As February draws to an end, I asked the experts at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education to recommend a few more excellent books on diversity and inclusion (see our earlier list here). Tali Cohen Carrus, director of Jewish education programs at Gateways, shared her favorites. Happy reading!
“One of These Is Not Like the Others” by Barney Saltzberg
“In screening books to ensure positive representation of disability and difference, we always pay close attention to how differences are framed. This wonderful book for young children celebrates differences in a way that is accessible and developmentally appropriate for young audiences,” says Carrus. The book uses simple illustrations to introduce kids to the concept of inclusiveness, as they identify who or what’s different on each spread.
“Aaron Slater, Illustrator” by Andrea Beaty
Aaron Slater dreams of writing stories, but letters look like squiggles. He begins to notice that he struggles with writing more than his peers. And, when his teacher asks each student to write a story, he can’t do it. Or can he?
“In the newest book in Andrea Beaty’s ‘Questioneer’ series, Aaron is presented in an honest way, acknowledging his struggles with writing while simultaneously highlighting his creative strengths. This book gives elementary-aged students the opportunity to consider their own individual strengths as well as areas of challenge,” Carrus says.
“Fighting for Yes!: The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann” by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Another shout-out for this sweeping look at the life of disability rights activist Judith Heumann, which also provides a good overview of the disability rights movement and corresponding legislation in the United States.
“This book is a wonderful resource for teachers looking to incorporate learning about the history of the disability rights movement into their upper elementary classrooms. For older students, we recommend the more advanced chapter book ‘Rolling Warrior’ by Judith Heumann,” Carrus says.
“Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!” by Sarah Kapit
Vivy Cohen has longed to play baseball ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him how much she wants to pitch—but that her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl with autism. But the ending of this book throws readers a happy curveball.
“In this novel, written by an author with autism herself, the reader gets an authentic representation of a young teen with autism who encounters many of the obstacles faced by young people with disabilities, including the limitations of the expectations of others and bullying from peers. As a bonus, the story includes discussion of Vivy preparing for her bat mitzvah,” Carrus says.
“The Words We Keep” by Erin Stewart
This book offers an unvarnished look at self-harm through the eyes of Lily, who found her sister, Alice, hurting herself. When Alice returns from her treatment program, Lily’s emotions are coming to a head. Micah, a new student with his own troubles, arrives at school from treatment alongside Alice—and tries to get Lily to open up about her long-suppressed problems. When Lily and Micah start an art project for school involving finding poetry in unexpected places, she has an important breakthrough.
“As the incidences of mental health conditions rise, teens need access to literature through which to explore the issues they and their peers are facing. This book honestly addresses important issues, such as the impact stigma has on preventing young people from asking for help. At times hard to read, this novel provides a realistic and raw representation of mental health conditions as experienced by teenagers,” Carrus says.