Throughout February, the Jewish community traditionally focuses on disability and inclusion. These concepts can be abstract for many kids, no matter who they are. My sixth grader, who has dyslexia, often feels removed from his own learning differences.
“Do I actually have dyslexia? What is it? Why do I have a tutor?” he’ll ask as I stammer out answers—but when he learns about super-creative people like Steven Spielberg who are also dyslexic, it seems to sink in.
Books help bridge the gap through learning in two ways: windows and mirrors.
“There’s the idea of windows and mirrors in children’s books: With windows, the idea is to see someone else’s experience through a story. Mirrors happen for children who can see themselves in a story,” says Julie Koven, librarian at The Rashi School in Dedham. Kids can either feel reaffirmed or supported through books, or they can learn something new—in a participatory, engaged way.
“When you dive into a book, you can become part of that character’s experience. You can connect with it in a way that’s different from someone standing in front of you and lecturing to you about the topic,” she says, which is definitely true for my own son.
Koven shared her selections as part of our inclusion-themed February reading series. The following stories have beautiful illustrations, relatable characters and compelling plots (and often all three). Many have Jewish tie-ins, too, and the majority are available on audiobook as well.
“We’re not just responsible for other Jewish people—we’re responsible for our whole community,” Koven says.
Books for Younger Readers
- “We Want to Go to School: The Fight for Disability Rights” by Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler
- “Fighting for Yes!: The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann” by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
- “I Will Dance” by Nancy Bo Flood
- “We Move Together” by Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire
- “All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything” by Annette Bay Pimentel
- “The Mitten String” by Jennifer Rosner
- “Ali and the Sea Stars” by Ali Stroker
Books for Middle Grades
- “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” by Dusti Bowling
- “Braced” by Alyson Gerber
- “Focused” by Alyson Gerber
- “Hello, Universe” by Erin Estrada Kelly
- “Song for a Whale” by Lynne Kelly
- “The Chance to Fly” by Ali Stroker
- “Roll With It” by Jamie Sumner
Check out more picks from Gateways.