IBBY’s 2023 Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities: Canadian Selections

IBBY’s 2023 selections for the Outstanding Books for Young People will Disabilities list premiered at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on March 6, 2023. The selection committee received 200 submissions from 30 countries in 22 languages. From these, 40 books from 24 countries in 17 languages were selected. A digital catalogue of the 2023 titles will be available to download from tpl.ca/ibby and ibby.org.

Four exceptional Canadian titles made the list:

Living with Viola. Rosena Fung (text and ill.). Annick Press, 2021.

Written in graphic-novel format, this book focuses on Olivia and her anxiety, whom she pictures as a living being, named Viola. As living with Viola becomes more difficult, the coloured illustrations become darker and more menacing, moving from orange to greys and blacks, creating an emotional atmosphere which envelopes the reader. Olivia not only encounters stress from school but she also deals with nagging aunties and family friends who want her to be different. A rare graphic novel for middle-school children that deals with mental health, circulating copies fly off the library shelves.

The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging. Hannalora Leavitt (text) and Belle Wuthrich (ill.). Orca Book Publishers, 2021.

Author Hannalora Leavitt, who is legally blind, has created this easy to read, fat-filled non-fiction book that intends to change attitudes about people with disabilities. Using bolded keywords, sidebars, vignettes, a glossary, and plenty of diverse photographs and graphics, Leavitt includes chapters on the culture of independence and disability politics, also discussing abortion, unemployment, medical assistance in dying, and LGBTQ+ issues—all topics not generally discussed in compendiums about disabilities.

A Sky-Blue Bench. Bahram Rahman (text) and Peggy Collins (ill.). Pajama Press, 2021.

How could we not enjoy a picture book about a strong girl from Afghanistan who is going to school? Having weathered a landmine explosion, she goes back to school with a “helper leg” to find that she cannot easily sit on the floor. So, she solves that problem by building a sky-blue bench. This book is outstanding because it is not sappy or “inspirational” as books about characters with disabilities often are. It also does an excellent job of creating an age-appropriate introduction to war for children, which parents and teachers may use as a discussion starter.

Pourquoi pas ? Mylène Viens (text). Éditions David, 2018.

When you have muscular dystrophy, are in a wheelchair, and have to rely on your parents for toileting and dressing, would you undertake a road trip in a camper van with friends? As with all teen coming-of-age novels, it all boils down to what you, the reader, might do in the same situation. As the main character decides, “Pourquoi pas ?”

Written by an author who has a form of muscular dystrophy herself, this representation has been acclaimed as authentic by other disabled readers. Neither the author nor her character want to be defined by their wheelchairs. These are the kind of characters we like to highlight.

IBBY Canada received 39 English-language submissions and 34 French-language submissions.  IBBY Canada was permitted to submit a total of 12 titles. These titles are included in the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities housed at the North York Central Branch of Toronto Public Library. Researchers around the world will be able to search titles online or visit the library to read the books in person. The additional titles IBBY Canada included are:

  • Les amis. Paule Brière (text) and Amélie Montplaisir (ill.). Éditions de l’Isatis, 2021.
  • Fast FriendsHeather O’Connor (text) and Claudia Dávila (ill.). Scholastic Canada, 2020.
  • Iron Widow. Xiran Jay Zhao (text). Tundra Books, 2021.
  • Ma maison-tête. Vigg (text and ill.). Éditions Fonfon, 2020.
  • My City Speaks. Darren Lebeuf (text) and Ashley Barron (ill.). Kids Can Press (Non-Braille Edition) and National Network for Equitable Library Service (Braille Edition), 2021
  • Out Into the Big Wide Lake. Paul Harbridge (text) and Josée Bisaillon (ill.). Tundra Books, 2021.
  • Le petit astronaute. Jean-Paul Eid (text and ill.). Éditions de la Pastèque, 2021.
  • YounisAmal Naser (text) and Anita Barghigiani (ill.). Éditions Québec Amérique, 2021.
  • Le silence est d’or. Emilie Turgeon (text). Éditions de Mortagne, 2018.

Congratulations to the publishers, authors and illustrators for creating much-needed and memorable books about and for children and teens with disabilities!

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