Tag Archives: disabilities

Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger

by Kody Keplinger
4.5 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Hadley is understandably angry. Her mom went to jail for embezzling, her father died when she was little, she’s losing her eyesight, and her big sister left home 5 years ago and never came back. But now she is back, to take Hadley to live with her while their mom is in jail. Hadley isn’t destructive, though, she’s just shut down. But when she meets a pit bull named Lila who is equally shut down, they are fast friends and change each other’s lives for the better.

Because of Lila, Hadley makes a new friend, starts Orientation and Mobility training (walking with a cane and navigating the city), and even forgives her mother. Because of Hadley, Lila is reunited with her beloved owner. The parallels between Lila’s and Hadley’s stories are a bit heavy handed at times, but would be perfect for a 4th or 5th grader, especially as a follow up to a book like How to Steal a Dog (dogs+social issues/poverty), Lety Out Loud (dogs+friendship+shelters), or Rain Reign (dogs+disabilities).

The other thing that bugged me were how much more mature than their ages Hadley’s sister and her new friend are. (I don’t know any 24-year-olds who rent a whole house in the suburbs with a guest room and everything; and the friend was the wise voice that I don’t think a kid would notice but just seemed to do everything right and perfectly.) But one of my favorite things was how Hadley’s sister, Beth, had a crush on her female coworker and it wasn’t a huge deal about her coming out, it was just that she was being so obvious that “even a 12-year-old can tell.”

One of the reasons I like reading the acknowledgements of books (besides finding out which famous authors are friends) is that I get to learn interesting things about authors. In this case, that Keplinger is also vision-impaired, making this an #ownvoices novel.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare Le Zotte

by Ann Clare Le Zotte
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

11-year-old Mary Lambert is growing up on Martha’s Vineyard in 1805, the height of the famous Deaf society there. Her friends and neighbors are all bilingual, it seems, and town meetings are conducted in both Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) and English. Mary can read and write in English, but not read lips, and her main language of communication is MVSL, which was a precursor to American Sign Language (ASL).

Mary’s family is still reeling from the loss of her beloved older brother, George, in a horsecart accident 8 months before. Mary is blissfully unaware that Deafness is highly misunderstood in much of the rest of the world, at least until a stranger comes to research her community. [Spoiler alert] At first the stranger seems benign, but then he abruptly kidnaps Mary and sails with her to Boston, where he keeps her as a domestic slave and a research subject. Mary is able to escape and return to home to her parents, who are beside themselves. She is certainly traumatized by the physical abuse she endures, but the major effects soon wane and she and her family are able to start to heal.

I give away the plot because it takes a while to get there, and without it, the plot is a bit slow. I thought the whole story was about her life on the island and her family’s loss of George, which is cool and all, but once this plot started, it really picked up and Mary became more interesting as a character. I loved her growth over the course of the story. The author’s note at the end explains more about the community and why the author chose to portray some signed dialogue in the grammar and motions of MVSL but the majority of the signed dialogue in English grammar, and I agree with her that it was just enough to get a feel for how it works without distracting too much from the story. The historical details were also great – I had no idea it would take 10 days to sail from the Vineyard around Cape Cod to Boston! These days it’s just 45 minutes by high-speed ferry from Woods Hole. This is also a great local historical fiction book for those in New England!

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

final-front-cover-roll-with-itby Jamie Sumner
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Ellie is actually excited to move from Kentucky to her grandparents’ home in Oklahoma with her mom, except for the whole starting a new school thing. But that goes well and soon she even has friends! Coralee, who lives next door, and Bert, a boy with mild autism, who stick together because, as Coralee points out, they are all different because they live in the trailer park.

Ellie and her mom have moved to help out with Ellie’s grandfather, who has dementia. He gets himself into various scrapes, including a final episode that clinches his move into assisted living with Mema in which he is in a lot of real danger. Ellie has very fond memories of vacations in Oklahoma and doesn’t want to leave when her mother determines that her new school isn’t adequately meeting her needs with being wheelchair-friendly and providing an aide. It doesn’t hurt that Ellie hates having an aide, or that she finally has the best PT of her life in her gym teacher, Hutch (who it is hinted that Ellie’s mom has a crush on). There’s also a subplot with Ellie’s dad and his “shiny new family” and who makes up for not spending time with Ellie by sending her expensive presents like an iPad. Ellie also loves to bake, which reminded me of the Dirt Diary series and Pie in the Sky.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

9781368022828by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.

There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).

There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino


by Alex Gino
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When Jilly’s baby sister, Emma, is born, they learn that she is hard of hearing. While her parents hang back and investigate their options, Jilly throws herself into learning American Sign Language. Bolstered by her friendship with a Deaf boy through an online forum for fans of her favorite fantasy series, she tries to contribute to her parents’ decisions. Her bull-in-a-china-shop approach alienates Derek, who she knows by his online handle Profound, and who she has a crush on. Meanwhile, racial tensions in Jilly’s extended family come to a head at Thanksgiving, when her uncle and grandmother show their racism, overtly and subtly, respectively, and alienate Aunt Joanne’s wife, Aunt Alicia. Joanne and Alicia storm out of Thanksgiving with their two Black children and do not return for Christmas. These events, alongside two murders of Black teens by police, kickstart conversations between Jilly and her parents, who admit that they had sought to protect her from worry by not talking about it. Jilly wisely (with Aunt Alicia’s counsel) advises them to talk about things – with her and with others. Jilly herself stands up when her family continues to say hurtful things even in Alicia’s absence.

I really appreciate seeing the conversations and the language that I’m seeing in my circles reflected in a more national platform. Ideas such as white allies stepping in and educating other white people when they commit micro-aggressions (or macro ones, for that matter), not avoiding talking about race with our white families, apologizing when you make mistakes (and you will make mistakes). Aunt Alicia is amazingly patient with Jilly. Derek is less patient, but the micro-aggressions that affect him are perhaps more realistic and detailed, and also hit on both misunderstandings around Deaf culture and deafness and on racial bias and racism and micro-aggressions. He informs Jilly that her sister’s cochlear implant is not her decision or his so he couldn’t weigh in on it and she can’t either. In the end, her parents have to make the decision for her, and for themselves. (They do end up going with the implant but also embracing ASL. I appreciated the two codas at the end so we can see how things turned out.)

Of note is that the first audiologist they visit views hearing loss as something near catastrophic and to be avoided at all costs. They are advised to proceed as soon as possible with surgery on their newborn and to not “confuse” Emma by signing to her. Jilly’s parents are going through a lot and overwhelmed so their reaction to this audiologist isn’t clear until a while later, when they reveal that they had “differences of opinion” with her and sought a new audiologist. Gino’s author’s note states that, sadly, audiologists like her do exist, but that Deaf culture is to be celebrated and encouraged. Teaching children ASL does not confuse them or inhibit them. There are more details in Gino’s author’s note about that and about white allyship, and they detail all the people they consulted when writing this book, and asking forgiveness from people of color in having two Black people murdered as part of the story.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan


by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ravi is brand new to his New Jersey classroom, straight from Bangalore. His teacher claims not to understand him when he talks and sends him with the Resource Room teacher with Joe, who has Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes Ravi furious. He’s sure he’s found a friend in Dillon Samreen, the only other Indian in his class (even though he’s an ABCD), but the teacher’s actions, not to mention Dillon’s natural malevolence, undermine their friendship. The story alternates between Ravi’s point of view and Joe’s, which shows aspects of each boy’s culture through their own eyes and through the eyes of an outsider, which was a really neat device and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. There’s even two glossaries at the back, one for words from Ravi’s world and one for words from Joe’s world, and some of them are defined in the other’s terms, like “Trunk: storage area at the rear of a vehicle, in India known as a dickey or boot” or “Baseball: an American game similar to cricket.” Ravi also makes it well known to the reader both how to pronounce his name (emphasis on the second syllable) and how important it is to him. Joe is the first person outside Ravi’s family to get his name right, and Ravi notices.

The story takes place over one week, Ravi’s first week of school. His singleminded focus on Dillon leads him to think Dillon is nice and Joe is mean and stupid, but luckily he comes to his senses by the end of the week, especially when Dillon tricks him into eating beef, which he explains is a sin for Hindus. The students are given an assignment to bring in an object that represents them, which brings Ravi and Joe together against Dillon and they become friends. This is what I love about middle grade fiction; everything ties up neatly and people learn things about themselves and how to get along.

Other interesting things about this story in particular: Joe’s dad is away driving a truck a lot, but when he is there, he spouts some hate against immigrants, but sort of redeems himself with a loving note to Joe, which was interesting. Joe’s mom takes a job at his school as a cafeteria employee, which embarrasses him to no end, especially once Dillon gets wind of it. Ravi’s teacher also displays some bias against him, mispronouncing his name, disregarding how he has been taught (especially math) and telling him she can’t understand him due to his accent. When she says English is not his native language, she shows her own (and many Americans’) ignorance; however, this exchange and others show a lot of nuance in our multicultural society. To Americans’ ears, the Indian accent is quite different and can be hard to understand, even if you have heard it a lot. Ravi also shows he is quite defensive and quick to anger when it comes to insulting his intelligence or social standing, but he realizes that his teacher is not always wrong about him. Overall, the nuance in particular is very well done and is a testament to how well these two authors work together to show both cultures.

Book and Movie: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

9780375869020  wonder_28film29

by R.J. Palacio

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I think it’s fair to call Wonder the biggest sensation in children’s lit in quite some time, but I’ll do a brief summary just for posterity. This is the story of 10-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a genetic craniofacial abnormality. Due to the dozens of surgeries he’s had in his life, his mother has homeschooled him, but now the family decides he’s ready to start school and they enroll him in a private school in Manhattan. Mostly the book consists of following Auggie through his first year of school, enduring the stares and the social outcast status, until he makes friends and ultimately wins a school award for character and strength.

I first read Wonder when it came out, and years later I’m still getting kids who want readalikes for it. While most of the book is incredibly touching, even five years after its publication it already seems so trite and just an “issue book” (where nothing really happens, it’s just about the main character having his unique feature). Especially the award – even Auggie says in the book that he doesn’t really get why he won it, that it seems like he just got it for being himself and living his life of challenges – seems so trite that I docked it a star. My adults-who-read-kids-books book club leader chose this one knowing we’ve all read it and I’m sure this will be a lot of the focus of the discussion on Thursday.

But enough Debbie Downer, onto the comparison. This book/movie comparison will be a little different because I may have more trouble than usual keeping apart what happened in the book vs. the movie. I was halfway through re-reading the book when I found myself on a long flight recently and I watched the movie to pass the time, then finished the book. But here goes, my best attempt!

The book switches voices frequently to show the same event from different perspectives. The movie does this too, but just once per character, since it’s a lot easier to tell who the focus is on visually. They did a great job getting into the minor characters’ back stories, like Via’s friend Miranda and Auggie’s classmates Jack and Julian. As always, they omitted some details and changed others around in ways that don’t add to or simplify the story in a meaningful way. Notably, they eliminated the storyline of Auggie getting hearing aids, changed up Summer and Jack’s befriending of Auggie, and took out Julian’s suspension in the movie. Also, while Via’s boyfriend, Justin, is racially ambiguous in the book, he is described as having “long hair” (which to me suggested he was not black) while in the movie he is black and has short hair. He is also given as the reason she joins the drama club and tries out for the school play in the movie, and I liked that development.

I was pleased to see that they did not really change the death of the family dog much at all, and that they added more to Via’s backstory, especially with her grandmother, in the movie. When I first saw the trailer, I was annoyed that the film did not portray Auggie’s facial features as drastically different as I’d imagined, but I got over that. Overall, solid performances and a script that stays very, very true to the original story, with chunks of dialogue lifted right from the book.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling


by Dusti Bowling
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Aven Green’s life was easier when she lived in the same town she’d lived in since she was 2 (when she was adopted) and people were used to seeing her in all her armless glory. But now Aven and her family are moving from Kansas to Arizona and she’ll have to make friends all over again, not to mention deal with the stares. But she perseveres, befriending a kid with Tourette’s syndrome and an overweight kid, and even getting the courage to join the soccer team (one sport she can definitely do well). I also liked how she describes how she manages many daily activities (but not in such great detail that it takes over the story), lists the pros and cons about them on her blog, and also refuses to answer more intimate questions (like how she wipes her own butt – so stop thinking about it already).

This was brought up in my book club as a Wonder readalike. Wonder was, well, wonderful when it came out, but now it’s almost trite. I’m always amazed at how well kids take to the story, and how they flock to the library when their teacher is reading it to get more books like it. I keep a mental list of readalikes and I’m definitely adding this one to it! It’s much less sappy than Wonder, and the story is not just about how other people see her, or her struggles in life. In fact, it’s a pretty typical middle grade novel.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter


by Vince Vawter
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Set in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1959, this is the mostly autobiographical story of Victor, aka Little Man, who has a stutter and doesn’t talk a lot. He sticks to people he’s most comfortable with: his best friend, Rat (Art, but Rat is easier for him to say), and his maid/nanny/speech therapist, Mam. When Little Man is 12, Rat goes away for all of July, leaving him in charge of Rat’s paper route for the month. Over the four weeks, Little Man lets us into his world, explaining how he gets around words that are hard for him to say: substituting words with easier starting sounds, starting hard words with an extra s on the front, and typing instead of speaking.

Little Man also gets to know some of his neighbors in Memphis, including Mrs. Worthington, a beautiful but tragic alcoholic trapped in an abusive marriage; Mr. Spiro, who always takes time to talk (and listen) to Little Man; and, eventually, another boy who is also different and becomes a friend (spoiler: he’s deaf, and Little Man discovers that he can talk with his hands without stuttering). Little Man’s paper route, while challenging on collection day when he has to talk to people to collect money, also brings to a head his interactions with his neighborhood’s colored junkman, Ara T. He asks Ara T to sharpen his pocketknife so he can use it to cut open the newspaper bundles and Ara T just keeps it for his own, but eventually Mam gets involved and gets it back in a dramatic and somewhat violent scene. Little Man also discovers that his father isn’t who he thinks and grapples with that for much of the month. The ending is not neat but is satisfactory, and Little Man’s growth is satisfying.

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist


Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Will Porter is a sophomore in high school when he attends public school for the first time, leaving the bubble of his private boarding school for the blind.  He wants to be a journalist, so he joins the school paper. His first assignment is with a girl named Cecily, a photographer, who takes him to the art museum and does such an amazing job of describing the paintings to him that he starts to fall for her. He also by chance joins her only friends at lunch, and they become his friends too. Well into Will’s crush on Cecily he learns about an experimental surgery to give him eyesight. He eventually decides to have the surgery despite all the risks, but the recovery is not what he expects, and especially Cecily is not what he expects. SPOILER ALERT He pushes her away, but eventually he and his friends go on a road trip from their home in Kansas to her dad’s home in Los Angeles so he can win her back.

My favorite thing about this book were the descriptions of Will’s experiences as a blind person and also as a person learning to see for the first time, especially his explanations of depth perception, relative size, colors, and navigation. It was also sort of interesting how quickly he realized that Cecily didn’t look like everyone else, and that she wasn’t “pretty”. I did find myself wondering how he knew. But overall he had fallen for her personality and ultimately that doesn’t stop him. The other aspect to this story is the physical and emotional risks to the surgery. It involves stem cells and Will’s body begins rejecting them, so there is also a risk that he will then lose the eyesight that he had gained (ultimately he keeps it). But there are also cases of people gaining eyesight and getting depressed for a variety of reasons, including trouble adjusting to the new sense and becoming  aware that they are not attractive. Will’s father is against him choosing the surgery, which leads to some tense moments, but eventually comes around to support his son.

In terms of Will and Cecily’s relationship, it is very very chaste and they only kiss at the very end. The Cecily storyline reminded me a bit of Wonder, so this might be good for fans of that book. Overall it reads more like a middle-grade novel than a YA one, especially with the happy ending.