Your Christmas Bonus: A List of Thought-Provoking Books from the Independence Zone!

Hello, readers. Independence Chick here again with a Christmas bonus for each of you (which is more than most of us are getting in this economy, eh?)

As you know, I love to read. My favorite Christmas gifts have almost always been books. And so, I’d like to provide you with a list of several books, fiction and nonfiction, that promote new and enlightening understandings of disability. In other words, these books come straight from THE INDEPENDENCE ZONE. And here they are:

Getting Life (fiction, author Julie Shaw Cole, adults only)–Thirty-two-year-old Emily has sat like a lump, unable to communicate or truly live, in a nursing home for most of her life, due to severe disabilities. In the nursing home, she is abused, and her thoughts, needs, and wants are dismissed as unimportant or nonexistent. But when the abuse goes too far and Emily ends up in the hopsital, her life takes a drastic turn. An astute physician works to liberate her from the home. Meanwhile, Emily starts her journey toward a real, fulfilling life.

Why I Burned my Book and Other Essays on Disability (nonfiction, author Paul Longmore, adults only)–Paul Longmore gives readers food for thought in this collection of disability-related essays on topics such as why the ADA was not the benchmark movement some thought it was, disability stereotypes in film and other media, and the criminally low expectations of people with disabilities in society.

Rules (fiction, author Cynthia Lord, grades 6-8)–Thirteen-year-old Catherine wants nothing more than a normal life, where her severely autistic brother David’s disability can’t wreck everything, even her relationship with her parents. So she gives him a list of rules to follow, such as “a peach is not a funny-looking apple,” and “keep your pants on in public.” But when Catherine meets a boy with a disability at David’s therapy clinic, she begins to change her behavior and perceptions of “normal.”

Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve, and the Case Against Disability Rights (nonfiction, author Mary Johnson, adults only)–A landmark book exploring the truth behind the ADA, the case against disability rights, the case for disability rights, and the fact that our society, though “enlightened” in many other ways, consistently still fails to see disability as deserving of real civil rights legislation and attitudes.

Gathering Blue (fiction, author Lois Lowry, grades 6-9)–Kira grows up in a fictitious futuristic society, where people with disabilities are not allowed to live. Kira, born with a physical disability, was saved due to her grandfather’s status as a community elder and allowed to stay with her mother. But when Kira’s mother dies, she must defend her right to live–and does so successfully, with the help of her artistic gift.

Crashing Through: The True Story of the Man who Dared to See (nonfiction, author Robert Knutson, adults only)–Knutson chronicles the true story of Mike May, a man blinded in an accident in 1999, his wife and family, and their efforts to show that life without vision can be just as good, and worth living, as life with it.

Highland Sanctuary (fiction, Christian-based, author Jennifer Hudson Taylor, teens and adults)–Serena Boyd, born with epilepsy, was spirited away to the Village of Outcasts in the Scottish Highlands when her ruthless father tried to kill her for being “demon-possessed.” In Medieval Scotland, this is an all too common attitude toward epilepsy, and so Serena, her mother, and her old nursemaid must live in obscurity to ensure their safety. But when Serena meets and falls in love with Gavin, a Scottish nobleman, her life is about to change, and only her faith will keep her afloat.

Disability is Natural (nonfiction, author Kathie Snow, general audiences)–The book containing all the information found on the website, and more, as author and mother Kathie Snow chronicles the real, natural, fulfilling life of herself, her husband, and her son Benjamin, who has CP.

Handle with Care (fiction, author Jodi Picoult, adults and very mature teens, due to language and controversial court issues)–Five-year-old Willow is brilliantly gifted, and she and her family are happy and close-knit, if financially strapped. But Willow’s brittle bone disease, or osteogenesis imperfecta, is taking a real toll on the family. When Willow’s parents are presented with the option of suing their OB-GYN and family friend for “wrongful birth” to secure Willow’s future, they face a heart-wrenching decision.

Raymond’s Room: Ending the Segregation of People with Disabilities (nonfiction, author Dale DiLeo, adults only)–DiLeo writes a real, raw account of meeting Raymond, an “inmate” of an institution, whose disabilities have kept him from a real life. Using the story of Raymond and his “hot, smelly bedroom”, his own experience as a worker with people with autism, research, and other stories, DiLeo shoots a hole in the idea of segregation.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (fiction, author Sherman Alexie, grades 7-10)–Arnold “Junior” Spirit was born with water on the brain, and so must deal with constant flak from bullies and other people without disabilities. But his talent for drawing, and his gradual closesness to his tribe, make him, and his story, truly enduring.

Just Give Him the Whale!: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism (nonfiction, authors Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwartz, adults only)–A book, indeed a manual, filled with “easy tips and strategies” to help educators focus on students with autism, their strengths instead of their weaknesses, and giving them a real education.

House Rules (fiction, author Jodi Picoult, adults and very mature teens due to language, courtroom drama, and murder descriptions)–Jacob Hunt is a forensics science genius. He finds evidence at crime scenes the police often miss. His idol is forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. But Jacob also has Asperger’s Syndrome. When the hallmarks his AS displays–such as not making eye contact or quoting movie lines–gets Jacob framed for murder, his family is thrown into a maelstorm. What will this mean for his family? How will Jacob cope? And who’s the real killer? Readers–no one was more pleasantly surprised than me.

Inside Deaf Culture (nonfiction, authors Carol Padden and Thomas Humphries, general audiences)–A book chronicling the rich Deaf Culture, and the efforts of remarkable Deaf people (capitalized because they consider it an honor to be referred to as such in many, though not all cases), to make deafness a “normal” part of our world.

Accidents of Nature (fiction, author Harriet McBryde Johnson, grades 6-10)–In 1970, Jean, who has cerebral palsy, is sent to Camp Courage, a camp for people with disabilities. Jean has always only seen herself as a “crip” (caution on the outdated ’70s language). But her brilliant, sarcastic bunkmate Sarah, who also has CP, has other ideas. Jean’s world is about to be turned upside down–and Camp Courage is about to get a wake-up call.

Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms (nonfiction, author Mara Shepin, adults, especially recommended for educators and other school personnel)–A book on what the inclusive classroom is, strategies for real inclusion, and how to make it happen in your school.

Out of my Mind (fiction, author Sharon Draper, grades 5-8)–Melody has a photographic memory and is the smartest kid in her school, but nobody knows it because she’s also unable to talk. Faced with special ed and other injustices, Melody works to–and succeeds in–finding her own voice.

Saving Sammy: Curing the Boy who Caught OCD (nonfiction, author Beth Maloney, adults and teens–In this memoir, mother Beth Maloney chronicles how she suddenly “lost” her gifted–nay, brilliant–son Sammy to a host of OCD and Tourette’s symptoms that seemed to come out of nowhere. Beth’s fight for a correct diagnosis, and her family’s journey, make for a fantastic, enlightening read.

The Language of Goldfish (fiction, author Zibby O’Neal, grades 6-9)–Carrie is a gifted artist, but new symptoms are taking her down the slippery slope to the world of mental illness. Through her own grit, and with the help of an understanding psychologist, Carrie successfully learns to navigate her new world.

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (nonfiction, author Elyn Saks, adults only)–From age eight, Elyn Saks exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia, meaning that her gifts for law and other academics were often understated. As a Harvard law student, she suffered a breakdown and taken to a hospital where she was tied to a bed and otherwise maltreated. Elyn’s journey out of the dark side of mental illness is a heartbreaking, yet optimistic memoir.

Finding Alice (fiction, Christian-based, author Melody Carlson, adults and mature teens)–Once she enters college, Alice is faced with a new life and strange new developments, such as seeing and hearing people who aren’t there. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Alice is thrust into a mental hospital, and must find her way out of the rabbit hole.

The Way I See It (nonfiction, author Temple Grandin, adults and teens)–This is just one of Temple Grandin’s great books. Born with Asperger’s in a time when autism was unknown and cruelly misunderstood, Temple became not only a spokeswoman for disability, but a gifted, caring, and inventive woman in her own right. The movie’s great, too. 🙂

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (fiction, author Mark Haddon, grades 9-12)–Christopher Boone loves to draw, loves books, is a mathematical genius, and among other things, can’t stand the color yellow. Christopher has Asperger’s, so many people underestimate or bully him. His own father is unsure how to interact with his son. But when Chris is accused of murdering his neighbor’s poodle and sets out to solve the case himself, Chris and his world are in for some major changes and surprises.

Silent Night (nonfiction, author Sue Thomas, general audiences–out-of-print but can be bought used, adults and teens)–I am a huge fan of the show Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye, which is based on a real Deaf FBI agent’s career. This is her memoir.

The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal (nonfiction, author Jonathan Mooney, adults and teens)–As a student who was “labeled dyslexic and profoundly learning disabled,” Jonathan Mooney spent his public school days riding the “short bus” for “special kids” (a bus most kids with disabilities would rather hide from than ride on, according to my recent research). This is the story of how Mooney bought a “short bus” and drove it cross-country, finding people with disabilities living real lives–without derogatory terms.


This is not (or at least shouldn’t be) an exhaustive list. Come on–grab a book and dive in. The water’s delicious. 🙂


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