Embracing Inclusion Through Diverse Characters & Unforgettable Stories
Delve into a world of imagination and disability inclusion with our 2023 summer reading list. Discover stories and tales that ignite young minds, helping to develop empathy, understanding, and respect for the rich kaleidoscope of human diversity.
Summer is the perfect time for all children to go on exciting adventures and explore the world through the pages of a book, sparking their imaginations and offering new perspectives.
With that in mind, we’re thrilled to present our summer reading list for 2023.
In this collection, you’ll discover a wide range of stories that celebrate disability inclusion and diversity in all its forms. As young readers dive into these stories, they’ll embark on journeys of empathy, understanding, and respect for human diversity, exploring themes of inclusivity and helping foster a generation that not only embraces differences, but also challenges societal norms that may limit acceptance and understanding.
Explore our 2023 summer reading list below, and open the door to a world where all children and youth can see themselves and their lived experiences reflected with authenticity and compassion.
Children’s Books (4 – 8 years old)
1. “A Boy and a Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz, a 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Winner
“A Boy and a Jaguar” is a children’s picture book autobiography by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Cátia Chien. Published in 2014, this story is about a boy who connects deeply with animals and becomes their advocate. Despite being perceived differently due to a severe stutter, the boy finds solace and purpose in the animal kingdom. His love for animals empowers him to communicate with them fluently and confidently. Through this journey, the book explores themes of hope, truth, and the powerful bond between humans and animals, resonating with readers of all ages.
About the Author:
Alan Rabinowitz (December 31, 1953 – August 5, 2018) was a world-renowned zoologist and conservationist who made a lasting impact through his groundbreaking work in wildlife preservation. He is best known for his contributions to establishing the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in Belize, the first sanctuary dedicated to protecting jaguars. He was widely recognized as an intrepid champion of wildlife protection, earning the nickname “Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection.”
“A Boy and a Jaguar” is a departure from his usual works, offering a heartfelt glimpse into his own childhood experiences as a young boy who struggled with stuttering, and his connection with animals.
2. “Not so Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having A Disability” by Shane Burcaw, a 2018 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal Honor Award Winner
“Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability” is a children’s book by Shane Burcaw with artwork by Matt Carr. This book, published in 2017, offers a glimpse into the life of the author, who was born with a rare condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which affects muscle growth and progressively weakens the body over time. Despite his physical challenges, Shane’s zest for life remains undiminished. He continues to enjoy his favorite activities and finds fulfillment in life’s simple pleasures, from enjoying pizza to participating in sports and enjoying video games. Through its engaging narrative and illustrations, “Not So Different” fosters empathy, compassion, and acceptance, reminding us that despite our differences, we all share a fundamental commonality.
About the Author:
Shane Burcaw is an accomplished author, motivational speaker, and Emmy-award-winning producer. He is the president of the nonprofit Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc. and is well-known for his charismatic engagements as a public speaker, captivating audiences from universities and elementary schools to Fortune 500 companies.
Shane’s experiences living with disability and his vibrant approach to life are shared on his popular YouTube channel, “Squirmy and Grubs.” Together with his wife, Hannah, they provide a humorous and genuine take on life in their interabled relationship. Their authenticity and shared stories have resonated with many, garnering over a million subscribers and international media coverage.
3. “My Brother Charlie” by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work
“My Brother Charlie” is by bestselling author and actress Holly Robinson Peete, in collaboration with her daughter, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. This story offers a glimpse into the life of a boy named Charlie who has autism, a character based on Holly’s son and Ryan’s twin brother with autism, Rodney.
Through the loving narration of Charlie’s elder sister Callie, readers discover that Charlie possesses many remarkable talents. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all the American presidents, can spout endless facts about airplanes, and is an incredible piano player. He also loves swimming and shares a special bond with their family dog, Harriett.
The story underscores that while Charlie might be different in some ways, he is just like any cheerful young boy who loves to play, laugh, and share moments with his loved ones.
About the Authors:
Holly Robinson Peete is an actress, writer, and singer renowned for her roles in “21 Jump Street,” “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” and “For Your Love.” Currently, she co-hosts CBS’s daytime show “The Talk.” Her work as author of “My Brother Charlie” earned her an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.
Ryan Elizabeth Peete co-authored “My Brother Charlie” when she was just 12 years old. Today, she is a student at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts/Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Raised in Los Angeles, Ryan has traveled extensively as a student ambassador with “People to People” and “Students on Ice.” Besides her advocacy and literary contributions, Ryan enjoys singing, songwriting, photography, and filmmaking.
4. “Sam’s Super Seats”, A Children’s Picture Book by Keah Brown
“Sam’s Super Seats” is a children’s picture book by Keah Brown, with illustrations by Sharee Miller. Published in 2022, the story follows the main character, Sam, a girl with cerebral palsy who loves comfortable seats. When Sam goes shopping with her best friends at the mall, she becomes tired and encounters a new seat that isn’t so super. But this moment of discomfort sparks what might be her best idea all day.
“Sam’s Super Seats” stands as a celebration of self-love, the importance of rest, and more importantly, highlights the need for accessible seating in public spaces. The book includes narrative descriptions of the artwork to accommodate readers with low or limited vision.
About the Author:
Keah Brown is a journalist, freelance writer, and activist. Known for her thought-provoking features on living with cerebral palsy, her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Essence, Catapult, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times.
Keah is the creator of “#DisabledAndCute”, a viral hashtag that surged in popularity in February 2017, earning the admiration of celebrities like Sophia Bush and Brie Larson. She’s an aspiring actress and screenwriter and is presently dipping her toes into the film and TV space.
You can also explore Keah Brown’s young adult fiction book: “The Secret Summer Promise”, released in June 2023.
“The Secret Summer Promise” is Keah Brown’s debut young adult novel of heartwarming, geeky queer love. Brown delivers an enchanting summer read that captures a fresh perspective on the classic themes of teenage rebellion and friendship with a crew of loveable characters, paving the journey for a joyful, sun-filled adventure.
Books for Middle Graders (8 – 12 years old)
1. “Show Me a Sign” by Ann Clare LeZotte, a 2020 New York Public Library Best Books Award Winner
“Show Me a Sign” by Ann Clare LeZotte is an award-winning novel that delves into a riveting tale based on the historical account of a unique deaf community in Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th Century. The book explores powerful themes of ableism, racism, and colonialism, and paints a thought-provoking picture of our perceptions of ability and disability, challenging the reader’s understanding and empathy.
About the Author:
Ann Clare LeZotte is a renowned deaf author and librarian. Bilingual and bicultural, she effectively bridges the gap between these two worlds. For over a decade, LeZotte has been instrumental in Library Youth Services, dedicating her efforts to underserved populations and advocating for inclusivity. Her work is a testament to her commitment to creating spaces that foster understanding and accessibility for all.
2. “Ugly” A Memoir by Robert Hoge
“Ugly: A Memoir” is an autobiographical account by Robert Hoge that takes readers on a journey of his first 14 years of life as a boy born with physical differences, his appearance drew unwarranted attention and scorn. A touching memoir, “Ugly” empowers readers, especially those rationalizing their disabilities, to embrace themselves as they are. Fans of “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio will love this book.
About the Author:
Robert Hoge is an accomplished writer from Brisbane, Australia. With numerous short stories, articles, and interviews published both in Australia and internationally, Robert’s work showcases his diverse expertise and talents.
In addition to his writing endeavors, Robert is passionate about photography, disability advocacy, and engaging with others regarding physical differences and living with disabilities. On top of that, he was a torch bearer for the 2000 Olympics.
3. “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time
“Wonder” is a middle-grade fiction phenomenon by R.J. Palacio. It is a life-affirming and emotional journey that centers around the beloved character August “Auggie” Pullman, a ten-year-old boy with severe facial differences. At its core, it serves as a profound meditation on kindness, shining as a beacon of hope in an era marked by prevalent bullying.
Selling over 15 million copies worldwide, this book has captivated readers globally and has been translated and published in more than 55 languages. Through Auggie, Palacio effectively communicates a critical message: you aren’t born to blend in when you were designed to stand out.
Disability Representation in “Wonder” Movie Sparks Critics’ Concerns
Released in 2017, “Wonder” was adapted into a film directed by Stephen Chbosky, featuring an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Noah Jupe, Izabela Vidovic, Bryce Gheisar, and Daveed Diggs.
While the movie has received widespread acclaim, it’s important to acknowledge the concerns raised by critics regarding the representation of disability in the film. One key issue is the casting of a non-disabled actor, Jason Tremblay in the role of Auggie, sparking a conversation on the need for accurate portrayals of people with disabilities.
As advocates of disability inclusion, we’d like to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the complex issue surrounding the portrayal of individuals with disabilities and to emphasize the importance of accurate representation. This is particularly crucial for young viewers, as disability is an integral part of everyday life that should always be faithfully reflected in entertainment and all forms of mainstream media.
To delve deeper into the significance of accurate disability representation in film and TV, we recommend reading our previous blog “Accurate Disability Representation In Mass Media” which also includes a list of eight critically-acclaimed performances by actors with disabilities.
About the Author:
Born in 1963, Raquel Jaramillo Palacio is a celebrated author and graphic designer. In the early years of her career, she crafted book covers for acclaimed authors such as Paul Auster and Thomas Pynchon, designing hundreds of covers for both fiction and non-fiction books.
R.J.’s subsequent bestsellers span a diverse range including “365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts,” “Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories,” the picture book “We’re All Wonders,” and the critically acclaimed graphic novel “White Bird,” currently being made into a major motion picture starring Gillian Anderson and Helen Mirren.
4. “The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines” by Gabe Netz, Future Release in March 2024
“The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines“ is Gabe Netz’s debut children’s book slated for release in March 2024. In this story, 11-year-old Jerry, who uses a wheelchair, moves into a spooky motel at the edge of a foreboding forest. After her mother mysteriously disappears, the courageous young girl must confront the forest’s supernatural dwellers to rescue her family.
Besides its thrilling plot, the story encourages empathy, helping young readers develop a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences of individuals with different abilities, leaving them with lasting lessons on inclusion that extend beyond the final page.
About the Author
Gabe Netz, a self-proclaimed “landbound merman on wheels,” is an extraordinary talent emerging from Queens, New York. In addition to becoming a distinguished author, Gabe contributes to literature as a sensitivity reader, providing an essential voice that encourages inclusive representation in storytelling.
Young Adult Books (12 – 18+ years old)
1. “Love Letters for Joy” by Melissa See
“Love Letters for Joy” is an LGBTQIA+ romance young adult novel by Melissa See, acclaimed author of “You, Me, and Our Heartstrings.” This heartwarming narrative follows the 17-year-old protagonist Joy and interlaces themes of disability, friendship, sexual identity, and unexpected love in the high-energy environment of high school senior year.
Joy, who identifies as asexual, is focused on becoming her high school’s first disabled valedictorian. Meanwhile, one of Joy’s best friends has started developing feelings for her and another friend is turning to their school’s anonymous love-letter writer to help her snag the girl of her dreams. With romance swirling around her, Joy starts to wonder if she has missed out on a quintessential high school experience.
The story navigates Joy’s journey of self-discovery, showcasing the complexities of teenage relationships and the courage to embrace unexpected connections, prompting reflection on the boundaries of love and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
About the Author:
Melissa See is a disabled author who has established herself in the world of young adult contemporary romances. Drawing inspiration from her personal life, Melissa was a violinist for six years, which led to the creation of her heartfelt novel, “You, Me, and Our Heartstrings.”
As an avid reader, Melissa finds inspiration from an array of favorite books such as “A Little Bit Country” and “The Bone Houses.” Through her work, advocacy, and passion for writing, Melissa See crafts stories that reach hearts and embrace the beauty of life’s imperfections.
2. “Jerk, California” by Jonathan Friesen, a 2009 Schneider Family Book “Best Book for Teens” Award Winner
“Jerk, California” by Jonathan Frisen is a transformative story that depicts a teenager living with Tourette’s Syndrome. Packed with suspense, romance, and aspiration, this tale chronicles the journey of Sam, a high-school senior committed to uncovering the mysteries of his family and his inherited neurological condition. The narrative takes readers on an endless rollercoaster of emotions and discoveries, giving the reader a raw and relatable insight into Sam’s struggle with self-identity.
About the Author:
Jonathan Friesen is an accomplished young adult fiction author, speaker, and youth writing coach from Mora, Minnesota. With 14 years of experience as a public school teacher and writing instructor at the University of Minnesota, Jonathan is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of writers.
Jonathan has published six novels since “Jerk, California,” and regularly contributes to Clubhouse Magazine and Clubhouse Jr., sharing captivating stories that resonate with readers.
3. “The Silence Between Us” by Alison Gervais, a 2020 Schneider Family Teen Honor Book Award Winner
“The Silence Between Us” is a young adult novel written by acclaimed author Alison Gervais. With a book cover designed by Deaf artist Nancy Rourke, the story embraces the Own Voices movement, which celebrates diverse stories written by authors who share the identity of their characters, offering readers the opportunity to explore authentic and nuanced portrayals of historically-excluded identities and groups.
The story revolves around Maya, a Deaf teenager who faces a significant life change as she moves to a new town and starts attending a hearing school for the first time. Navigating this unfamiliar territory proves challenging for Maya, as she not only struggles with adjusting to a new school but tries to understand and adapt to the hearing culture surrounding her.
We also note here that on the author’s website, the term “Deaf” is used with an upper-case D which is a term typically utilized to denote individuals with an extremely severe or complete hearing impairment. Additionally, people who identify themselves as culturally Deaf and are active members of the Deaf community may also use this as the preferred term to describe themselves.
About the Author:
Alison Gervais developed a passion for writing at the age of five, cultivating her love for storytelling and words throughout her childhood and teenage years. She suffered permanent hearing loss at a very young age and is Hard of Hearing. Alison’s experience as a Deaf person has greatly influenced her work, and she gained recognition and grew her readership by posting her work on Wattpad in 2011.
Alongside her writing, Alison is an integral part of a local Center for Independent Living. This non-profit organization is run by and for individuals with disabilities, echoing Alison’s beliefs and values in her everyday life and work.
4. “Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens”, an Anthology by Marieke Nijkamp, Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell edited by Marieke Nijkamp
“Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens” is a striking anthology edited by New York Times-bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp, in collaboration with other disabled authors. The book cover is illustrated by Lauren Nassef. “Unbroken” presents a spectrum of fictional stories that challenge and retire stereotypical narratives, instead reclaiming the authentic identities and lived experiences of disabled individuals from various backgrounds.
About the Authors
Marieke Nijkamp is a New York Times bestselling author who has gifted the world with her captivating young adult novels, graphic novels, and comics.
Among her remarkable young adult novels are “This Is Where It Ends,” which brings readers into the harrowing fifty-four minutes of a school shooting through the perspectives of four teens, and “Even If We Break,” a thrilling cabin-in-the-woods tale.
Marieke is a contributing author and editor of “Unbroken” in collaboration with disabled authors:
Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell.
Celebrate The Power of Storytelling and Embrace the Beauty of Diverse Voices with Kids Included Together
Our Summer 2023 reading list invites readers of all ages to immerse themselves in captivating stories. Each book on our list promises a unique adventure for every curious spirit.
But this collection goes beyond mere leisurely reading. Inclusion and diversity are woven into the very fabric of these narratives. In a world where representation matters more than ever, these books blend the magic of creativity with a profound sense of relatability, catering to the curiosity of young readers, while illuminating the vast spectrum of human diversity.
These books offer more than just entertainment. They provide windows into different worldviews, fostering respect, broadening perspectives, and instilling the core value of acceptance. Through their pages, young readers can develop a deeper understanding of inclusivity and shape their attitudes towards embracing differences.
Take the journey of disability inclusion even further. In addition to including this reading list in your summer program or school curriculum, we invite you to explore the comprehensive KIT Courses and Resources on disability inclusion training and behavior support. Together, we can support the crucial mission of creating a world where every child is seen, included, heard, and valued.
Need more help? Contact KIT and our experienced staff will work with you to create a program that meets your specific needs!