Books are great tools for teaching empathy to children. They can help kids understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes — someone with a physical or mental disability, chronic illness or learning difference. They can also help kids with medical issues see how other kids cope — which can be validating or even help spark new ideas. And books help younger generations recognize that no matter what obstacle they may face, they’re still just kids, and they’re not alone.
Today, many children’s book authors are weaving characters with medical conditions into their stories with appropriate sensitivity to both inform and create a sense of understanding among readers. Here are four must-reads for 8-12 year olds:
An unexpected curve
Featured book: BRACED, by Alyson Gerber
For ages: 11 and up
Medical condition: Scoliosis
While this novel from debut author Alyson Gerber just hit the bookshelves on March 28, “Braced” has already received rave reviews. When seventh-grader and avid-soccer-player Rachel Brooks finds out that she has scoliosis, she has to wear a back brace for 23 hours a day, which she believes will not only change the way others see her, but also the way she sees herself.
As someone who wore a brace growing up, Gerber has crafted an authentic and inspiring story for her readers.
“My hope is that by raising awareness about and sensitivity for kids with scoliosis, Rachel’s story might be a gateway to heightened understanding for others,” said Gerber.
The calm after the storm
Featured book: Rain Reign, by Ann Martin
For ages: 9 and up
Medical condition: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Fifth grader Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She keeps a notebook filled with them and adds to her list every time she hears (here’s) a new (knew) one (won). Her dog Rain (Reign, Rein) has the rare distinction of having two (too, to) homonyms — because he’s special. But when Rain goes missing and Rose’s sense (scents) of order is thrown into upheaval by a storm, she must find the courage to defy the rules her angry father set out for her, and do what she knows (nos, nose) she needs (kneads) to do.
“Rain Reign” is deftly told through (threw) the eyes (ayes) of a girl with autism and is filled with integrity and plenty of heart.
The beauty of self-expression
Featured book: Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper
For ages: 9 and up
Medical condition: Cerebral palsy
Eleven-year-old Melody cannot walk or talk or write, but she’s the smartest kid in her school. Problem is no one knows it. When Melody discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever, she refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy and is determined to be heard. “Kids with disabilities are just like their peers,” said Draper. “I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the disability that defines them.”
You can’t judge a book by its cover
Featured book: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
For ages: 8 and up
Medical condition: Craniofacial anomaly
Auggie Pullman is just like any other 10-year old kid on the inside. He likes ice cream, riding his bike and dogs — and he also happens to have a craniofacial anomaly. When he enters public school for the first time as a fifth grader, his peers and teachers respond to him with a range of emotions — some with fear and horror, others with acceptance and genuine kindness.
Inspired by a real-life event, “Wonder” is about the importance of looking beyond how someone looks into who someone is.
In November, the book will be released as a major motion picture.
About the blogger: Patty Lenz Bovie is a writer and aspiring children’s book author. She’s also an avid reader of children’s books, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a mom to two tween/teen daughters.