Cathy Ritchie retired from the Dallas Public Library in 2019 after 19 years in public service and collection development. She now lives in Urbana, Illinois.
Since 2004, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Schneider Family Book Award has been given annually to honor an author or illustrator for a work that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Prizes are bestowed in the categories of Young Children, Middle School, and Teen.
Here is a random sampling of 25 Schneider-Award-winning titles from all three age groups. The books display a variety of approaches and subject matter, but all offer thoughtful and valuable reading experiences.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah By Laurie Ann Thompson. Illustrated by Sean Qualls.
Schwartz & Wade, 2015
Emmanuel was born in Ghana with only one working leg. Nevertheless, he learned to crawl and hop in order to do his chores, shine shoes, and go to school by himself. One day, after a few adjustments, he taught himself to ride a bicycle. Wanting to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable,” Emmanuel accomplished a 400-mile bicycle journey across Ghana, becoming a national hero.
I Talk Like a River. By Jordan Scott. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.
Neal Porter Books, 2020
A young boy has a “bad speech day” at school when his stutter prevents him from speaking at all. Afterwards, his father takes him to visit the river, which is, says the author, “a natural and patient form, forever making its way toward something greater than itself.” The boy finds strength in knowing he, too, is like the river, and thus feels “less alone”.
Looking Out For Sarah by Glenna Lang. Talewinds, 2001
Guide dog Perry spends every day with his best friend Sarah, who teaches, dances, plays music and also happens to be blind. Perry and Sarah make a wonderful team.
Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Illustrated by Scott Magoon.
Rescue comes from a long family line of Seeing Eye dogs, so it’s pretty upsetting when his trainers tell him he’s not cut out for that particular career. But when he becomes a service dog instead and meets Jessica, who’s lost both her legs, Rescue realizes he is able to help people after all.
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant. Illustrations by Boris Kulikov. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016
Louis longs to read, despite his having been accidentally blinded at age three. When he becomes aware of a special “code” used by soldiers to send secret messages, he wonders if something like that could help him read regular books as well. At age 15, he creates an entire alphabet using only six dots, and it changes the world.
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick, Scholastic, 2010
Jeffrey and Tad are fellow eighth-grade cancer survivors, dealing with their individual aftereffects and ongoing challenges including, in Jeff’s case, learning differences that makes schoolwork hard to handle at times. Their friendship is life-changing for both of them, as they weather their new realities together.
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009
Twelve-year-old Jason is autistic, but is already a remarkable author and keen observer of the world around him. He shares his creations on a writing website and befriends a fellow scribe who turns out to be a girl. Fate conspires to bring them together in person, but does Jason dare let her see who he really is?
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2016
Brooklyn brothers Genie and Ernie are in for some surprises when they get to spend a few weeks with their grandparents in rural Virginia. Genie especially bonds with Grandpop, who is blind due to glaucoma. Genie has questions about everything, but perhaps most of all, about the man who can’t see, but still knows so much and seems to have secrets.
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer. Viking Children’s Books, 2011
Her dyslexia prevents her from reading, but 12-year-old Foster is a master cupcake baker who dreams of having her own cooking show on the Food Network. When she and her mother flee domestic problems and resettle in a tiny West Virginia town, Foster finds a bounty of unique co-residents who lead her to joy and accomplishment both in the kitchen and with the written word.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Maas. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2003
Young Mia has synesthesia: she can see sounds, smell colors, and taste shapes. Is it a gift? Mia’s not so sure, and thus she keeps it hidden from most of the people she knows. But the day arrives when her secret must be revealed: how will it change her life?
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green. Pajama Press, 2017
About-to-be seventh-grader Macy faces change all around her, including a new stepfather and two stepsisters. She already has plenty to deal with every day because of her deafness. But when she’s also drafted to help her elderly next-door neighbor, who doesn’t know sign language, prepare to enter an assisted living facility, Macy’s life becomes even more complex and yet unexpectedly richer.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. Feiwel & Friends, 2014
Rose’s favorite things in all the world are homonyms, rules, and her dog Rain. Her Asperger’s syndrome means that her life needs routine at all times. But when Rain goes missing after a storm, Rose is forced to become brave and to do the right thing, no matter how painful following a particular rule can be.
Rules by Cynthia Lord. Scholastic Press, 2006
Catherine has done her best through the years to help her autistic brother David cope with life and avoid embarrassing situations. But when she meets Jason, a sort-of friend with his own physical challenges, her actions veer off in unexpected directions.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte. Scholastic Press, 2020
In the early 19th century, Mary Lambert is part of a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard, and thus has never felt isolated due to her lack of hearing. But when unexpected events threaten her peaceful existence and that of the people around her, she must reassess her “disability” for the first time. What does “normal” really mean?
Tending to Grace by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Knopf, 2004
Because she stutters badly, 14-year-old Cornelia usually doesn’t bother speaking at all. When her troubled mother leaves her in the care of eccentric aunt Agatha, Cornelia faces many challenges, all while expecting her mother’s return at any time. In the process, she gains insight into the women in her life, and herself.
Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor. Katherine Tegen Books, 2010
Dyslexic Addie has a family full of “twists and turns,” as she puts it, including an often irresponsible mother, a loving ex-stepfather who would like to adopt her, and two half-sisters. Balancing the rigors of school with taking care of herself during her mother’s frequent absences leaves her conflicted and “waiting for normal,” albeit strengthened by the friends she makes in her home trailer park.
Anger Is A Gift by Mark Oshiro. Tom Doherty Associates, 2018
As he watches his struggling Oakland high school become an armed police state, Moss must simultaneously battle with his recurrent panic attacks and memories of his late father, gunned down years ago by local law enforcement. As the situations escalate, Moss relies on friends, family and his own inner resources to find the answers he needs.
Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein. Charlesbridge Teen, 2019
Fourteen-year-old Erica “Ricky” Bloom must deal with her parents’ divorce and a recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Both situations have left her angry and facing a life replete with frustrations and uncertainty, yet her determination and caustic humor strengthen her journey.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles. Candlewick Press, 2014
High school special ed graduates Biddy and Quincy become mismatched roommates, with differing personalities and abilities, though they share troubled pasts and feelings of isolation. In learning to co-exist, they find resources within themselves and each other than they could never have imagined.
Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009
Seventeen-year-old Marcelo has Asperger’s syndrome; his perceptions of life may be unique, but he’s found his niche at the special school he’s attended for years. However, when his father has him take a summer job at his law firm in order to experience the “real world,” Marcelo is plunged into a staggering new environment. His new connections and the complications they create will change him forever.
My Thirteenth Winter: A Memoir by Samantha Abeel. Scholastic, 2004.
In this nonfiction Schneider winner, Abeel relates her experiences with dyscalculia, a learning disability affecting her schoolwork in math, spelling, and grammar. She couldn’t tell time, remember her locker combination, or count out change at a store, until she was diagnosed and began therapy at age 13. Her ultimate triumph shines a light on unique learning challenges and how they can be conquered.
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. Ember Publishers, 2012
Teenage Jessica, who lives to run competitively, suffers a leg amputation, and must thus reshape her entire existence, with the support of family, friends, and therapists. When she crosses paths with a classmate dealing with cerebral palsy, her own recovery takes an unexpected turn.
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais. Blink, 2019
In this Schneider Honor book, Maya, who has been deaf since age 13, must adjust to a “hearing” school for the first time in years. She makes slow progress thanks to her interpreter and a few well-meaning friends, and even crushes on a classmate who’s learning American Sign Language in order to talk to her. But Maya still inhabits a world which few can truly understand. Can she make her new life work?
Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012
When Ben enlists in the military immediately after high school, he leaves behind a fiancée, a best friend and an autistic younger brother. He sustains brain damage while in action and must learn to communicate and function from scratch. All the people in his life face individual struggles while preparing themselves and him for an uncertain future.
This Is My Brain In Love by I.W. Gregorio. Little, Brown & Co, 2020
Jocelyn wrestles with undiagnosed depression, and Will is under treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. As they join forces to save her family’s restaurant from bankruptcy, their relationship confronts additional stresses stemming from their individual mental health situations, and their challenges as a mixed-race couple.
For more information about the Schneider Family Award visit https://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/schneider-family-book-award.