By Maryann Cocca-Leffler, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022. 48 pages. $19.99/hardcover; $15.54/eBook. Recommended for ages 6–9.
From a young age, Judith Heumann was often told “no,” both by the people around her and the physical barriers in her path. This story shows Heumann’s journey from no to yes. Denied schooling at a young age because she was in a wheelchair, Judy (as she’s referred to in this book and in life) and her family kept pushing until she was admitted to a public school that could accommodate her, only to find that the accommodation relegated her to a special education class in the basement. But Judy persevered. She graduated from high school and went to college to become a teacher, only to be told by the New York City Board of Education that she could not be licensed because she could not walk. This book chronicles Judy’s refusal to listen to the “no.” With her perseverance and her community around her, Judy became an activist advocating for the civil rights of people with disabilities.
The wonderful illustrations depict individuals of all abilities, including those using wheelchairs, canes, crutches, and sign language. Judy led protests, including the 24-day takeover of a federal building in San Francisco, Calif., resulting in the signing of Section 504, the predecessor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
This informative book includes a note from Judy herself (who passed away in March at the age of 75), as well as an author’s note sharing more details about Judy, her journey, and the legislation she helped to pass. There is also a list of additional books, websites, and resources for anyone who wants to learn more.
This book will inspire children to not only stand up for themselves and those with disabilities but also notice the barriers in place that prevent our society from being fully inclusive. The story and additional materials highlight the progress accomplished in the last 50 years, but I expect readers will realize there is still work to be done. I hope that Judith Heumann’s story will motivate children to speak in their own lives and communities, recognizing that anyone can work to make changes when they refuse to take no for an answer.
Julia Copeland teaches at Greene Street Friends School in Philadelphia, Pa.