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Children’s Novels with Disabled Characters Ten of the Best

‘The depiction of disabled characters in books for young readers has changed in the most fundamental way in the past century and a half,’ says Rebecca Butler. ‘In nineteenth century texts disabled characters were sometimes being justly punished for their misdeeds “in God’s school of pain” or being prepared solely for a graceful exit from life. Today, thanks to writers such as those listed below, disabled characters are presented as people who can live useful and productive lives, whatever the nature of their impairments. The change in the way disability is handled in texts is as fundamental and significant as the change in the way women were traditionally depicted.’ Here Rebecca Butler chooses her top ten children’s novels with disabled characters.

Saffy’s Angel

Hilary McKay, Hodder, 978 0 34085080 0, £5.99 pbk

In her eccentric and dysfunctional family, Saffy learns that she is an adopted child. She recollects a plaster statuette of an angel, symbolic of her lost identity. Sarah, presented initially just as ‘the girl in the wheelchair’, is determined to help Saffy rediscover her angel. Sarah becomes a living, vibrant and tenacious character who will not give up until the angel is found. 11+

10 Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 10

A Different Life Lois Keith, Livewire, 978 0704349469, £5.99 pbk

Libby Starling lives a perfectly ordinary teenage life, worrying about her looks and romantic dreams. She contracts a mysterious illness which leaves her paralysed below the waist. The book charts Libby’s journey and that of her family, through accurately recorded periods of rage and despondency, to the point of equilibrium. Her new identity is accepted as the basis for her different life. 13+

Out of Place

Lois Keith, Crocus, 978 0946745470, £7.99 pbk

Eva, a disabled girl in Nazi-dominated Austria is classified by the medical authorities as ‘a useless eater’, a candidate for ‘euthanasia’. Her



housekeeper finds her a place on a refugee ship by pretending Eva is Jewish. In London she grows up believing herself to be a Jewish girl, until the truth about her racial origins is revealed with shocking consequences. In this ironic book it is the kind people who tell lies and the cruel people who tell the truth. 13+


Linda Newbery, David Fickling Books, 978 0099 472827, £6.99 pbk

Newbery’s book is a striking portrayal of the impact of Alzheimer’s syndrome on an individual and her family. The story links the historical period of the Holocaust with the modern day. The link between the time periods is dramatically revealed through dementia. Racial conflict in the contemporary world evinces echoes of the Third Reich. The young sisters of the title witness history reified

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