Books·Reading List

12 Canadian books to read for Disability Pride Month

These fiction, nonfiction, poetry, YA and kids' books by Canadian authors highlight the importance of accurate and diverse disability representation.

July is Disability Pride Month — a movement started in the United States that is quickly growing into a global initiative for the empowerment and visibility of those with disabilities.

These fiction, nonfiction, poetry, YA and kids' books by Canadian authors showcase the importance of accurate and diverse disability representation.

The Discovery of Flight by Susan Glickman

Susan Glickman is the author of the young adult novel The Discovery of Flight. (Inanna Publications, Mark Raynes Roberts)

The Discovery of Flight is a novel in two voices about the relationship between two sisters, the older of whom has cerebral palsy and communicates only through assistive technology (controlling her computer by moving her eyes). It interweaves the fantasy novel 16-year-old Libby is writing for Sophie's 13th birthday and Sophie's diary, in which she discusses the deteriorating condition of her older sister.

Through her storytelling, Libby becomes a heroic figure rather than a helpless victim. After Libby's death, the girls' mother presents Sophie with the novel and Sophie writes its final chapter, bringing the voices of the two girls together.

American-born, Canadian-based author Susan Glickman is a teacher of literature and creative writing and the author of seven collections of poetry, four novels, one award-winning work of nonfiction and three books for children.

A World Without Martha by Victoria Freeman

A World Without Martha by Victoria Freeman. Book cover shows to cropped black and white photos of a young girl. Headshot of the author.
A World Without Martha is a memoir by Toronto writer and artist Victoria Freeman. (Purich Books, Mark Fawcett)

A World Without Martha is an unflinching yet compassionate memoir of how one sister's institutionalization for intellectual disability in the 1960s affected the other, sending them both on separate but parallel journeys. Their journeys are shaped initially by society's inability to accept difference and later by changing attitudes toward disability, identity, and inclusion.

Victoria Freeman is an Ottawa-born, Toronto-based writer, theatre artist, educator, and public historian. Her first book, Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, was shortlisted for the 2000 Writers' Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

A World Without Martha was shortlisted for the 2020 Lambda literary award for bisexual nonfiction.

Freeman is also the co-creator of Birds Make Me Think About Freedom, a play about the experiences of people institutionalized for intellectual disability, which won a Patron's Pick award at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Out Into the Big Wide Lake by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

Out into the Big Wide Lake is a picture book by Paul Harbridge, left, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon. (Tundra Books)

In Out Into the Big Wide Lake, a young girl with Down syndrome gains confidence and independence through a visit to her grandparents — a story inspired by the author's sister.

It's Kate's first time visiting her grandparents on her own at their lakeside home. She's nervous but learns how to make deliveries by boat, gets to know the neighbours, and even becomes fast friends with Parbuckle, her grandparents' dog. But when her grandfather takes ill, it's suddenly up to Kate to take on some newfound responsibilities.

Out Into the Big Wide Lake was the winner of the 2022 Ezra Jack Keats Award for writing and was nominated for the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

Paul Harbridge is a Toronto-based author and illustrator originally from Muskoka, whose work is influenced by the lakes and forests he grew up around. His children's book When the Moon Comes was named a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

Josée Bisaillon is a children's book writer and illustrator based outside Montreal. Her other books include Leap!, written by JonArno Lawson, and The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath.

Knot Body by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch

Knot Body is a book by Montreal poet Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch. (Metatron Press)

Bringing together poetry, essay, and letters to "lovers, friends and in-betweens," Eli Tareq Bechelany-Lynch confronts the ways capitalism, fatphobia, ableism, transness and racializations affect people with chronic pain, illness and disability. Knot Body explores what it means to discover your body's limits, and contends with what those limitations bring up in the world we live in.

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is a poet from Montreal. Their work has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry, The Puritan and The New Quarterly. They were longlisted for the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize for Nancy Ajram Made Me Gay.

Amazing Athletes by Marie-Claude Ouellet, translated by Phyllis Aronoff

Amazing Athletes is a children's nonfiction book by Marie-Claude Ouellet, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott (not pictured). (Owlkids, Philippe Manning)

This nonfiction book introduces readers to Canadian Paralympians and the sports they play, from PEI-born hockey pro Billy Bridges, to goalball player and Iranian refugee Ahmad Zeividavi. Each section details a competitor's journey to professional sports, their greatest triumphs and what inspires them most.

Drawing on interviews with competitors and comprehensive research, Amazing Athletes examines how disability and sport intersect.

Marie-Claude Ouellet is an author, journalist and magazine writer based in Montreal who has specialized in science writing for the past 30 years.

Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Illustrated book cover of brown arm and leg holding a bunch of tree roots. Person with light skin, teal and black hair with buzzcut.
Care Work is a book by activist and author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Naomi Ishisaka)

In this collection of essays, writer and longtime disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centres on the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black and brown people.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is an American Canadian writer, educator and disability/transformative justice worker of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma descent. They are the author or co-editor of nine books, including A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, which was shortlisted for the Lambda and Publishing Triangle Awards, and Love Cake, a Lambda Literary Award winner.

They were the 2020 recipient of the Lambda Foundation's Jeanne Cørdova Prize in Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, recognizing "a lifetime of work documenting the complexity of queer experience," and were also the recipient of the 2020 U.S. Artists Disability Futures Fellowship.

Their next book, The Future Is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs, will be published in October 2022.

Falling for Myself by Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Falling for Myself by Dorothy Ellen Palmer. Book cover is blue and the o of "for" is an illustration of a wheelchair symbol. Headshot of the author.
Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of the memoir Falling for Myself. (Wolsak & Wynn)

In this memoir, Dorothy Ellen Palmer falls down — a lot — and spends a lifetime learning to appreciate it. Born with congenital anomalies in both feet, she was adopted as a toddler by a wounded 1950s family who had no idea how to handle the tangled complexities of adoption and disability.

From repeated childhood surgeries to an activist awakening at university to decades as a feminist teacher, mom, improv coach and unionist, she tried to hide being different. But in Falling for Myself, Palmer stands proud with her walker and shares her journey.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a writer, accessibility advocate, retired teacher, improv coach and union activist.

Her first novel, When Fenelon Falls, featured a disabled teen protagonist in the Woodstock-Moonwalk summer of 1969. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in both literary and disability journals, including REFUSE, Readers' Digest, Broadview Magazine, Wordgathering, Open Book and more.

She serves on the accessibility advisory committee for the Festival of Literary Diversity as well as the Disability Justice Network of Ontario.

Unstoppable by Helen Wolfe, illustrated by Karen Patkau

Unstoppable is a middle-grade book by Helen Wolfe, left, illustrated by Karen Patkau. (Second Story Press )

Unstoppable profiles ten women facing physical and mental health challenges — some from birth and others who became disabled later in life. Their fields span everything from elite sport to environmental activism, but they all share the determination to make the world a better place — not just for themselves but for those who will come after them.

Helen Wolfe's 40-year career has spanned across education, publishing and social work. She has written over 30 teachers' guides for books and for a documentary about blind adults. Helen also has a lifelong physical disability that requires her to use crutches, a wheelchair and a scooter.

Karen Patkau is a Canadian author, artist, designer and illustrator who has written and illustrated several nature-themed books for children, including RingtailCreatures Great and Small and Who Needs an Iceberg?

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc. Illustrated book cover of green leaves with a house in the centre, a crutch, an ear, a foot, a hand and an eye. Headshot of the author.
Disfigured is a book by Amanda Leduc. (Trevor Cole, Coach House Books)

In this nonfiction work, Amanda Leduc examines disability in fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to modern-day interpretations in Disney films, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference. She argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is 'other' — helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies.

Disfigured was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for nonfiction.

Amanda Leduc is the communications and development coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity. She is also the author of the novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men, and was longlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize for her story All This, and Heaven Too.

Beep Beep Bubbie by Bonnie Sherr Klein, illustrated by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal

Beep Beep Bubbie is a picture book by author, filmmaker and disability advocate Bonnie Sherr Klein, illustrated by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal, not pictured. (Tradewind Books)

This picture book follows Kate, a young girl who is upset when her Bubbie (grandma) gets a motorized scooter, worried it might change who her grandmother is.

But Kate slowly warms to the scooter after she sees how helpful it is for Bubbie — it even makes going shopping at Granville Island Market so much fun! Her little brother Nate loves the scooter's bells and whistles, and Kate makes new friends on their joyous outing.

Beep Beep Bubbie was a finalist for the 2022 Blue Spruce Awardwhich celebrates picture books for readers in kindergarten to Grade 2.

Bonnie Sherr Klein is a documentary filmmaker, author and disability rights activist.

Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal has been illustrating children's books and novels for more than 40 years.

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith

I Talk Like a River is a picture book by Jordan Scott, left, and illustrated by Sydney Smith. (Andrew Zawacki, Neal Porter Books, Steve Farmer)

Poet Jordan Scott wrote this story based on his own experience of a boy who stutters. When the boy feels incapable of communicating in the way he'd like, a walk by the river with his kindly father helps him find his voice.

I Talk Like a River was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for young people's literature — illustrated books.

Jordan Scott is a poet from Comox Valley, B.C. His books include SlitBlertDecomp (co-authored by Stephen Collis) and Night & Ox. Scott was awarded the 2018 Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize, which is given annually to a mid-career poet. I Talk Like a River is his first children's book.

Sydney Smith is an illustrator from Nova Scotia. The books he has illustrated include Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Town is by the Seawritten by Joanne Schwartz. He wrote and illustrated the picture book Small in the Citywhich won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.

My Art, My World by Rita Winkler, with Mark Winkler and Helen Winkler

My Art, My World is a picture book by Rita Winkler. (Second Story Press)

Rita Winkler, a young woman living with Down syndrome, shows us the world as she sees it through her art: a place full of joy and colour.

Approaching her daily life with enthusiasm and a dry sense of humour, Rita rides public transit to her job working at a university coffee shop. She takes yoga and folk dance classes and enjoys drama and music at a day program, and she continues to practice using sign language. Rita's greatest passion, however, is making art — which she shares with readers in this book through her engaging artwork.

Rita Winkler is a Calgary-born, Toronto-based author and artist who was born with Down syndrome. Rita works in the Coffee Shed in New College at the University of Toronto, part of the Common Ground Cooperative, a social-purpose enterprise, and attends the Dani-Toronto day program for adults with disabilities.

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