Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Children's Books Featuring Main Characters with Speech, Language, Learning, and Hearing Challenges

After spending 20 years working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist with students with a variety of speech and language challenges, it's exciting to see so many books featuring characters with the same challenges I observed in my students. A few noteworthy titles are described below.
Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott, released June of 2021, is a picture book biography for ages 4-8 exploring the life of a fiber artist with Down Syndrome and hearing impairment. Judith has over 160 sculptures featured in museums around the world. The book was written by Judith's twin sister, Joyce, along with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet. Born in 1943 before laws were in place to protect disabled children, Judith was not allowed to go to school and was sent to an institution instead. Joyce took Judith out of the institution as soon as she was able to live with her in California where Judith attended the Creative Growth Art Center where her innate talent blossomed. On the subject of disability rights, check out the picture book, We Want to Go to School: The Fight for Disability Rights by Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler who has cerebral palsy. 

See my September 20 Post about the picture book, Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House.  It's another new 2021 release. Read the Q&A with author Beth Anderson as she talks about the evidence that Tad Lincoln may have had a partial cleft palate in addition to speech and learning challenges. My Educator's Guide may be downloaded as a PDF

I Talk Like a River written by poet Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith is a picture book that explores the world of a boy who is full of words, but has difficulty expressing himself because he stutters. In the author's note, Jordan Scott talks about his own struggles with stuttering. Winner of the 2021 Schneider Family Book Award. Find activities and lesson plans at Teaching Books.

A Boy and a Jaguar is the autobiographical account of author Alan Robinwitz's early struggles with stuttering. He loves visiting the cat house at the Bronx Zoo and discovers that when he talks to the animals, he does not stutter. He learns to speak for the animals and becomes a wildlife conservationist. This picture book, illustrated by Catia Chen, is for grades Pre K - 2 and is a 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Winner. The Teacher's Guide from the Classroom Bookshelf includes tips for teaching students to write memoir.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte for ages 9-12 explores the little-known history of an 1805 deaf community on Martha's Vineyard. There was little distinction between the hearing and the hearing impaired because almost everyone used sign language. Though the heroine is fictional as are the events of the story, the history of the island was well-researched by the author who is deaf and the back matter includes an author's note about the island. Winner of the 2021 Schneider Family Book Award. Find Lesson Plans at Teaching Books.

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, sign language interpreter, written for grades 4-8 explores the connection between Iris, a girl with a hearing impairment, and a Blue 55, a whale that cannot communicate with other whales of his species. She is the only deaf student at her school and she understands what it is like to have difficulty interacting with her peers. Winner of the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award. See the. Educator's Guide by Random House.

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice, and illustrated by Rafael Lopez,  is a picture book for ages 4-8. Sonia writes from her own experience with having diabetes, but the additional characters, with a variety of physical and cognitive challenges, are all fictional. The book tells the story of a group of children working together to create a garden. It embraces diversity by encouraging children to "Just Ask" when they wonder about someone who is different from them. The text points out that not all children are comfortable talking about their differences, in which case children can seek answers from parents and teachers. The book includes perspectives from children with dyslexia as well as asthma, blindness, hearing impairment, autism, stuttering, Tourette's Syndrome, Down Syndrome, ADHD, and allergies. There is also a child in a wheelchair. Winner of the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award. The Lesson Guide from Read Across American includes resources for teaching kids about disability. The Nora Project offers additional guidance about the difference between showing respectful curiosity versus requiring answers of children who may feel very private about their challenges.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret) for grades 8-13 explores the lives of two young people with hearing impairments. Ben and Rose each set out on a journey to find lost parents that ends at the Museum of Natural history in New York City. Their stories intertwine even though they are separated by fifty years. Ben's story is told in prose while Roses's story is told in beautiful black and white illustrations. Winner of the 2012 Schneider Family Book Award. Find lessons plans from the Texas School for the Deaf Statewide Outreach Center and a Discussion Guide by Scholastic.

Rules was written by Cynthia Lord who is the parent of a child with autism. In this book for ages 11-14, Catherine develops a list of rules to help her autistic brother, David, regulate his behavior. While waiting for David at the Occupational Therapy clinic, Catherine befriends Jason, a boy in a wheelchair, who communicates via words in a communication book. The story explores feelings of love, frustration, embarrassment, acceptance, and sibling conflict. Winner of the 2007 Schneider Family Book Award. It is also a Newbery Honor Book. See the Discussion Guide from author Cynthia Lord. 

To find my list of children's books featuring main characters with DYSLEXIA, visit my October Blog Post.

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