The best children’s books that champion wheelchair users

An author at 13, advocate for disability representation in literature, Habeeba Mulla, picks 12 favourites for wheelchair users and families

Growing up with a love of reading, I always struggled to pick up a book in which I felt seen and heard; a book in which my disability was acknowledged and represented. In recent years it's been great to see a shift in the number of children's books sharing positive messages about disabilities and inclusivity overall.

So, in celebration of World Book Day, here are some of my recommended reads championing wheelchair users.


Author & IllustratorSteve Antony Publisher: Hachette Children's Group

Here we meet a boy whose best friend is his pet dragon Zibbo. He teaches Zibbo how to fly and Zibbo teaches him how to roar. They do everything together; they laugh, sing, sail and snooze. They love each other, and each believes that their best friend is amazing. 

The fact that the main character is in a wheelchair is incidental to the story. Instead, the message is one of friendship, celebrating uniqueness and being free to be your true self, all of which are conveyed excellently. 

A perfect book to prompt conversations about understanding and acceptance with young readers, and I love the way that what’s amazing about the character is his dragon – not the fact he happens to use a wheelchair!

Susan Laughs

Author: Jeanne Willis Illustrator: Tony Ross Publisher: Andersen

Susan Laughs is about a girl called Susan. It’s a classic book but has stood the test of time.  Susan likes the same things as everyone else, eating ice cream and playing with her friends. She has the same feelings and thoughts, just like everyone else. It’s only at the end of the book that we find out that Susan uses a wheelchair. 

It’s a lovely book that helps reinforce the idea that someone who is disabled can live life and enjoy things in the same way as everyone else. The fact that she uses a wheelchair is just an aside.

Mama Zooms

Author: Jane Cowen-Fletcher Publisher: Scholastic

Another classic, this is a story told from the perspective of a child whose mum is a wheelchair user and all the amazing things she is to him. 

Her wheelchair isn’t a burden or a worry but rather a fact of life and sometimes a magical curiosity, a wonderful speedy addition to imaginative play. 

I loved this book and its portrayal of an adult as a wheelchair user within a family dynamic. This is one the oldest books with disability representation in this list, though I can honestly say it was way ahead of its time.

Seal Surfer

Author: Michael Foreman Publisher: Andersen Press

Seal Surfer has also been around a long time. It is about a young boy and his grandfather who love the ocean. One afternoon they go to the sea and witness the birth of a baby seal. The boy befriends the seal, and they surf the waves together. One day the boy lands in danger and relies on the seal to help him. 

This is a great book promoting inclusivity and a ‘no-limits’ attitude. The book doesn’t focus on disability. However, we can see through illustrations that he uses a wheelchair and has an adapted surfboard. 

A great book for young readers, promoting the idea of making the impossible possible.

What Happened To You?

AuthorJames Catchpole Illustrator: Karen George Publisher: Faber

A little boy is playing pirates when some new children arrive in the playground. Noticing that he only has one leg, they start asking questions – where is the other leg? Has he hidden it? Was it eaten by a lion? Or did it fall down the toilet?

He’s not a wheelchair user but I feel that this is a relevant message for anyone who has a physical impairment and has been asked difficult questions about it.

I love the way this book reminds us that just because we are disabled does not make us a teaching tool. But it’s also a really funny book and even offers adults some clever ways to handle questions about disability from small children. 

You’re SO Amazing

Author: James Catchpole Illustrator: Karen George Publisher: Faber

This is by the same team as the above book, but merits a separate place in the list, as the message about disability is again so clever and powerful.   

This time, there’s a constant stream of on-lookers who treat the little boy as a source of inspiration.  He’s fed up with being seen as “amazing Joe” or “poor Joe” – when actually he is “just Joe” and should be able to get on and play like every other child without being singled out or treated differently.

My Must-Have Mum

Author: Maudie Smith Illustrator: Jen Khatun Publisher: Lantana

Jake’s mum isn’t like other mums, she up-cycles everything, and wherever they go, his mum loves to find, to mend and make into something new. She’s a “must-have” Mum.

I loved that the book has an eco message about recycling, upcycling, and the wonderful opportunities to create something new.

The book follows Jake’s exploration of self-identity and family and his journey to discover that he is perfect just the way he is. And the book is perfect for helping readers explore their own identity through a heart-warming and uplifting story.

And I Climbed, And I Climbed

Author: Stephen Lightbown Illustrator: Shih-Yu Lin Publisher: Troika Books

This book is written entirely in the form of short letter poems, and is based on the writer’s own experience of disability due to a childhood accident.  With the protagonist’s accident very recent, his poems show a spectrum of emotions, including frustration, anger towards the tree which he was climbing which ‘let’ him fall, but also humour, positivity and hope. 

I chose this because it’s an accessible but powerful read that reflects on everything from practical aspects (like the logistics of using a wheelchair) to dealing with bus drivers' attitudes or irritating people who insist on calling you ‘brave’. 

Cyborg Cat: Rise of the Parsons Road Gang

Author: Ade Adepitan Publisher: Piccadilly Press

This is the first book by paralympian and TV presenter Ade Adepitan, offering a fascinating picture of his childhood.

Ade’s parents moved from Lagos, and while trying to embrace a new country and its culture, they also tried to maintain their own culture and principles. For Ade, things were far from easy, especially after encounters with some unpleasant attitudes towards his colour and disability (he wears a calliper on his leg as a result of contracting polio when he was very young).

However, where friendship is concerned, sport proves to be a great leveller. And before long, he is a member of the Parson’s Road Gang with his own nickname, the Cyborg Cat.

Entertaining and accessible, this book is sure to inspire young people to channel their determination and pursue their own goals. 

The Christmasaurus

Author: Tom Fletcher Illustrator: Shane Devries Publisher: Puffin

William Trundle is a lonely little boy; he lives with his father, his mother died in an accident which also left him disabled.

All he wants for Christmas is a dinosaur. One Christmas William's dreams come true in a spectacular fashion, and so begin the great friendship with the Christmasaurus.

A whimsical tale about magic, love, friendship and how people with disabilities can have fun, overcome obstacles and join in with adventures just like everyone else.


Author: Jacqueline Wilson Illustrator: Nick Sharratt Publisher: Penguin

This is a contemporary reimagining of Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did

Katy is a rough and skinny 11-year-old girl who loves nothing no more than playing with all her siblings and inventing imaginary games for them. But a tragic accident leaves her with spinal injuries and in a wheelchair. This story is about how she copes with her new life: secondary school, discos, getting dressed, going to town and doing everyday things.

Jacqueline Wilson has done a great job representing Katy’s character and disability. The awkwardness and embarrassment, the anger and frustration, and the depression—it all rings true. Katy's disability doesn't turn her into a saint, but she learns a lot about herself, her friends, and her family (particularly her stepmother).

Truly Wildly Deeply

Author: Jenny McLachlan   Publisher: Bloomsbury

Annie is a sixteen year old with cerebral palsy; she uses both crutches and a wheelchair (depending on the distance). She is independent, smart and funny. 

After leaving school, she decides to go to college, where she makes new friends and forms a strong bond with a certain boy called Fab, the social butterfly you can hear coming from miles away. 

I totally resonated with this book, and  saw a lot of myself in Annie. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some drama, romance, and, of course, great representation. 

There are so many other books I could have suggested, but I hope this is a good selection to start you off.  I've tried to include different ages, themes and approaches.  Many of these include disabled characters quite prominently, but of course, we also need books that include wheelchair users (and other disabled characters) naturally and incidentally.  

So I also want to mention the value of picture books like YOU CAN! by Alexandra Strick and Steve Antony, which just show children taking part alongside every other child without comment.

Enjoy the books!

About Habeeba Mulla

Frustrated not to see her cerebral palsy properly represented in books when growing up, Habeeba Mulla wrote her own, aged 13. It won a Whizz Kidz Millennium Award nearly twenty years ago. Habeeba is now an Authenticity Advocate for Inclusive Minds, an organisation working towards a more inclusive and diverse literary world.

A portrait photo of Habeeba Mulla.