There were no books for an African American girl in a wheelchair, so I wrote one

Guest post by Adiba Nelson
Meet ClaraBelle Blue

One of the high points in parenting is getting to read books to, and with, your child. It is a bedtime ritual that has been practiced for decades upon decades. Whether it was “The Adventures of Dick and Jane,” or the now ever-popular “Harry Potter” series, books at bedtime are a staple in a household with children.

However, when I went looking for a bedtime book that I felt my child could relate to, I came up short. Actually, I came up empty. I searched local independent bookstores, well-known chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble, and even online looking for a book that had an African American girl in a wheelchair on the cover, and quickly discovered there was nothing. It simply did not exist.

Let me put this in a broader context: My child did not exist in the books written and designed for a group that she is clearly a part of: children.

While I did find books that talked about children having a disability, the books often focused on the child’s disability, and never the child. This would never do for my kid. At the time, my Emory was a spunky, sassy four-year-old (not much has changed four years later) who was so much more than just her wheelchair or communication device. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wanted a book that told me about a kid being a kid, doing kid things. It was fine if there was a message because as a writer, I do feel like children’s books should have a point, but I mostly wanted her to see herself — a fun, loving, silly kid, who, by the way, also had special needs.

As I shopped the book around to a few agents, I found out why books like mine are not included. My child, and children like mine (and possibly yours), are considered too “niche” for the publishing world.

Thus, “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” was born.

Now, truth be told, I wrote it in a fit of frustration (and maybe a little bit of mama bear rage). How could an entire genre of books that is supposed to serve my child, not include my child? It didn’t make sense and seemed terribly cruel and unfair. As I shopped the book around to a few agents, I found out why books like mine are not included. My child, and children like mine (and possibly yours), are considered too “niche” for the publishing world.

I remember the feeling that came over me when I heard those words through the phone line. It was akin to the feeling I had when a child care center once told me that my child was a safety hazard because another child might trip and fall over her stander — therefore at age two, she had to remain in the infant room. That feeling? You might be familiar with it. It’s rage. It’s pain. It’s frustration. It is a heartbreaking sadness. And if you’re anything like me, it culminates into the fiercest determination this world has ever seen. Nothing about my child, or any child is “too niche” to be seen in a children’s book, and no child is too niche to be recognized as existing in the world they live in.

This awoke a giant in me, and I decided to self-publish “Meet ClaraBelle Blue.” My book is currently the only children’s book featuring a young African-American girl with special needs on the cover, and, once you read the book, you quickly discover that it just may be the only book of its nature. This book that was once labeled as “too niche” to be considered for representation has quickly become not only my daughter’s favorite book, but a favorite in households across the country.

With “Meet ClaraBelle Blue“, I set out to not only create a book that my daughter could see herself in, but also a book that could help typically-abled children see that children like her aren’t so different from them, even though they may look (or behave) differently (there’s that whole “message” thing). Inadvertently, the book has also helped parents start the conversation around special needs, and keep it at a child-friendly level.

My goal is to have “Meet ClaraBelle Blue” on every child’s bookshelf, and in every library and bookstore across the country because I know the story of a kid just being a kid is not “too niche” for kids to understand.

My kid is not too niche. Your child is not too niche.

And it’s high time the world found out.

Comments on There were no books for an African American girl in a wheelchair, so I wrote one

  1. Thank you for writing this! I’m watching your TED talk now (for anyone else who wants to watch it, go to her website and scroll down to find the link).

  2. Yessss! Awesome mama. I love children’s lit and diverse representation in it, which is good for all kids (kind of like how sexism hurts men too!). Buying a copy for our home library right now, because my typically developing white son should have books that aren’t just about kids who look like him.

  3. I don’t have kids but love children’s literature and sharing books with the kiddos in my life. Will for sure be buying this for a bunch of them. Thank you for ensuring the world has access to books like this!

  4. I just don’t get this to “niche” idea anymore. In the past it made some sense because books would sit on a stores shelves and not sell. Now they can be in a warehouse and sell like crazy over the internet around the world. A lot of modern parents are trying to have a diverse cast for their child’s library.

  5. Well holy hot damn! I didn’t realize this had published! Thanks so much ladies for the positive response! For those of you that ordered the book, thank you! I hope you love it!

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