Knees by Vanita Oelschlager (Vanita Books, 2012) and Wings by Christopher Meyer (Scholastic Press, 2000) are two middle-grade books about differences and coming to accept being different.
Knees is told from the perspective of a young boy learning to deal with his dyslexia. Wings is told from the perspective of a girl who observes the new boy in town, Ikarus, who happens to have wings. Both books end on a positive note, emphasizing how it is not just okay but a great thing that we are all different.
In the first book, Knees, a young boy tells his story of frustration and discouragement as he struggled through school with dyslexia. The first half of the book describes his frustrations in school. In the middle of his story, he finds something that he is good at: playing basketball. The remainder of the book gives insights into how he felt to become a basketball star, with his own special nickname, Knees.
The book is written in a special font that is easier for dyslexics to read, and it is printed on shaded paper. In addition, it is written in a rhyming format. Although it has a great message and is nicely written, sometimes the rhymes seem a bit forced. The subject matter does not really lend itself to rhyme, and the illustrations, while nice, do not add a whole lot to the story. It’s a good book, but it’s not the most memorable.
That said, I’ll bet kids struggling with dyslexia love it, however, because they will be able to relate.
In Wings, Christopher Meyer has created a masterpiece of storytelling by fulfilling the saying “less is more.” The narrator observes others being cruel to Ikarus because of his differences. After all, his wings are large, awkward, and in the way much of the time. But unlike the others, the narrator loves the beauty of the wings and enjoys watching him fly.
Her acceptance of Ikarus makes all the difference for him. The book ends on a positive note as she tells off the teasers and shows him she appreciates him and his unique talent for flying. The illustrations are collages created out of cut paper, and each page is bright. It’s a memorable story, with memorable illustrations sure to resonate with those who, like the narrator and like Ikarus, have faced prejudice, teasing, or discrimination.
I love the emphasis at the end of both books that the individual who was labeled as “different” is actually “amazing” in their abilities. These books are great reminders, without being preachy, that we should accept people as they are and appreciate the differences inherent in them.
Note: I received a digital review copy of Knees from the publisher for review consideration.