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Kids With Disabilities Focus of Three New Books

Share The Paralympic Games kick off next week in Sydney, Australia. As the spotlight shines on the world's exceptional Paralympic athletes, why not extend your students' learning -- and their understanding of what it means to be differently abled -- by using one of this week's highlighted books? Each of these books is intended to help young readers appreciate that all people are special and are more alike than they are different.

The 2000 Paralympic Games are about to get under way in Sydney. Hundreds of athletes with disabilities from around the world will compete. The Games offer a great opportunity to teach about overcoming obstacles and working hard to achieve goals.

When the classroom discussion turns to the Games and their remarkable athletes, why not add to the discussion by sharing one of three new books that help students look beyond the physical limitations of a person with disabilities? These books focus on the similarities -- not the differences -- that all people share!


Book Cover Image Let's Talk About It: Extraordinary Friends (Puffin Books) is written by Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) with photographs by Jim Judkis. This new entry in the Let's Talk About It series by Rogers takes an open, honest look at disabilities. Written for curious children without special needs, this book tackles a subject that many youngsters find intimidating. Rogers demystifies the subject and dispels stereotypes and common misunderstandings.

With the same directness that characterizes his children's television program, Rogers acknowledges that it isn't always easy to ignore individual differences:

Sometimes it can be hard to remember how much people are alike, especially when you meet someone who doesn't walk or talk or learn the same way you do. ...

You might wonder, "Why is he like that?" or "What happened to him?" You might want to know about some everyday things like, "How does he eat or get dressed or what does he like to do?"

Bright, full-color photographs depict six children. Included are kids who use wheelchairs, walkers, and assistive communication technologies as they go about their everyday activities. There are also pictures of some adults with disabilities, including a librarian reading a book to a group of children.

Rogers encourages youngsters to ask questions, both of the adults they know and of the people who have disabilities, reminding his readers that the best way to initiate a conversation is to simply say "Hi." The attitude throughout the book is one of openness, friendliness, and acceptance. As Rogers states in his introduction,

One of life's joys is discovering that we can be open to new experiences that at first seem strange or even scary. It's exhilarating to find that the barriers that seem to separate us from other people begin to vanish when we take the time to get to get to know those people. That's the way it is with real friends.


Book Cover Image Told in simple, easy-to-read rhymes, Susan Laughs (Henry Holt and Company), written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross, follows the daily activities of a young girl who is probably not very different from the youngsters enjoying this book. Susan laughs, splashes in the tub, sings, and otherwise enjoys all kinds of activities. She can be good or bad, right or wrong. In every way, she is an ordinary kid.

On the last page of the book, readers discover that Susan uses a wheelchair to get around.

This cheerful, attractive picture book features colorful illustrations showing the smiley, redheaded Susan participating in a variety of activities. The large illustrations make it a good choice for reading aloud to students in prekindergarten through first grade. Willis uses only a few words to describe each picture, so novice readers will be able to enjoy the book on their own.

With the wide array of common activities, experiences, and emotions portrayed, children will readily identify with Susan. Although they may be surprised by the last picture of Susan in her wheelchair, students will have a connection with her and will agree with the last sentence, "That is Susan through and through -- just like me, just like you."

Told with insight, a sense of fun, and a lack of sentimentality, Susan Laughs is an excellent tool for teaching young students that people are more alike than different.


Book Cover Image In Different Just Like Me (Talewinds), written and illustrated by Lori Mitchell, April was eagerly anticipating a trip to visit her grandmother, but she had to wait a whole week. To keep busy, she and her mother spent the week doing errands, visiting April's father at his office, and going out to lunch. During those activities, April came to notice all the differences between herself and the people she encountered. Some spoke in different languages or used wheelchairs; some were grown-ups or were males or needed to use Braille to recognize the correct elevator stop. No matter what differences April discovered, she also was aware of how similar everyone was:

On Monday morning Mom and I went into town to run errands. We got on the bus and sat across the aisle from a girl about my age. She looked at me and smiled. She was making motions with her hands, and so was her friend. Mom told me that because the girl couldn't hear, she and her friend used their hands to make words. Mom said it's a different way of talking called sign language. When we came to our stop, I waved good-bye to the girl, and she waved back, just like me.

When April and her mother finally arrived at Grammie's house, she immediately noticed that though Grammie's neighbor's yard contained straight rows of neatly planted red roses, "Grammie's flowers grew everywhere. There were marigolds, violets, pansies, and many other flowers in every color of the rainbow. ... Every time I thought I'd found my favorite, we found another one just as pretty. Grammie told me it was okay to like them all."

After her weekend visit, April reflected on all the people she had seen or met and concluded that, "Like the flowers in Grammie's garden, they were all different from one another, and that's what made them so great."

Mitchell's illustrations feature colorful acrylic renderings of people against black-and-white pencil backgrounds, subtly reinforcing the message that it is people who are important and that by looking beyond superficial differences one can discover the ways in which we are all more alike than not. The flowers in Grammie's garden, however, are shown in full color, furthering the connection between the beauty of the differences of the flowers and the differences in people.

In addition to the attractive full-page pictures, many pages also contain smaller illustrations that reinforce the concepts of same and different. On a page describing April's visit to a farmers' market, where she sees a wide variety of people, the smaller illustration shows an array of different fruits. On another page, the numbers one through five are shown as numerals and in Braille. These pictures offer children opportunities to further identify the ways in which things are similar and dissimilar from each other.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate a book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly:

  • Let's Talk About It: Extraordinary Friends, written by Fred Rogers and photographed by Jim Judkis, is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons and Puffin Books, divisions of Penguin Putnam Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • Susan Laughs, written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross, is published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 115 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011.
  • Different Just Like Me, written and illustrated by Lori Mitchell, is published by Talewinds, an imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
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