That's what wings are for by Patrick Guest and Daniella Germain
Little Hare, 2015. ISBN 9781742978291
(Age: Preschool - Yr 2) 'There are three things that a respectable dragon needs: strong wings for flying, strong lungs for breathing fire and strong shiny scales.' So what happens if you are a dragon with none of those things? Instead you have wings that are weak and floppy, breath that is faint and wheezy and your skin is soft and furry and blue. And you are the only one of you in your school, laughed at and left alone? For that was Bluey's story. He would climb trees and dream of flying even though he could only use his wings to hug. He was laughed at, scorned and shunned, and when he made the dreadful error of hugging another dragon, his wings were tied up until he could 'behave like a proper dragon.'
However no matter what he did, Bluey couldn't be a 'proper dragon'. But one day his teacher gives him hope. She tells the class about a dragon who lived beyond the sea, who couldn't fly and who couldn't breathe fire but was so wise that others dragons flew to hear his wisdom. And so Bluey begins a journey that gives him hope and helps him find his place in the world and what his wings are really for.
While this is a charming story in itself illustrated with beautiful pictures in a soft palette that emphasise the gentle nature of Bluey, it is the back story that gives it its punch. Bluey started life as a soft toy given to the author's son Noah who had just been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder which affects boys and results in their muscles collapsing with most dying before they are 25. When he was approached by the Duchenne Foundation to write a story about Bluey, Patrick Guest says the words just came to him. The book is dedicated to all with DMD and part of the proceeds will go to the foundation. There's a YouTube interview with the author. But this is a story about more than just DMD - it's a story about any child who is different and struggles with that difference within the school setting. While it is hoped that our students would not be as cruel as Bluey's dragon friends and teachers much more compassionate than Mr Snakeskin, the truth is that a life of being different, especially physically different where the difference is constantly on show, is a tough one. Even though there was a huge impetus in the provisions for those with a physical disability in 1981 with the International Year of Disabled Persons, discrimination still exists so much so that in 2005 the federal government introduced the Disabled Standards for Education. Currently under review, it is surprising how many in schools are unaware of their obligations under this Act and so stories like Bluey's not only continue but are needed to give us the heads-up. It is so much more than providing ramps, wide aisles and doorways.
This is not just a book for schools where there are children on crutches and in wheelchairs - it's a book for all school libraries so our children learn one of the most valuable lessons of life, that of everyone wanting to be accepted for who they are not what they can (or can't) do. It's a book to inspire children that there is hope and they will find their place in the world and make a difference.