or compound words, they should still see themselves and their community in the texts they use.


Book cover image of In the Sun by Anne Giulieri and illustrated by Camila CarrossineBook cover image of In the Sun by Anne Giulieri and illustrated by Camila Carrossine

5. In the Sun

By Anne Giulieri, illustrated by Camila Carrossine

The chicken, tree, cow, and mouse are in the sun. Connect to the nonfiction text pair, I See the Sun.

This early leveled reader is designed for those students just beginning to read. Its simple, repetitive text builds confidence and its charming illustrations will keep kids’ interest. Like Princess Is Tired, this book doesn’t make the boy’s disability part of the plot. The illustrations may spark questions and conversation about leg braces, or it may not—either way, In the Sun and titles like it play an important role in normalizing disabilities and assistive devices.
(Also available in Interactive eBook format.)


Book cover image of Liam the Lion by Andrew Stark and illustrated by Emily Faith JohnsonBook cover image of Liam the Lion by Andrew Stark and illustrated by Emily Faith Johnson

6. Liam the Lion

By Andrew Stark, illustrated by Emily Faith Johnson

Liam is starting at a new school, and he is worried about making new friends. When a classmate asks about Liam’s cleft lip, Liam is afraid the boy is making fun of him. But in class that afternoon, Liam discovers that what makes him different also makes him special, and that is a reason to be proud. K–3 readers will find a friend in this series featuring quiet but strong Indigenous third-grader Liam Kingbird.

The latest character-driven series, Liam Kingbird's Kingdom, focuses on Liam, an Ojibwa third grader who loves to draw and loves animals. Liam’s experiences are familiar to anyone who’s ever felt singled out for looking different. Ojibwa author Andrew Stark delivers a beautifully written, accessible early chapter book for young readers—kids will love Liam. Another excellent title for a short read aloud or early independent reader, Liam the Lion also includes back matter with facts about Ojibwa language, culture, and storytelling.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Emily's Big Shot by Bryan Patrick Avery and illustrated by Arief PutraBook cover image of Emily's Big Shot by Bryan Patrick Avery and illustrated by Arief Putra

7. Emily’s Big Shot

By Brian Patrick Avery, illustrated by Ariel Putra

Emily has trouble passing the puck in her class’s games of floor hockey, so classmates Dmitry and Ryan offer to help her improve. The first lesson is to learn to relax and not get nervous. Will she score a goal? This early chapter book offers a fun and inviting approach to social emotional learning skills.

I love this early chapter book series, Mr. Grizley's Class, and its fictional approach to social emotional learning concepts. Emily’s Big Shot is the perfect introduction to the series’ characters and their nurturing teacher, Mr. Grizley. Kids of all abilities and backgrounds will see themselves in Emily’s frustration, persistence, and triumph—who among us can’t benefit from a reminder to slow down and relax when things get hard? This title about overcoming challenges and supporting friends also includes prompts for thoughtful discussion, a writing activity, and a maker activity that encourages gratitude.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Greta Thunberg by Jaclyn JaycoxBook cover image of Greta Thunberg by Jaclyn Jaycox

8. Greta Thunberg

By Jaclyn Jacox

How much do you know about Greta Thunberg? Discover the details you want to know about this inspiring young activist. You’ll learn about the childhood, challenges, and accomplishments of this young leader in the fight against climate change.

This title is one in a series that focuses on making key figures in the news engaging and accessible, and readers will love learning about this young change-maker. Though the book covers many aspects of Thunberg’s life, it also discusses her neurodivergence in an accessible way for young learners, explaining how Asperger’s syndrome impacts Greta’s life. This book could be used in countless ways, but I recommend it as a reference for young students’ first reports, as part of a biography genre study, as part of a science/social studies unit on climate or activism, or simply as a step toward neurodiversity inclusion in your classroom library.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Puss in Magical Motocross Boots: A Graphic Novel by Brandon Terrell and illustrated by Omar LozanoBook cover image of Puss in Magical Motocross Boots: A Graphic Novel by Brandon Terrell and illustrated by Omar Lozano

9. Puss in Magical Motocross Boots: A Graphic Novel

By Brandon Terrell, illustrated by Omar Lozano

Mr. Alestair Miller, the owner of Miller and Sons Auto Emporium, has died. His oldest son inherited his father’s auto shop. The middle son received his valuable collection of antique automobiles. And his youngest son, Hank, was given his father’s old motocross bike and gear and his pet cat, Gus. Hank is a talented mechanic, but he has a disabled leg and doesn’t like cats. But when the two are alone, Hank finds that Gus can SPEAK! Not only that, but with a special pair of motocross boots, Gus can shapeshift into one of the top motocross racers in the world! After facing off in some tense head-to-head competitions, Hank learns that his inheritance is actually the best of all three brothers.

Too often, depictions of characters with disabilities are limited to realistic fiction and informational text. Kids need mirrors and windows across all genres. Puss in Magical Motocross Boots is both a modern fairy tale and a fast-paced graphic novel that features a main character who has a disabled leg and uses a crutch. Because of the book’s graphic novel format, readers see the character’s disability on almost every page, though it’s barely mentioned in the text since it’s not crucial to the plot. Students from all backgrounds and experiences will enjoy this modern retelling of a classic fairy tale. And teachers will love the back matter with prompts for students to engage in “close reading” of the art and a comparison to the original Puss in Boots that this tale riffs on.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Skateboard Sonar by Eric Stevens and illustrated by Gerardo SandovalBook cover image of Skateboard Sonar by Eric Stevens and illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval

10. Skateboard Sonar

By Eric Stevens, illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval

Matty Lyons is a top-notch skateboarder who can do all the coolest tricks. His moves are even more impressive since he's blind. But not everyone is a fan of the talented grinder. During the state's biggest skating competition, former champion Bing Hawtin mocks Matty, saying that a blind kid has no chance to win. But Matty knows something Bing doesn't . . . seeing isn't everything.

In this Sports Illustrated Kids title, the main character’s blindness is central to the plot, but it’s handled effectively. Just like the other fast-paced sports fiction books in the series, the story is peppered with humor and adrenaline. Kids will love Matty’s unshakable confidence and how he ultimately triumphs over Bing the bully. Skateboard Sonar makes a great addition to your collection of titles for kids in grades 3-5 to self-select.
(Also available in paperback format.)


Book cover image of WCMX Daredevil by Jake Maddox and illustrated by Erika VitranoBook cover image of WCMX Daredevil by Jake Maddox and illustrated by Erika Vitrano

11. WCMX Daredevil

By Jake Maddox, illustrated by Erika Vitrano

Davalyn “The Daredevil” Hart may be a new rider in the sport of wheelchair motocross, but this adrenaline junkie is ready to push herself. When she gets a new WCMX chair designed to take a beating at the skate park, she turns her stunts up to the next level. But everything comes to a grinding halt when she attempts a tough trick and takes a hard fall. Now her confidence is rattled. Can she find the courage to face the rails again and nail her special move at the upcoming WCMX Extreme Games competition?

Davalyn, the main character in WCMX Daredevil, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair or crutches. Like Matty in Skateboard Sonar, Davalyn is a daring, competitive, empowered character that readers will admire—when she nails it on the course, when she struggles, and when she picks herself up and keeps trying. The end of the book includes visual comprehension questions as well as fun facts about real life wheelchair motocross athletes. While this book will get plenty of use as a self-select title, how fun would it be to play the Interactive eBook to your grade 3-5 class as an alternative to a read-aloud? After recess or before dismissal would be a perfect time to listen to the story, enjoy the professional voice acting, and pause for discussion and reflection. Part of the Jake Maddox Graphic Novels series.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


Book cover image of Snowboard Balancing Act by Jake MaddoxBook cover image of Snowboard Balancing Act by Jake Maddox

12. Snowboard Balancing Act

By Jake Maddox

For twelve-year-old Bristol, being on the slopes means ultimate freedom. As an adaptive snowboarder and a junior instructor, the upcoming PowderX Games are a chance to show her parents how serious she is about the sport. But juggling boarding and teaching with homework and vision therapy for her vergence insufficiency is harder than Bristol thought. When her parents announce that she’ll have to drop some of her snowboarding commitments if she doesn’t do well on an important exam, Bristol is determined to prove that she can do it all. On the day of the Games, it takes a reminder from one of her students—and a tough personal choice—to help Bristol figure out the perfect balance both on and off the slopes.

Snowboard Balancing Act, another in the beloved Jake Maddox canon, features a main character with vision issues. Twelve-year-old Bristol battles eye fatigue, headaches, double vision, balance, and trouble focusing with her eyes, but she still shines on the slopes as an adaptive snowboarder and junior coach. Bristol’s biggest challenge, though, is balancing school responsibilities with her passion for coaching and snowboarding. Kids will relate to Bristol’s relationship with her parents: they love one another but don’t always see eye to eye. I also love how the book depicts vision therapy and adaptive gear, the details of which are unfamiliar to many people, in a way that feels authentic to the story. Third through fifth graders will be engaged until the last page—this makes a great chapter book read aloud or independent reading title. Part of the Jake Maddox JV series.


Book cover image of Copyboy by Vince VawterBook cover image of Copyboy by Vince Vawter

13. Copyboy

By Vince Vawter, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio

The sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning novel Paperboy and a Fall 2018 Junior Library Guild selection. Victor Vollmer isn't a paperboy anymore. He's a copyboy now, but his duties at the newspaper get interrupted by a last request from Mr. Spiro, the old man who became Victor's mentor and helped him take on his stutter in the beloved novel Paperboy, a Newbery Honor Book.  Victor takes off on a journey that sends him hundreds of miles from home toward the teeth of a gathering storm. Confronted by an unfamiliar and threatening world, he meets a girl who is strong, smart, and bold like no one he's known before, and together they venture to the place where river meets sea. When they wind up racing to evade a hurricane, Victor finds out what the fates have in store for him.

This acclaimed sequel to the novel Paperboy is a beautifully immersive piece of historical fiction. What stands out most is Victor’s authentic voice, inspired by the experiences of author Vince Vawter, who also struggled with a stutter as a young man, worked at a newspaper, and survived a hurricane. Another great read aloud or independent reading selection, this title would also serve as an effective writer’s workshop mentor text for studying author voice.


Book cover image of Be A Changemaker by Maribel Valdez GonzalezBook cover image of Be A Changemaker by Maribel Valdez Gonzalez

14. Be a Changemaker

By Maribel Valdez Gonzalez

What can you do when you know something is wrong? We're not always sure of the right thing to do. In this book, you'll learn about ways to speak up and step in when you recognize injustice in your community. With kid-friendly explanations of key ideas and relevant scenarios, this text will help young kids be changemakers in their community.

This title is an invaluable resource for socially conscious upper elementary students and their grown-ups. Educators will recognize and appreciate the thoughtful touch of a fellow teacher in this series, written by Indigenous Xicana educator Maribel Valdez Gonzalez. In a clear, age-appropriate way, Be a Changemaker lays out two realities that kids today are well-aware of: there is injustice in the world, and anyone can make a difference to change that. Sidebars present realistic dialogue between students, discussing issues at their school, while the main text gives important examples of real life changemakers. The book focuses on multiple aspects of identity, not just ability, but includes such examples as Ed Roberts, the UC Berkeley student who used a wheelchair and paved the way for disability rights in higher education. I recommend all the books in the Social Justice and You series, but this title pairs especially well with Build Strong Communities by the same author. It has an entire chapter on “getting the language right” when referring to people’s identities, including aspects of identity related to ability and disability. There are so many opportunities for rich discussion built into the four titles in this series, and kids will be inspired and empowered to take action in their communities.
(Also available in paperback and Interactive eBook formats.)


These Capstone books are just a few examples of stories that depict people and characters with disabilities, across genres and reading levels. Watch for more from Capstone on the horizon, and please contact us if you have ideas for how we can better represent the students and communities you serve.


Collage image of book covers with text "14 Great Books for Disability Inclusion"Collage image of book covers with text "14 Great Books for Disability Inclusion"

Find all of these books and more in our Disability Representation booklist

Explore The Fantastic Freewheeler graphic novel series

Check out our Disability Representation page for more resources