The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche
In this wordless picture book, a little girl goes out and makes a snow rabbit. Her friend or sister is in a wheel chair, so she brings the rabbit inside to her. But the rabbit starts to melt so they decide to try and take the wheel chair out in the snow. To their astonishment, the rabbit comes to life and it starts to grow. Which is a good thing when the wheel chair refuses to move and strange creatures start to close in on the girls.
- Art Lovers: I was quickly enamored with the gorgeous illustrations in this.
- Wheelchair Users/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Wheelchair Users: Kids who use wheelchairs will find someone like them in this story, and those who want to better understand kids in wheelchairs will realize some of the challenges they face.
- Touching Story Fans: The story itself is just as touching and enchanting as the illustrations. A beautiful story in topic and presentation.
- Wordless Book Fans: As mentioned, there isn’t a single word in this book. The story is told entirely through the illustrations, so kids of any age, reading ability, or native language can enjoy it easily.
Picture Book Biographies and an Autobiography
Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth by Barb Rosenstock, ill. by Gérard DuBois
A picture book biography of photographer Dorothea Lange, who overcame disabilities suffered because of polio, defied convention by becoming a photographer even though she was a woman, and stepped outside the studio to photograph the lonely and forgotten.
- Inspirational True Story Lovers/Fans of Disability Overcomer Stories/Fans of People Who Speak up for the Lonely & Forgotten: A great picture book biography about someone who overcame their own difficulties, and used a "small" skill to help make other lives better.
- Art/Photography Fans: Like me, you may recognize several of Dorothea’s photographs, but never have known anything about the woman behind them before. This is also the story of the power of art to move people to action. "Just" taking pictures can be a powerful occupation.
Six Dots: a Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, ill. by Boris Kulikov
A picture book biography of Louis Braille, the young blind boy who invented an alphabet for the blind.
- Readers Looking to Understand the Blind/Braille Studiers/History of Language Studiers: This is a fascinating and informative little picture book biography. Readers can better understand the challenges those without vision face, and learn how Braille developed his language for them to read.
Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw, photographs by Matt Carr
Meet Shane Burcaw who has spinal muscular atrophy (a type of muscular dystrophy) and wants readers to know what he's really like, how he manages everyday tasks, what his hobbies are, and what he can and cannot do. Burcaw's goal in sharing a bit of his life through words and photos is for kids to realize he isn't so different from them.
- Readers Working on Understanding Others Better: Shane Burcaw fills a much needed gap of breaking down barriers. We often fear that we don't understand. So meet Shane, gain understanding, and the next time you come across someone in a wheel chair look at them like a normal person. Brucaw's book is short and simple but very eye opening. This received a Schneider Family Book Award this year. A must read.
Middle Grade Fiction
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven was born without arms, but she doesn't let that stop her (with the loving but firm encouragement from her adopted parents). She can get dressed by herself, eat meals, do her own hair, and even play the guitar. She's had a great group of friends at her school in Kansas who love her for her and see her as Aven, not the girl without arms. However, her family is moving to Arizona so her dad can be the manager for a Western theme park and Aven isn't thrilled with the idea of starting over at a new school in middle school. In her quest for a non-awkward lunch period, Aven meets fellow misfits Connor and Zion. Connor has Tourette syndrome and one of his tics is that he barks which can get really misunderstood. Zion struggles with his weight. The three of them form a bond, forged by the ability to see each other and not their quirks. It is still hard, though, even with friends. While each of them figures out how to do this thing called life and survive the other inhabitants of the planet, Aven pulls the guys into figuring out the mystery of why the owners of the Stagecoach Pass never show up in person and all photos of them have disappeared. Does the locked up building with seven no trespassing signs have any answers?
- Kids Who Are Looking for Themselves in Books/Readers Learning How to Love Others/Inspirational Story Fans/Great Friendship Fans: This was so, so, SO good in giving a voice to the people who get unwanted attention in public. Aven is a spectacular character. It was an inspiring look at how much someone without arms is still capable of doing if they really want to and have a supportive environment. She didn't let her lack of arms get in her way most of the time, but she was still realistically struggling with certain aspects of accepting herself and knowing how to deal with the ways strangers react to her. There were moments that were heartbreaking and moments that were so uplifting and inspirational. But overall Aven is perky and has a great sense of humor (I laughed out loud several times), and her narration helps keep things upbeat. I think my favorite part of this book is the way Aven befriended Connor. He'd pretty much given up on himself and the rest of the world, but Aven swallows down her first annoyance with him and then proceeds to change his life by being a loving friend no matter how his Tourettes displays or what kinds of walls he puts up. Zion kind of gets swept up in the trail of their friendship, and he is also changed by being shown kindness. There were so very many examples of how to be a loving friend in here. The main message of the book is how to be a real friend to someone with a disability, how to better understand how they want to be treated, and a look inside their secret struggles. And it was done so splendidly.
- Mystery Fans/Unique Setting Fans: The setting of living in an Old West run down touristy location put a nice unique twist on things, and the little mystery at the Stagecoach Pass provides a nice side project for the friends to bond over.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada was born with a club foot. Her mother has told her that her crippled foot makes her useless and unwanted. She hides Ada away in the house, treats her like dirt, and tells Ada she's protecting the rest of the world from her. Ada's life isn't happy, but she makes do. And her younger brother Jamie is a bright spot in her life. When Mama is out working, the two siblings have moments of fun and joy despite little to eat. Jamie is growing up and attending school now, though, and Ada is starting to feel left behind. Then Jamie comes home with news that they are evacuating all children because of the war Hitler is threatening. Ada decides that she must go away with Jamie, so she works on standing and walking when Mama is not watching. The day of the evacuation the two siblings sneak out before their mother can stop them and soon find themselves in a strange town in the country. No one wants the two grubby evacuees, and eventually they get dumped on a reclusive spinster lady named Susan Smith. Susan claims to know nothing about children and begs off taking them, but the wily woman in charge of the evacuees manages to get them placed with her anyway. Despite Susan's rough exterior, the two neglected children soon learn much about the world that their mother kept from them. With the help of an old pony and a scruffy cat, as well as the soft depths of Susan's outwardly-crusty heart, Ada and Jamie begin to heal, grow and recover from their former lives. And a war that threatens everyone's lives ends up dramatically changing three lives for the better.
- Those Hunting for Read Alikes: The whole time I was reading this I was reminded of Goodnight Mister Tom by Magorian. Both books are about abused children who are evacuees from London in WWII ending up with older, crusty adults, and their lives dramatically being turned around while also melting the older person's heart.
- Those Born with a Club Foot/Those Looking for Neglected Kids in Lit/Bittersweet Story Fans/WWII Story Fans/Horse Lovers: In addition to learning what a proper home life is supposed to look like, Ada also learns how to function in society despite her disability. The things Ada and Jamie have gone through are heart-breaking. Ms Smith is wonderfully understanding, and so very patient. The story is sure to tug at the most stubborn of heart strings. I think what most impressed me about the writing was how Bradley was able to think about what kinds of things Ada would have been ignorant of being stuck inside a city flat all her life. I haven't heard many people mention that this is also a book likely to resonate with horse lovers. Much of Ada's recovery and growth is tied to how she falls in love with horses and is determined to ride them despite her disability. A sweet historical fiction and don’t miss the sequel which is just as good, if not even better.
Middle Grade Biography
Helen’s Eyes: a Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher by Marfe Ferguson Delano
A biography of Annie Sullivan, information about her life and her own vision problems, and her work with Helen Keller.
- Those with Impaired Vision/Readers Who Want to Better Understand the Blind/Inspirational True Story Fans: Annie Sullivan is often just a side character in Helen Keller’s stories, but she was a pretty amazing woman who overcame huge challenges in her life and in her work.
- Fans of Books Loaded with Primary Sources: Delano and National Geographic did a splendid job of hunting down original photographs and primary sources to enrich this biography in its authenticity and in visual presentation.
Graphic Novels: 1 Middle Grade & 1 Young Adult
El Deafo by Cece Bell
CeCe Bell went deaf at age 4 after a childhood disease. She retells her childhood, dealing with her disability and feeling different, with some fictionalized events and a cast of rabbit characters.
- Those Looking for Deaf Kids in Books/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Graphic Novel Fans: Don't miss the author's notes in the back of this graphic novel! She does a fantastic job of clarifying the broad range of experiences for people who are deaf, and also how much of this is a true story and what she tweaked for the tale. It's a great piece of fiction for kids, helping give them a peak into the mind of a person who feels glaringly different and also hopefully helping them realize that those with disabilities have feelings and hopes and worries much like they do. This is hands down the most popular award winning book in our library. The kids love CeCe’s story.
Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, ill. by Jeff Stokely
The village of Hameln has a bad rat problem. The village's rat catcher is having trouble keeping up, and fever is starting to run rampant. When the mysterious young man with the flute waltzes into town with a tangle of dead rats on his staff, the village leaders are eager to agree to his demands in exchange for the riddance of the rats. The only person who really gets to know the young man is Maggie. Few take the time to get to know Maggie because she is deaf. But the young man finds her intriguing, and she basks in his attention. But they have very different ideas of how to deal with past wrongs.
Note: Some violence.
- Those Who Like Deep Books or Books to Chew On/Graphic Novel Fans/Deaf Teens/Readers Wanting to Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Fans of Books with Solid Relationship Advice/Pied Piper Fans: There's so much symbolism and thematic stuff in here I feel like I need to re-read this a half a dozen times to fully grasp it all. Which I love. I am enthralled with the depth of the story that Asher & Freeburg have woven from this Pied Piper of Hamelin graphic novel retelling. It's not all that long, but there are some big questions about whether justice and payment for wrongs is more important than forgiveness, and how greed and pride can literally tear apart and ruin a village. And then there's the question of whether or not senses are really needed to be the most perceptive person. And if romantic love is worth compromising your deeply held beliefs. (So proud of Maggie! Way to go girl!) So much stuff to chew on. The art is attractive too.
Young Adult Fiction
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Jessica is a runner. She lives to feel the wind in her face and the thrill of crossing the finish line. So losing a foot in an accident feels like the end of the world. In fact, she sometimes wishes she could trade places with the girl who died in the accident and possibly had it easier. But in the midst of despair and grief, Jessica's family and best friend Kayley will NOT give up on her or let her wallow in grief. Once Jessica gets out of the hospital, Kayley practically drags her out of the house and back to high school, even though Jessica is scared of how people will look at her now. But being different turns out a great way to find out who really cares about the real her, like her track team that gives her an unexpected dose of hope by deciding to try and raise $20,000 for a special running leg so Jessica can someday live that running dream she has every night. And there's also Rosa, a math whiz and super wise friend who happens to have cerebral palsy, and who ashamedly, Jessica had always totally ignored before the accident. Beyond learning some important things about herself, Jessica realizes that people like Rosa and herself want to be known and loved for who they are, not for their conditions, and she decides to use the platform her accident has given her to raise awareness of this in her town.
- Amputees/Readers with Cerebral Palsy/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Amputees or People with Cerebral Palsy/Inspirational Book Fans/Fans of Books That Make You Cry Happy Tears/Runners: This is my go-to, must-shove-into-the-hands-of-every-reader book. I actually haven’t brought it up in the Brainstorm for quite a while because I feel like I’m always recommending this book. I can’t help it; it’s just that good. Jessica's roller coaster ride of emotions throughout the book feels so incredibly realistic for a teen facing such a situation. And the way her parents, sister, and various friends react feels very authentic as well. Van Draanen obviously did her homework. I think the power of the story is not just that Jessica overcomes her hardships with the help of an awesome community, but she uses what she learns and has been blessed with to bless others. As wonderful as her story is, when Rosa enters the picture, it goes to a whole new level of wonderful. I can't believe this hasn't been made into a movie because people would eat it up. Oh, and for those of you who cry during Hallmark movies or Hallmark card commercials, be warned you will probably need a jumbo-sized box of tissues to go with this book.
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Veda is a Bharatanatyam dancer on the rise in India, but just after a great dance competition win, she loses a leg in a car accident. Veda’s world is shattered. All she wanted to be was a dancer. But the American doctor working on her prosthetic gives her hope that one day she’ll dance again. Her old dance instructor turns her away. Not giving up, Paati (her grandmother), suggests she try with another famous traditional dance instructor. Veda is desperate, so she goes to meet the dance instructor and is accepted, on the condition that she be willing to relearn from the beginning, and possibly learn some new things along the way. Veda chafes at the simplicity, but her new limb makes it clear she has as much to conquer as the little kids. Learning isn’t too bad though with handsome Govinda as her teacher. Slowly, Veda must come to terms with her changed body, what has happened to her, and what her goals are in life.
- Fans of Books Set in India/Amputees/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Amputees/Dancers/Novels in Verse Fans/Those Looking for a Quick Read: This was a touching story, an interesting peak into Indian life and culture so rarely depicted for an English-speaking audience, and the free verse poetry fits it perfectly. And since it is written in free verse, you’ll fly through this book in just an hour or two.
- Read Alike Fans: There are several similarities between this and The Running Dream. If you like one, you should like the other.
Soundless by Richelle Mead
High on a mountain top in ancient Asia there was a village. The village used to be connected to farmland and the lowlands until an landslide blocked the path. With that separation also came another gradual change, all the villagers slowly went deaf. Fei and all other living villagers have never known what it's like to hear, but they have adapted well and are satisfied. But now some of them are starting to go blind. On top of that, their one connection to the lowlands and food has started to demand more ore from the mines and is delivering less food. Most villagers say to accept things, but when Li Wei loses his father in the mines because of his failing sight and Fei's sister has to be demoted from an artist to a servant, both find the motivation to go confront the man who controls their food lines. Li Wei wouldn't have agreed to take Fei down the steep sides of the mountain in such a risky climb, but the truth is he needs her. No one has attempted the climb before because they couldn't hear the rock slides. And inexplicably, Fei has started to regain her hearing. Neither knows what to expect at the bottom of the mountain nor exactly how to save their village, but they must try.
- Deaf Readers/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Chinese Mythology Fans/Chinese Setting Fans/Light Fantasy Fans/Clean Romance Fans: This may be a relatively short stand alone book, but it is still quite an accomplishment. Mead does an amazing job describing what it would be like for a young woman who has never heard and never known anyone who could hear to suddenly regain that sense. It's not an easy feat, but she pulls it off believably. I also liked that she portrayed the villagers as completely satisfied with no hearing. When Fei first starts to hear she even wishes the hearing would go away. It helps show that those without hearing can still live a full and beautiful life. The ancient China village setting is enthralling and there's a touch of Chinese mythology mixed in. The relationship between Fei and Li Wei is complicated but they talk things out and in the end it is a good example for teens. They both have the other's best interest at heart and demonstrate unconditional love. Hand this one to those who are looking for fantasies set in Asia, who want to better understand those with no hearing, who love romances with characters who have a love/hate relationship to start, or those who like reimagined histories with a touch of fantasy.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
As World War II envelopes Europe, the lives of two teenagers, one a blind French girl, and one a young German, are entwined by radio waves, an ailing German soldier, and a legendary diamond on the small island of Saint-Malo. The story goes back and forth in time till eventually you get the whole picture of each person and the fateful events on Saint-Malo that bring them together.
Werner is a young German orphan when the rumblings of war break out. He is known in his community for his small build, shockingly blond hair, and knack with radios. If it's broken, he can puzzle it out and have it working again. Of course, these are the days before the radios are all confiscated. But this time period of tinkering with electronics gets noticed, and takes him away from his destiny in the mines to a special Nazi school where he helps a teacher develop a set of radios to help locate resistance broadcasts throughout Europe. Eventually, his age is tampered with and he is out in the midst of the war with a special team that hunts down rogue broadcasters.
Marie-Laure is blinded by an illness at a young age. Her father, keeper of the keys at the National Museum in Paris, constructs models of her community for her to learn her way around. And his colleagues at the National Museum keep Marie-Laure's love for nature and curiosity alive. When Paris is threatened with invasion, Marie-Laure and her father set out to find refuge with great-uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo, her father entrusted with a very special diamond from the museum. It takes several years for the war to make it's way to Saint-Malo, but it eventually does arrive. In part because of the big radio in the attic that Uncle Etienne uses to help the resistance.
Von Rumpel is the Nazi's gem specialist. When they invade Paris, he makes a visit to the National Museum and sets off on the trail of a very special gem legend says just might save his life.
Note: Click on the title to see content notes.
- WWII Setting Fans/Readers Wanting to Better Understand the Blind/Readers Who Like Character Studies: Most WWII novels just due to the time period are highly suspenseful, but I found this one to be an exception. Not to say that it was boring or slow, it wasn't. But the focus of the story was primarily on the growing up of Werner and Marie-Laure from around age 12-16, and how the war affected them. Much of the time was spent in school or everyday activities, the high action moments were few and far between, and that resulted in a calm but steady progression for the novel. I especially liked the time spent with Marie-Laure and "seeing" things from her unique perspective, and how she helps her uncle conquer some of his PTSD from WWI. Werner's tale is more of a tragedy, but no less interesting. It is good to consider how conflicted genius German youth must have struggled under the Nazi regime. That is also a perspective I have not encountered in literature before. The end of the novel follows several characters all the way to 2014, and how the war continues to leave an impact on lives to the present, in ways of which younger generations may be completely ignorant. It was an eye-opening novel, peering into perspectives of the war not often explored.