I have been trying to introduce more books that focus on people with disabilities into my classroom library, since there is a large gap there. Rolling Warrior: The Incredible Sometimes Awkward True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution, by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner, is an excellent choice. As the title indicates, it focuses on the true story of human rights activist Judith Heumann, a woman who was paralized by polio as a child. With other activists, she led a movement that resulted in important civil rights legislation for disabled people in the United States. The story itself is written for middle grade readers and beyond. It takes care to explain lots of topics that are likely unfamiliar to kids in an accessible way, such as the legislation and regulations that would improve the rights of people with disabilities.
Reading the story was eye-opening as it showed how many barriers existed for people with disabilities in the 1950's and beyond and how many still exist for them today. The author also outlined how much resistance there was to enacting legislation that would support her human rights, with government officials constantly trying to undermine it or weaken it. She emphasized the impact of silence and inaction, as people refused acknowledge the need for change or based their thinking in offensive stereotypes. She also showed the importance of having courage and not backing down. The book illustrates how Judith Huemann was part of a larger movement and she demonstrates the impact a group of people working together can have. This included people with disabilities who used their voices and who participated in protests, like sit-ins where they took over government offices across the country. It also included allies, such as reporters who helped amplify their stories or politicians who fought to get legislation passed. Reading this true history offers many significant lessons for middle grade readers.