Francesca Dalleo

@francesca-dalleo | staff
Francesca Dalleo is a staff member of The Mighty and the parent of a child with a disability. Find more of her writing at: francescadalleo.blogspot.com

Interview With 13-Year-Old Actor Hartley Bernier From 'Team Zenko Go' on Netflix

The hit Netflix animated series “Team Zenko Go,” featuring the character of Ari, wheelchair user and comic book connoisseur, is back for season two. Ari is voiced by 13-year-old Hartley Bernier, who lives with intestinal failure. Hartley first got involved in acting through his volunteer work with Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, appearing in TV and radio commercials for the hospital where he has been a lifelong patient. We spoke to Hartley about the show and this groundbreaking role. A 2019 analysis of representation in film and television found that for children’s television, “less than 1.0% of leading characters have a physical, mental, or communication disability.” Thankfully, shows like “Team Zenko Go” are working to have more accurate portrays of disability along with authentic casting. The show follows four kids and their superhero escapades, who use their good deed expertise and quick-thinking skills to help their Harmony Harbor neighbors. Ari utilizes his 3-D printer to outfit his wheelchair and the other kids with tools and gadgets on their secret missions. As someone with medical complexities, Hartley has been in and out of wheelchairs himself. Kirsten Sharp also serves as disability consultant for the production. Season two of the animated show from DreamWorks Animation and Mainframe Studios is now streaming on Netflix. Here is what Hartley had to say: The Mighty: How did you become involved in “Team Zenko Go”? Hartley: I am a professional voice actor and my agent sent me the audition info. I auditioned for it and was so excited to be cast in the role of Ari. The Mighty: What was the coolest part of working on this show? Hartley: The coolest part of working on this show was working with the team at Mainframe Studios, the amazing voice director, writers, and other actors. Another cool thing was that we were recording during the pandemic and because I am medically complex we set up a recording booth in my bedroom to help keep me safe. The Mighty: As someone with medical complexities, what does it mean to you to portray the character of Ari? Hartley: It’s really important to me for people to see representation of people with medical complexities on television because I never had that. It’s so cool for kids to see themselves in characters on tv and movies. The Mighty: What do you hope viewers take away from seeing the character of Ari and someone who uses a wheelchair? Hartley: I think people should see that just because someone has a disability it doesn’t mean they can’t do the things that other people their age can do. Being a wheelchair user doesn’t slow Ari down in any way! The Mighty: What do you enjoy most about working as a voice actor? Hartley: I really enjoy seeing the characters that I play come to life. It’s so special to me to be able to work on such big projects like “Zenko Go.” The Mighty: What is your dream role to play in a cartoon or live-action? Hartley: Because I’m early in my career as an actor, I’m excited to play all different types of roles. I grew up loving shows like “Adventure Time,” “We Bare Bears” and “The Amazing World of Gumball.” I would also really love to work with Dreamworks again since this was such an amazing experience. The Mighty: Is there anything you can share that viewers can look forward to in season 2? Hartley: All I can really say is that you should be ready for some awesome adventures with Ari, Niah, Ellie, and Jax. Ari has some pretty cool inventions in season 2. The Mighty: What’s next for you? Hartley: I’ve been working on a couple of other projects during the pandemic that will hopefully be coming out soon. I’m looking forward to starting grade 8 in the fall and I can’t wait to keep auditioning for new roles. The Mighty: What else would you like to let our disability, chronic illness and rare disease community here at The Mighty know about your experience? Hartley: I had such an incredible experience working on this show. And although I do have a complex chronic illness, I don’t let it get in my way. Thank you, Hartley, for sharing this amazing experience with us. We look forward to seeing your next project!

How Mental Health Plays a Role in the Teacher Staffing Crisis

Raise your hand if you have an educator in your life. Do you know if they’re doing OK? This week, our school district’s superintendent resigned. In June, it was our beloved elementary school principal and four other educators from the same school. While I am grateful they stuck it out and waited to retire after shepherding our children through the chaotic first two years of the pandemic, I am so sad to see them leave. They have provided a sense of leadership and stability during trying times. Still, I don’t blame them. The last few years have been particularly stressful for teachers. They have dealt with learning to teach online and holding classes on Zoom, all of the extra COVID precautions once students returned in person, and were stuck in the middle of the political battles between parents and school boards over mask mandates. Not to mention further threats to their safety with the number of school shootings at an all-time high. It’s no wonder that outlets across the country are reporting record numbers of teacher vacancies. The National Education Association (NEA) raised the alarm back in February with a survey of its members that found that over half are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned. K-12 education is experiencing a teacher staffing crisis, and it’s only going to get worse. According to the Washington Post, “Rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks this fall due to lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching background to enter classrooms. Arizona is allowing college students to step in and instruct children.” With enrollment declining in college teacher preparation programs, there won’t be enough staff to take the place of those retiring or leaving the profession. There is also a shortage of special education teachers, who are crucial to the families of children with disabilities. Teachers’ Mental Health In June, a survey explored how educators and working adults are experiencing indicators of well-being. Seventy-three percent of teachers reported feeling frequent job-related stress (compared to 35% of other working adults), 59% reported burnout, and 28% have symptoms of depression. EdSurge recently did a deep dive into this issue with their piece on how “The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit.” The teacher shortage impacts so many of us – our children, us as parents, those with friends and family members who are educators, and really everyone in our communities who depend on teachers to help raise our children to be well-informed citizens. We Need More Financial and Mental Health Support for Teachers Teachers should be paid like professional athletes. They have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. They are doing some of the hardest work in this country, with pay that does not reflect the many hours and arduous effort they put in. How would you like to try to corral a bunch of first graders, let alone get them to learn how to read and write, math concepts, and social-emotional skills? Me neither. I am incredibly grateful to all of the teachers in my family’s life and we continue to try to show our appreciation. As a parent, I help out in the classroom when volunteer opportunities arise; donate to holidays, teacher appreciation week, and end-of-the-year gifts; purchase small gifts, and write notes of thanks. During parent-teacher conferences I ask what I can do to help make their school year easier. And whenever the subject of our elementary school comes up with anyone, I let them know how amazing the teachers are here. But we need to do more on a legislative and collective level. We need to provide more financial and mental health support for teachers to help them stay in the workforce and for others to join the profession, in order for our economy to run smoothly. And the next time school is closed for a teacher work day, I hope you’ll remember all that our teachers do. I hope you’ll wholeheartedly support this small chance for them to take a breath before they dive right back into their classes full of our children. For more: Mighty contributor and teacher Tammy Oz’s “4 Coping Skills That Can Help Teachers With Their Mental Health“ “How Schools and Districts Can Support Educator Mental Health” from Education Week

12 Children's Picture Books That Defy Gender Stereotypes

As an athletic, fiercely competitive tomboy growing up, with a calm and more amenable older brother, I grew tired of the constant comments about how girls and boys are supposed to be. Fine, boys can be quite energetic and rough. Guess what… so can girls! I never liked playing with Barbie dolls, but my best friend Jeremy sure did. And when a child’s actions do seem to align with gender stereotypes, how much is nature, and how much is due to cultural conditioning and societal norms? I wasn’t big on following societal norms, at least as far as gender expectations were concerned. In third grade, I rocked a super short haircut (though my mom wouldn’t let me get a full buzz cut like my brother). I spent recess dominating the four-square court and kickball field. At one point, I wanted to be a professional baseball player, or really any kind of professional athlete, when I grew up. That didn’t last long, after receiving a loud and clear message from others that professional sports wasn’t something available to girls. Thank goodness we at least have professional women’s soccer and the WNBA these days. As the parent of two kids myself now, I am hoping they won’t be held back by the rigid gender expectations my brother, our friends and I experienced as children. For as long as I have been reading books to my 8-year-old (pretty much since he was born), I’ve kept track of the ones that challenge gender stereotypes in some way. Most of these picture books also include a range of characters of different races and ethnicities, which is equally important for all children to see. Books that show girls as strong and brave: 1. “The Little Mermaid” by Jerry Pinkey Bear with me – this is not the Little Mermaid of late ’80s Disney fame. When I saw the quote on the book’s back cover that said, “you should never give up your voice… for anything,” I was sold. The two main characters are young Black girls. It’s about friendship rather than romance. The illustrations are gorgeous and the message empowering. 2. “Kate and the Beanstalk” by Mary Pope Osbourne We love this twist on the classic fairy tale that features a young girl climbing the beanstalk and fighting the giant. 3. “Pirate Girl” by Cornelia Funke This book’s feisty young heroine stands up to her captors, ultimately outsmarting them with help from a brash, female pirate. 4. “Super Red Riding Hood” by Claudia Davila In another twist on a classic story, a strong young girl acts as a superhero and saves herself from the wolf. Knowing my kids will hear the more traditional versions of these stories, where the girl/princess is always saved by a man/prince, I like to balance them out with more empowering versions, like this one. Books with boys exploring typically feminine roles: 5. “Pink Is for Boys” by Robb Pearlman My son’s third favorite color is pink. He knows that some people would say that boys shouldn’t like pink, which is why we love this book. 6. “Tough Guys Have Feelings Too” by Keith Negley This book demonstrates that men experience a full range of human emotions. There is not a lot of text on each page, so younger kids will enjoy this one as well. 7. “John’s Turn” by Mac Barnett A young boy and ballet dancer feels nervous before performing at his school, finding support from his classmates. Books that go beyond the gender binary: 8. “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love A beautiful, dreamy book about a boy who wants to dress as elegantly as three women he sees on the train. His Abuela shows him acceptance and understanding. 9. “What Are Your Words” by Katherine Locke This book sparked great conversations with my 8-year-old, including how you can’t tell someone’s gender just by looking at them. With one in four LGTBQIA+ young people identifying as nonbinary, and over 1 million nonbinary individuals in the U.S., this book is an important example for all ages. Subtle but powerful books for our youngest readers: 10. “Whose Tools” by Toni Buzzeo A board book for infants and toddlers that includes bright illustrations of men and women, young and old, working with different tools to build a house. 11. “Whose Hat Is This?” by Sharon Katz Cooper This fun page-turner where readers guess what each hat will reveal, shows children dressing in uniforms for different jobs. The best part is it uses language like “police officer” and “firefighter,” rather than the gendered and outdated “policeman” or “fireman.” 12. “Even Superheroes Have Bad Days” by Shelly Becker This book includes a diverse group of both male and female superheroes. Though the idea of multiple female superheroes is no longer novel, it was when I was growing up! Great for pre-schoolers. The good news is there are many more books like these out in the world nowadays. I borrowed all of these from my local library when we first read them, but I’ve purchased many to add to our collection or share with others to help support these authors and their important work. If you are looking for other outstanding books for the kids in your life, see my list of 8 Awesome Children’s Books About Disability. For even more options, check out Inclusive Story Time on Instagram. We hope the products above help you or a loved one in your health journeys. Just so you know, The Mighty may collect a share of sales from the affiliate links on this page. As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

How Gerber and Mattel's Barbie Are Advancing Disability Representation

In early May, Gerber announced the winner of their 2022 photo search: baby Isa. Isa, who was born without a femur or fibula, is the first Gerber Baby with a limb difference. Isa’s mother, Meredith, said in Gerber’s press release, “We hope Isa’s story can bring more awareness for limb differences and create greater inclusion for children like her. Because, just like Isa, they too can be or do anything they want!” Gerber’s President and CEO explained that the contest “celebrates the joy that babies bring. Isa’s submission brought smiles to all of our faces, and she truly embodies the idea that every baby is a Gerber baby.” It was refreshing to see that in Gerber’s announcement of this year’s winners, her limb difference is mentioned, but not focused on. In other news, Mattel continued their diversity and inclusion efforts by releasing a new Barbie doll with hearing aids, and a Ken doll with the skin condition vitiligo. Its Fashionista line also includes a Barbie with vitiligo, a doll with a prosthetic leg, and a Barbie that uses a wheelchair, as well as a Ken. Thank you, Gerber and Mattel, for recognizing that all bodies and abilities deserve to be celebrated.

Visually Impaired Actor and 2nd Grader Karl Seitz From 'This Is Us'

When The Mighty learned that a member of our community was involved in the final season of “This Is Us,” we jumped at the chance to talk to them about their experience. We are excited to introduce you to 7-year-old Karl Seitz and his mother Katrina. As soon as we connected on our Zoom call, Karl quipped, “Karl Seitz, at your service.” He spelled out his name, making sure I knew that it started with a “K” and not a “C.” He asked my name, explaining that as he is visually impaired, it helps when people introduce themselves to him. After appearing as an extra on “This Is Us” in a previous season and in local plays, the charismatic second-grader auditioned and was cast as 7-year-old Jack Damon/Jack Jr. for season 6 (the show features three visually impaired actors to play the character Jack Damon at different times throughout his life). The production made several accommodations for Karl’s days filming, including having a Braille teacher on set. Fun fact: they used a pack of Braille playing cards in one of his scenes. Karl was born with bilateral Peters anomaly, a rare genetic condition that clouded the front of his corneas and severely limited his vision. Over the last seven years, Dr. Bibiana Reiser and her team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have cared for him, checking his eyes monthly. Karl has undergone 21 surgeries, including several cornea transplants, and was able to gain some of his vision. Karl also works with his teachers, visually impaired experts, and therapists to support his continued learning, expand his Braille reading, and so he is an independent cane traveler. One of Karl’s favorite parts about the experience of filming “This Is Us” was meeting and spending time with his on-screen sister Hailey, played by 7-year-old actress Sophia Sawaya. He also liked hanging out in his trailer and “being with all of those famous people.” When asked who was his favorite of the actors on set, he said, “I can’t decide because all of them were fantastic.” His on-screen parents Chrissy Metz and Chris Geere always made him feel comfortable on set. Karl let us know that along with being an actor, he is many things – a piano player, a comedian (check out his joke of the day!), and a cane user. He also enjoys swimming, horseback riding, and singing with the John Mercer choir. He detailed his Perkins Brailler machine and abacus he uses for school, along with the different tips that can go on the end of his cane (marshmallow, ball, and pencil). He also loves spending time with his little sister Kirra, who he describes as “kind of messy.” As for what’s next for Karl, he recently got into the Academy of Music for the Blind, booked a commercial, and looks forward to doing more auditions. This summer, he is excited to show his sister how to swim with a dolphin (something he’s already done) along with hiking up a volcano in Hawaii. Karl, we can’t wait to see wherever your next adventure takes you!

Disability Representation in Season 6 of 'This Is Us'

With only a handful of episodes left in the final season of NBC’s “This Is Us,” the show continues to tackle complex topics while producing compelling television. This season, viewers were introduced to new cast member Johnny Kincaid, the young actor who plays toddler Jack Junior. According to Johnny’s mother, the 3-year-old has albinism and low vision. Although it seems to make perfect sense that the role of a visually impaired character would go to a visually impaired actor, it is still a relatively new phenomenon for actors with disabilities to be cast in these roles. According to The New York Times: “Significant depictions of disability on film and television shows have nearly tripled over the past decade compared with the previous 10 years. Almost all of those titles, however, still don’t feature disabled actors.” While they obviously made the right call with recent casting decisions, that wasn’t always the case. The twins who originally played baby Jack Junior back in seasons four and five were not visually impaired. After Kate and Toby’s baby was born at 28 weeks, he was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity. Several episodes and many storylines have had to do with Jack Junior being visually impaired, including helping him navigate in a sighted world along with Kate finding a job at a music school for the blind. Season 4 also introduced viewers to the adult character of Jack Junior, played by blind actor and advocate for artists with disabilities Blake Stadnik, who viewers are happy to see is back in season 6. Stadnik also recorded the beautiful song “Memorized,” performing it in season 4’s premiere, which hit number one on the iTunes soundtrack chart afterward. The recent episode of “Saturday in the Park” opens from toddler Jack Junior’s perspective, with blurry scenes of him listening to his parents arguing and making his way around the neighborhood with a cane. It is refreshing to see actors with disabilities on primetime TV, and with such a popular and beloved show leading the way, I hope to see more. Edited to add : After we shared this story with The Mighty community, we learned that visually impaired second grader Karl Seitz plays 7-year-old Jack Junior. His mother Katrina has been part of the Mighty community since Karl was born. More on Karl and his experience on the set of “This Is Us” to come!

New Sesame Workshop Muppet With Disability Uses a Wheelchair

In a win for disability representation, Sesame Workshop recently introduced a new Muppet character who uses a wheelchair and forearm crutches to get around. Ameera will be part of Sesame Street’s counterpart in North Africa and the Middle East, “Ahlan Simsim,” which means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic. My second-grader (who uses a variety of mobility devices himself at times) and I watched this video together: After watching he said: “I like her, because she has a disability like me.” When I asked him what it would mean for other kids to see Ameera too, he said: “I think other kids with disabilities will feel happy that they are getting represented.” “Sesame Street” has long been a “champion for diversity and inclusion.” As someone who enjoyed Sesame Street growing up and now watches it frequently with my own children, I appreciate how the show has always incorporated diverse people as cast members, often including children who use wheelchairs (along with regular cast member Tarah, who was on the show from 1995-2000). And many in the Mighty community were interested to see Julia introduced several years ago as a Muppet with autism. Ameera will also be featured in videos as “part of an initiative supporting children affected by conflict and crisis,” according to Sesame Workshop. We hope that Ameera or another character like her makes an appearance in the U.S. version of “Sesame Street” soon. I would love for my kids, their friends, and all the little ones watching to regularly see Ameera on screen, helping normalize using a wheelchair and other mobility devices.

Disney's 'Far From The Tree' Shows Healing From Generational Curses

This is a recap for “Far From The Tree.” There will be spoilers beyond this point. Please proceed with caution (because we don’t want to be the ones who spoil you!) Once upon a time there was a lonely little girl with big eyes (and a bigger mouth) who believed in the power of fairy tales with all her might. She would press rewind on a VCR box on her favorite story – the tale of a headstrong mermaid who was above all else curious about a world beyond her own. Yes, she had her voice stolen from her and found a prince and all those other small details that you already know, but that’s not what made her get a fire engine red wig and a fish tale for halloween. It was because that mermaid had a parent who wouldn’t feed her whimsy and creativity. Instead, he chose to chastise, punish, and yell at her for simply being curious due to the fear of what was out there in the world and the harm that could come to her. That’s the part she’d re-watch, because that would be the closest form of emotional representation she’d have for a very long time. Spoiler alert – that little girl grew up and got a shit ton of therapy she desperately needed. She came to understand that her childhood abuser wasn’t a “bad” person, rather they were someone who was hurt and had to operate in survival mode their entire life. They did the best with what they had, while also still falling short in a lot of ways regardless of how much they loved her, much like Ariel’s father. One not so special day, she decided to mask up (because, y’know, global pandemic) and go to the movies to see Disney’s newest movie “Encanto.” She didn’t know about the animated short beforehand “Far From the Tree,” and honestly, wasn’t emotionally prepared for it in the slightest. “Far From the Tree,” which is currently streaming on Disney+, is the story of two generations of raccoons, generational trauma, and what it’s like to do better for the next generation. The short opens to the parent, with a scratch over their eye, setting off with the baby to find food. The baby raccoon is curious about the world around them, as a child would be. Full of little to no knowledge about the dangers of the world, they don’t take heed of the parent raccoon’s order to stay inside a cave where it’s safe and sound. The baby raccoon escapes and the parent angrily uses fear tactics, demanding they go back inside never quite explaining why. This pattern repeats itself three times, before the baby finds a little seashell. After one more escape, in a fit of rage the parent breaks not only the seashell, but honestly me too.  No, seriously. I was a wreck and it wasn’t even halfway over. With tears in their eyes, they pick up the discarded pieces of the shell, only for a seagull to steal it. Not thinking, they charge out of the cave after them, but end up finding what seems to be a hungry coyote. The parent saves the baby, but not before the coyote scratches the baby’s nose. Sitting in a tree, the parent yells (well, chitters I suppose) at the baby, pointing to their eye repeatedly. The baby, now fearful and understanding, sits on the opposite side of the branch downtrodden, having learned their lesson. Fast forward some time, and the baby is now a parent. The baby turned adult, tries stopping their baby from running out of the cave, but like parent like child. The child runs out of the cave only to be swooped up by the parent who starts yelling (once again, chittering) at the baby before they realize they’re doing the same thing their parent did to them. In a moment unlike any that I’ve ever seen in a Disney story, the older raccoon takes a look at themselves, deciding they don’t want to be their parent. Instead, they take their baby to the highest branch, and show them the danger that’s out there, telling them how they got their scar. The scene changes to one where the two are healthily exploring the world together – the parent showing their child how to safely navigate the world with love and compassion. Finally, the short ends with the two of them listening to the ocean together through a seashell, much like the one their parent raccoon broke. I don’t know who felt more seen while I watched this short – my inner child or grown up me. I sat in the theater sobbing (how could you not), wanting to hug that same little girl that sat in front of the television so many times rewinding that same argument between Ariel and her father over and over again. For the first time I didn’t have to force representation when it comes to childhood abuse due to generational trauma. The problem with generational trauma , is that it’s a bit more hidden and covert than more blatant forms of trauma. As an African American woman, I have trauma literally baked into my genes. My mother was born right along the cusp of desegregation. My grandparents were born during Jim Crow and witnessed white nationalist parades down the streets of their hometown. Their grandparents were enslaved. They’ve had to survive, adapt, and assimilate in order to get me to where I am today. I’m here because of what they were forced to endure, and trauma like that doesn’t come without a fair share of scars. Sadly, sometimes we perpetuate unhealthy, toxic, and even abusive tendencies out of the need for survival, as the older raccoon and my parent both did. While I am still healing, I have a choice to make just like the younger raccoon did –  I can continue the cycle of generational trauma, or have it end with me. That’s why “Far From the Tree” is in my opinion one of the best examples of what it’s like to experience generational trauma , but also what it’s like to overcome it and do better. We don’t have to be our parents. We can learn from their mistakes. They didn’t know better, but we do, so what are we going to do about it? If you haven’t seen this short, I highly recommend you do. Although you may want to grab some tissues, fair warning.

Laurie Frankel Novel 'One Two Three' Explores Disability

When I picked up a copy of the new Laurie Frankel novel, “One Two Three” and realized that two out of its three young narrators had a disability, I was curious how the book would deal with the topic. To be honest, as the parent of a child with a physical disability that limits their mobility, and an editor for The Mighty, I was naturally going to be a tough audience. To my knowledge, the author does not have direct experience with disability, not that this is a necessary prerequisite for writing about these issues. But I worried it would contain tired (and often damaging) disability tropes, as all too often happens, viewing disability as a burden or tragedy, or that the disabled characters would serve simply as inspiration porn. I had read and enjoyed Frankel’s previous novel “This Is How It Always Is,” a New York Times bestseller and chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, so I thought I would give this one a chance. As with so many of our real-life towns and communities, the fictional town of Bourne has a water problem; in this case, the town’s water was contaminated by a chemical company. The book is told from the perspectives of three young women (triplets) born after the contamination — Mirabel, who uses a wheelchair and an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to communicate; Monday, who is neurodivergent; and Mab, who is considered “normal.” Another main character is the mother of the triplets, who is suing the chemical company. How happy I am to say my initial skepticism was misplaced. I found the book offered a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of disability. I loved how it features a main character using an electronic speech generator in conversation with others, which is not something we see much in popular fiction. I also appreciated how the author seems to directly address the issue of inspiration porn. The mother, Nora, discusses with her daughter Mirabel how she would make a great therapist one day. Nora talks about how proud she is of her daughter, saying, “I don’t mean the sight of you or the fact of you… I don’t mean you inspire people with how brave you are or any bullshit like that.” The book explores what it means to be “normal” because in their town so many children were born with disabilities, they nearly outnumber those considered more typically developing. In addition, the town of Bourne has built accessibility into their physical environment, with ramps and elevators a common sight. This seems to support the idea of the social model of disability. While Frankel questions the concept of “normal,” she also acknowledges the challenges people with disabilities face. She writes: “Out there in the rest of the world, the brazen, ignorant, nosy, rude, and clueless come right up to people who use wheelchairs and say things like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ In Bourne, no one says things like that, not because we’re not sometimes brazen, ignorant, nosy, rude, and clueless, but because, at least on this front, we know it’s not that simple. ‘Nothing’ would be a true answer. So would ‘Many things.'” It turns out the author has done research on the disability community, which you can see her discuss more in a transcript of an interview on her website. While I ultimately felt good about how the book portrayed physical disability, I was curious about what someone from the neurodivergent community’s take would be. I saw this review on the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati’s website by Dr. Kara Ayers, which offered this critique: “I found Mirabel’s reflections on the trappings of stereotypes about nonspeaking people very powerful. I wish Monday, the character described as ‘on the spectrum,’ consistently demonstrated the same level of depth in development. At times, clichés of autism seemed overly relied upon, like her aversion to foods that were not yellow.” It sounds like at least to this expert, there was room for improvement. Ayers also had this to say: “While Frankel’s descriptors of disability felt researched rather than authentic at times, she did center the autistic perspective with Monday’s telling of her own experience of meltdowns.” The book itself is not perfect, but it is thoughtful and nuanced, and I appreciate its close look at living with disability. It doesn’t claim to have all of the answers or try to wrap everything up in a pretty bow. It often subtly conveys its points, such as the line about adaptive equipment, “We understand not everything that looks broken actually is.” I encourage you to read this book and pass it along to others to discuss. It would make a great holiday gift and/or book club pick.

8 Awesome Children's Books About Disability

If you’re doing holiday shopping for your kids, nieces and nephews, or any child in your life, look no further. Kids (and really, all of us) have plenty of “stuff” these days. As the parent of a child with an orthopedic condition that causes chronic leg pain, I am always on the lookout for books featuring disabled characters. Representation matters! I love to gift our favorite books to friends and family to help increase the diversity in their home libraries. Here is a roundup of some of our favorites: My favorite book for toddlers and young children: “Daniel’s New Friend” by Becky Friedman If you know a toddler or preschooler, you know they love Daniel Tiger. I’ve gifted this book nearly a dozen times, and it’s always a hit. It shows familiar faces, along with a new friend who wears leg braces and uses arm crutches. The book is a great conversation starter for littles. Best for ages 5 and up: “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor I read this book to my child’s kindergarten class. Their teacher and librarian were so impressed with it they purchased it to add to their elementary school library! This book covers a range of visible and invisible disabilities and health conditions, including wheelchair users, blindness, deafness, autism, Down syndrome, diabetes, asthma, food allergies, stuttering, ADHD, and more. There is a lot of text on each page, hence why it may be better for elementary-aged kids. But if you are reading to a younger audience, you can always read shorter portions of it. Beautiful and empowering series: “When Charley Met Emma” and “Awesomely Emma” by Amy Webb These two books, about navigating comments from other children when you have a visible disability, feature a young girl with limb differences who uses a wheelchair, along with a friend who is learning that being different is OK. Both books have beautiful illustrations including people of all races. In “When Charley Met Emma” there are people communicating with sign language, along with a child using a walker and another with a nasal cannula and oxygen tank. “Awesomely Emma” includes empowering refrains such as “No bodies are wrong, all bodies are right. We’re all different colors, sizes, and heights. My body works differently – I love being me! Because being me is an awesome thing to be.” Best for preschoolers and elementary students. Written by an author with a disability, with a strong sense of self and humor: “What Happened to You?” by James Catchpole This book features a young child with one leg on the playground, who grows tired of comments about it and getting the “what happened to you” question. It’s a good reminder that while children are naturally curious, you don’t owe anyone any explanations about yourself. With minimal text on each page, this book is perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Informative and entertaining nonfiction: “All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans With Disabilities Changed Everything” by Annette Bay Pimentel My son’s teacher read this book to his class in first grade, which is told from the perspective of real-life disability advocate Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who has cerebral palsy. It details Jennifer’s early struggles to receive an education, as well as with other disabled advocates fighting to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), culminating in her participation in the “Capitol Crawl” in 1990. Some other lovely children’s books about health issues: “ Surgery on Sunday ” about a child preparing to have surgery and “ Migraine and Mia ” about living with chronic migraine, by Kat Harrison “ Rainbows & Storms ” by Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime, a tribute to her daughter who lives with congenital heart disease “ Some Days ” by Julie A. Stamm, about having a parent with chronic illness Do you have any other books to add? Let us know in the comments.