Last year, the Amazon Books Team spoke to Lucy & James Catchpole, who run The Catchpole Agency, a literary agency who specialise in promoting authors and illustrators of children’s books. As disabled people, Lucy and James are passionate about the representation of disabled experience in literature.
Given Lucy and James’ expertise, our editorial team worked with The Catchpole Agency to create a shortlist of books that represent and reflect disabled experiences.
“As disabled people working in publishing, we're often asked to recommend good books that do disability well,” said Lucy and James Catchpole. “Disabled characters have always existed in literature, but hardly ever rise beyond stereotypes. Truthful reflections of disabled experiences are a relatively recent phenomenon. For the most part, disabled authors are only now being given the opportunity to tell these stories.”
Together, the pair have read through a wide variety of novels that tackle the subject of disability, paying particular attention to those narratives written by writers and artists who themselves are disabled.
“These stories can still be hard to find. It’s telling that some excellent books by disabled authors are direct counterpoints to far more famous works on disability by non-disabled authors. After ploughing through an awful lot of books, these are our absolute favourites and all are written by disabled authors.”
James is also an author and has also written ‘What Happened to YOU?’ – a picture book about a one-legged boy who is tired of being asked the same question every time he sets foot in the playground.
With such a wide selection of books for all audiences, and across a range of subjects, we’re sure that you will be able to find the perfect book for you, or for your loved ones.
Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar follows the story of a child-bear that discovers their deafness, visiting an audiologist with their father. This provides an insider view of deafness for very young children, written by a deaf poet and illustrated by a hard of hearing illustrator.
Similarly, This Beach Is Loud! by Samantha Cotterill provides an insightful view through the eyes of an exuberant, talkative boy during a visit to the beach with his father. Readers will see the story through the boy’s eyes: his excitement at first, followed by the sensory overload of the beach. Although autism is not directly referenced in the story, this book was written by an autistic author.
Books for children
A hugely enjoyable read for children and adults, El Deafo By Cece Bell and David Lasky provides a to-the-point education for all readers. Readers with full hearing will learn about the common mistakes made through the hearing characters in the book, while those who can relate to living with a hearing disability might find the story both entertaining and reassuring.
The Secret of Haven Point By Lisette Auton is a book which builds a deeply imaginative fantasy with a warm, witty, charismatic voice. The author channels the powerful force of disability solidarity into a powerful and moving narrative.
Young Adult Fiction
Scottish author Elle McNicoll’s book, A Kind of Spark, is dedicated to her autistic readers and “all children with happy, flapping hands”. Readers will discover a world that is often cruel and unfair to autistic people (both in the past and present) through the eyes of eleven-year-old Addie. Addie becomes fascinated by the history of witch trials in her town, noticing that the women targeted were seen as different, just like her.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz is a counterpoint to the many books about ill teenagers with tragic ends. Readers will find this a very enjoyable young adult love story between chronically ill teenagers. The book boldly states on the cover that “They don’t die in this one”.
Young Adult Non-Fiction
I Am Not A Label by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Mark Baldo is a stylishly illustrated book of short biographies for children that presents a range of well-known disabled people. Author and former CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, herself disabled, chooses a number of famous individuals from history; ranging from the obvious – such as Frida Kahlo, Stevie Wonder and Beethoven – to the less well-known, like Nabil Shaban who played Sil in Doctor Who, and a few we might not immediately identify as disabled at all, like Lady Gaga.
Ariel Henley’s A Face For Picasso contains some graphic descriptions of surgery and distressing scenes of bullying from both adults and children as it upends our expectations of life after a ‘successful’ surgery to change her and her twin’s faces. Ariel Henley reminds readers that frequently, real life is crueller than fiction.
Talia Hibbert’s Get A Life, Chloe Brown follows the main character through a traditional enemies-to-lovers romance in which chronic pain is never forgotten or ‘overcome,’ but woven into the narrative.
So Lucky by Nicola Griffith is an exciting thriller with a dramatic ending. The hero has a powerful role in an AIDS foundation before being diagnosed with MS, eventually becoming a recipient of charity themselves. Readers can expect this book to deal with sensitive yet important topics such as hate crimes against disabled people.
Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg By Emily Rapp Black weaves her thoughts on Frida Kahlo’s art and disability in with reflections on her own life. The book explores what being an amputee has meant to the author and the curious narratives the world insists on applying to disabled women.
Fairy tales can be conflicting for a disabled child. Disabled characters are almost always villains, waiting for a magical cure or exist to provide comedy. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space (Exploded Views) by Amanda Leduc seeks to point out that we’re all misled by fairy tales into expecting goodness to be reflected in physical perfection, as she details her own love-hate relationship with characters like the seven dwarves and more.
Judith Heumann’s Being Heuman, follows her life as one of the key driving forces behind major legal and political change for disabled people. The book follows her through her 1950s childhood which covers direct and indirect discrimination, through to her activism and Washington careers in the administration of both Clinton and Obama.
A beautiful memoir about childhood cancer and disability, motherhood and loss, Christa Couture’s How To Lose Everything, resists and rejects simple stories of bravery or triumph over adversity, and suggests that readers must be okay with despair. “Sometimes you will lose everything, and it will be different.”
If You Really Love Me, Throw Me Off The Mountain by Erin Clark is a memoir about adventure and intimacy. Readers will follow Erin’s journey as she tries to wrestle back the narrative around disability through aerial performance, pole dancing, paragliding and writing.
Rebekah Taussig’s memoir Sitting Pretty takes readers through her chaotic and boisterous childhood, teenage romance, marriages, her career as a teacher and by the end of the book, approaching motherhood with skill and humour. Readers will experience the author's confusion between her perception of herself as a child, and her growing realisation that as a wheelchair user, society will inevitably apply stereotypes to her.
Esteemed US disability activist Alice Wong has gathered together 35 diverse disabled writers to create the anthology Disability Visibility, full of individual stories which written by and for disabled people.
Like many people, Carly Findlay rejected the term ‘disabled’ as a child. She has now embraced the term, and her book Growing Up Disabled in Australia is a celebration of the community it allowed her to find. Like Wong’s anthology, many different cultures and disabilities are reflected in these Australian non-fiction stories.
In The Perseverance, Raymond Antrobus shares his award-winning poetry and explores his deafness and his British Jamaican identity. In his writing he expresses his frustration at deaf schools, today and in his own childhood, stating that: “You erased what could have always been poetry”.
Single Window By Daniel Sluman is a collection of autobiographical poetry drawing upon his own experiences of spending a year with his wife living on their sofa, unable to safely climb the stairs to bed. The poetry of pain, confinement and illness doesn't make for an easy read – often describing graphic content around medical trauma, amputation and drug-taking. Readers may find beauty in his language and how their love and tenderness for each other keeps them going.