If you are like me, you love the gentle acceptance offered by Mister Rogers and his television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. His children’s book on children with disabilities, which is part of the Let’s Talk About It series, is yet another example from his repertoire that teaches tolerance and acceptance to young children. Never preachy, it simply shows kids being kids, with and without disabilities.
Extraordinary Friends is a short volume, only about 30 pages long, designed for children ages 4-8. Its appeal comes not only from its text, but also from the many photographs of children it contains. These photographs show children, with and without disabilities, interacting and enjoying themselves. In fact, the children are all introduced in the same way, with a picture and description of what they like. While some of them are obviously disabled, some have less apparent disabilities and some have no disabilities at all. The emphasis of the book is not on the children’s disabilities, but on their lives as children.
This book also encourages children to ask questions, both of adults and directly to children with disabilities. One of the most refreshing pages states that adults may not know the answers to questions children ask, and that’s OK. It also discusses how sometimes children with disabilities may do things that are surprising and unexpected. The underlying message of every page is acceptance of all children.
One of the nicest things about this book is the inclusion of a young boy in a wheelchair who cannot talk verbally or feed himself. It is one of the only children’s books I have seen that includes imagery of switches and a communication device. It also includes a photograph of the child being fed.
The overarching message of the book is that we are all more alike than different, and that each of us is special in our own unique way. Unlike many other books on children with disabilities, it always frames children with disabilities as children first, who happen to have special needs. It is refreshingly honest, and promotes interaction and tolerance among all children.