Books

15 Canadian books to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Here are 15 works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children's books to highlight disabled writers in Canada.

Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

To celebrate, we've put together a list of 14 Canadian works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children's books to highlight disabled writers and stories about disabilities.

The Future is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

The Future Is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Illustrated book cover of a clock face of a colourful painted background. Headshot of the author with brown skin and teal hair.
The Future Is Disabled is a book by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Future Is Disabled is a book of "love notes" about the power of disability justice to create a future in which humanity as a whole can survive fascism, climate crisis and pandemics. The book argues that disability justice can liberate us all and examines how disabled people kept and are keeping each other — and the rest of the world — alive during our current collective crises.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha  is a queer, disabled, non-binary femme writer, educator and disability and transformative justice worker. They have written or co-edited nine books, including Care Work and Tonguebreaker.

LISTEN | Musician Rae Spoon shares what they're currently reading and talks disability justice: 
Producer, musician and multi-instrumentalist Rae Spoon on why they loved reading The Future Is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha — an essay collection about the fluidity of ability and ways of empowering the disabled community.

Beryl by Dustin Galer

A man with a buzz cut and beard wearing darn rimmed glasses and the book cover with a drawing of a woman in a wheelchair talking into a microphone
Beryl by Dustin Galer tells the story of Beryl Potter. (Between the Lines)

Beryl: The Making of a Disability Activist shares the biography of disability activist Beryl Potter. Following an accident that led to Potter becoming disabled, she chose to devote her life to advocating for other people with disabilities, and bettering their lives. Dustin Galer details the contributions that Potter made, and the obstacles she faced and overcame in her devotion to disability justice. 

Dustin Galer is a Toronto-based historian and writes about disability history and labour. He is also the author of Working Towards Equity, which details the history of the Canadian disability rights movement. 

Something More by Jackie Khalilieh

Composite of the illustrated book cover for Something More and author Jackie Khalilieh's head shot.
Something More is Jackie Khalilieh's debut YA novel. (Penguin Random House Canada, jackiekhalilieh.com)

Something More is a YA romance following 15-year-old Jessie Kassis' first year of high school. Jessie is a Palestinian-Canadian girl who is coming to terms with her autism diagnosis all the while trying to make friends, get a spot in the school play and get her first kiss. When she catches the attention of two boys at Holy Trinity High, Jessie discovers more about who she is and what she truly wants.

Jackie Khalilieh is a Palestinian-Canadian writer currently based near Toronto. Something More is her debut YA novel.

Abolition is Love by Syrus Marcus Ware, illustrated by Alannah Fricker

Black and white image of a Black person with long dark locs. Illustrated book cover with turquoise background of a group of people, a young black person in an orange shirt holding a candle is at the front.
Abolition is Love is a picture book by Syrus Marcus Ware, pictured, and illustrated by Alannah Fricker. (Jalani Morgan, Penguin Random House Canada)

Abolition is Love is a picture book which follows a young person called Amelie as they learn about care, justice and love in the everyday. This picture book engages in conversations for young people about how to imagine different futures for themselves and their communities. 

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Toronto-based artist, writer and activist. He is also a founding member of Black Lives Matter Toronto and a contributor to the anthology series presented by CBC Arts 21 Black Futures. His other books include I Promise and Love Is in the Hair. 

Making a Home by Jen Powley

On the left is a blue book cover with flowers that have white petals and orange centers. There is orange text overlay that is the book's title and author's name. On the right is a photo of the author who is wearing a floral skirt and pink tank top. She is sitting in a wheelchair and smiling.
Making a Home is a book by Jen Powley. (Roseway Publishing)

In Making a Home, Jen Powley tells the story of how she developed a shared attendant services system for young adults living with severe physical disabilities. The book looks at how putting young people with disabilities in nursing homes may meet their physical needs but not their social, psychological and emotional needs. 

Powley is a writer living in Halifax. She is also the author of Just Jen: Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis, which won the 2018 Margaret and John Savage First Time Author Nonfiction Book Award. 

Phantompains by Therese Estacion

Phantompains by Therese Estacion. Illustrated book cover of a persons legs and arm made of weaving lines standing in a body of water in front of a pink and blue sky. Filipino woman dressed in black and grey with prosthetic legs.
Phantompains is Therese Estacion's debut poetry collection. (Book*Hug Press, submitted by Therese Estacion)

In her debut poetry collection, Phantompains, Therese Estacion shows what it means to bear witness to one's own pain and sexuality, to find catharsis and self-love, after a rare infection stole her limbs but not her life. Estacion takes her audience through the monotony of recovery and explores themes of disability, grief and life in a surrealist fashion, travelling across geographies and writing in a combination of English and Visayan, the language of Cebu, where her mother is from, and of her father's small home town of Guihulngan. 

Therese Estacion is a writer and teacher from the Philippines who now lives in Toronto.

More than Words by Roz MacLean

A woman with brown hair looks to the top left. A boy gazes at a colourful sky with the title written on it.
More Than Words is a picture book by Roz MacLean. (Submitted by Roz MacLean, Henry Holt & Co)

In More than Words, Nathan, who is a quiet boy, observes in school how people can communicate in different ways. From peers that use sign language, to peers that sing, there are many different ways of communicating. More than Words is a picture book about understanding each other to create belonging and friendship. 

Roz MacLean is a B.C.-based visual artist and writer and illustrator of children's books. Some of her other works include Violet's Cloudy Day and The Body Book. 

The Winter Knight by Jes Battis

A white book cover with blue architectural text on it. The book's author, a close-up photo of a man with glasses, short hair and a beard.
The Winter Knight is a book by Jes Battis. (ECW Press, Submitted by Jes Battis)

The Winter Knight reimagines the myth of the knights of the round table and sets it in modern-day Vancouver. When one of the knights is found dead, Valkyrie investigator Hildie is assigned to the case. One of her suspects is Wayne, a college student with autism and the reincarnation of Sir Gawain. As deaths pile up, Hildie and Wayne must face magic and mayhem to solve the mystery. 

Jes Battis is the author of the Occult Special Investigator and Parallel Parks series and the novel Night Child, which was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award. They are also a professor at the University of Regina, where they teach medieval literature and LGBTQ studies. 

LISTEN | Jes Battis discusses The Winter Knight:
In The Winter Knight, the Regina-based author Jes Battis delivers an entertaining queer urban fantasy that’s part murder mystery, part love story.

act normal by nancy viva davis halifax

act normal by nancy viva davis halifax. Book cover of a yellow cleaning rubber glove with the tip of the index finger cut off and separated. Image of the author.
act normal is a poetry collection by nancy viva davis halifax. (McGill-Queen's University Press, nancy viva davis halifax)

act normal is a collection of poetry which reconstructs "normalized" notions of disability and difference through referencing various archival materials, court cases and similar sources. The book begins in an institution where children are sorted based on perceived intellectual inferiority, leading to greater conversations on care and normalcy.

nancy viva davis halifax is a poet and associate professor in critical disability studies in the Faculty of Health at York University. act normal is their second collection, after their 2015 book hook. 

Friends Find a Way by Heather M. O'Connor, illustrated by Claudia Dávila

Friends Find a Way by Heather M. O'Connor, illustrated by Claudia Dávila. An illustrated book cover with a young boy and and a girl in a wheelchair in a zoo in front of a camel. Two portraits of women with dark hair and glasses smiling to the camera.
Friends Find a Way is a picture book by Heather M. O'Connor, illustrated by Claudia Dávila (Scholastic Canada, Jonathan van Bilsen)

In Friends Find a Way, the picture book sequel to Fast Friends, friends Suze and Tyson must find a way to reunite back with their class when they get separated from them on a field trip to the zoo. Suze knows the way, but can she lead them back? A story about inclusion and friendship, readers will learn about non-verbal communication. 

Heather M. O'Connor is an Ontario-based freelance writer and editor. She won the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award for her debut picture book Fast Friends, which was also selected for the 2022 TD Grade One Book Giveaway. 

Claudia Dávila is an Ontario-based author and illustrator who was formerly Chirp and Chickadee magazine's art director. Some of her other works that she illustrated include Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Michel Chikwanine & Jessica Dee Humphreys, The Canadian Kids Guide to Outdoor Fun by Helaine Becker and The Future According to Luz graphic novel series which she also wrote. 

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 Falling for Myself. (Wolsak & Wynn)

In her memoir, Falling for Myself, Dorothy Ellen Palmer makes a passionate case for disability justice. She was born with congenital anomalies in both feet. In Falling for Myself, she depicts her coming to terms with the past — and describes her discovery and embrace of activism.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a writer, educator, accessibility consultant and activist. She is also the author of the novel When Fenelon Falls.

Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King

Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King. Illustrated book cover of the outline of half a face in neon pink and purple with stars above. Headshot of the author.
Sara and the Search for Normal is a book by Wesley King. (Simon & Schuster)

In Sara and the Search for Normal, a young girl named Sara joins a therapy group. She hopes she can learn to quiet her mind and figure out how to be normal. Instead, she learns that there are other kids out there just like her. And that it's more important to be yourself than it is to be what is considered "normal."

Wesley King is a children's book author from Nova Scotia. His previous books include OCDaniel and A World Below. He also co-wrote the The Wizenard Series series with Kobe Bryant.

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 Disfigured, 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.

LISTEN | Amanda Leduc discusses Disfigured
Essayist and fiction writer Amanda Leduc on exploring the portrayal of disability in fairy tales in her book Disfigured.

At the Speed of Gus by Richard Scrimger

On the left a book cover shows a boy in a red hooded sweatshirt sitting on a foldable bed on wheels with a dog, travelling at speed down a hill. On the right a man, wearing glasses and a hat, looks at the camera.
At the Speed of Gus is a middle-grade novel by Richard Scrimger. (Scholastic Canada, Mark Raynes Roberts)

At the Speed of Gus is a middle grade novel about a 13-year-old boy called Augustus Constantine who has ADHD. The story follows Gus, who takes medication to help him focus, as one day he misuses that medication and decides to take the ferry over to Vancouver Island to meet up with his sister at her university.

Richard Scrimger has written over 20 books for children and young adults, including Zomboy, Downside Up, Lucky Jonah and Autumn Bird and the Runaway, which is a collaboration with Melanie Florence. He lives in Toronto.

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.
Victoria Freeman is a writer, theatre artist, educator and public historian. (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.

LISTEN | Victoria Freeman discusses A World Without Martha:
Victoria Freeman on A World Without Martha: A Memoir of Sisters, Disability, and Difference.

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