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In 2016, authors Corinne Duyvis and Kayla Whaley wrote this about the state of disability representation on the covers of books for young readers:
“Given the consistency with which this erasure occurs, it is safe to say that these are not oversights or missteps. These are likely intentional choices made with non-disabled audiences in mind, and therefore, readers with disabilities may peruse hundreds of books in the YA section of a given bookstore and not see a single visibly disabled character on the cover.
Readers with disabilities deserve to be represented. They deserve to be seen on the covers of the books they star in. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as their non-disabled counterparts.
It’s time we saw more and better representation of disability on our covers.
Their article looked at where disability representation was front and center on book covers, as well as gaping holes in representation.
Representation on book covers has changed significantly since 2016. It’s far from perfect, of course, and there will never be “perfect” when it comes to representation. Readers and those working in the publishing industry can only continue to speak out and demand more. That’s how the job was done, especially when it comes to teens of color appearing on YA book covers.
But what about teenagers with disabilities?
In recent years, there has been more movement to see disabled teens on YA book covers. Certainly, there are limits to how adolescents with disabilities can be portrayed on a book cover, as Duyvis and Whaley describe in their exploration. But there are also enormous possibilities.
While it’s far from perfect, although there’s still a lot of work to be done, 2020 is looking better when it comes to teens with disabilities on YA book covers.
Check out a preview of some of the RAD YA book covers featuring teens with disabilities hitting shelves this year below. Where designer and artist information is readily available, it has been included.
It should be noted that, despite progress in bringing more representation to YA book covers, the books below do not represent the diversity of writers in this category. That said, it’s quite refreshing to see the characters portrayed as more than just white.
Representation of people with disabilities on YA book covers in 2020
The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp, illustrated by Manuel Preitano (March 3, DC Comics)
Cover illustration by Preitano
What could be more important to see than a teenager in a wheelchair who is also a tech whiz…and a superhero? Nijkamp is a disabled writer, and this book brings the disability narrative to the forefront in a vital way. This graphic novel features Barbara’s use of mobility devices not only on the cover, but throughout the story.
Glitch Kingdom by Sheena Boekweg (February 18, Feiwel & Friends)
Cover designed by Katie Klimowicz and cover by Rich Davies
There’s so much to love about this book cover: there’s a big protagonist, and we get a glimpse of it. But more than that, we have a teenager in a wheelchair on the cover – and he’s a teenager of color. She’s not meant to be a stereotype in any capacity, and more so, because this is a book about teenagers who get stuck in a video game, we immediately know that the teenager is a gamer and, most likely, a nerd.
Finding Balance by Kati Gardner (May 5, Stream)
Cover design by Sarah Taplin
Gardner’s book features an amputee front and center, and not only that, the bright, hopeful colors do an amazing job of balancing the reality of the character portrayed with strength. The story follows two teenagers who survived childhood cancer, including Mari who became an amputee. This is an #OwnVoices novel, and Gardner has written about the importance of this cover for her book and for representation more broadly.
Six Angry Girls by Adrienne Kisner (June 2)
Cover by Noel Klamus
Although a broken bone isn’t necessarily considered a disability – at least under the Americans with Disabilities Act – they are very rarely depicted on book covers, and more so they can and (usually) do. temporary physical problems. Kisner’s book cover is especially worth including because the girl with the broken bone is a black girl.
I am happy to say my next anthology Body languagewhich will be released this fall and whose cover has not yet been revealed, will also feature visually impaired teenagers, corresponding to the raw, powerful and thought-provoking essays of a wide range of writers on the diverse experiences of life and having a body.
Four or five covers doesn’t make a dramatic change, but hopefully it will spark a wave of continued effort to better portray the wide range of ways people look, move, and interact with the world on YA book covers. As we’ve seen with the growth of YA books about characters with disabilities, we can continue to push for better visual representation.