IBBY Review: Writing with Grace by Judy McFarlane

Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome, by Judy McFarlane (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014)

I Am Not My Disability: Outstanding Books For and About Young People with Disabilities

Every two years, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) chooses outstanding books for and about young people with disabilities. This biennial selection draws attention to books published around the world that address special needs and situations and which encourage inclusion at every level. Outstanding titles, including the one below, become part of The IBBY Collection of Books for Young People with Disabilities. This one-of-a-kind collection is located in Canada at North York Central Library, part of the Toronto Public Library system.

Here is one of the titles from the 2015 list:

Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome
by Judy McFarlane
Published by
(Douglas & McIntyre, 2014)
ISBN 978-1-77162-025-3

Reviewed by Debora Pearson*

In unflinchingly honest prose, author Judy McFarlane reflects on her life-changing friendship with Grace Chen, a young woman with Down syndrome.

Initially brought together by a shared love of writing, their relationship was almost derailed by Judy’s fear and revulsion at the prospect of being with Grace. Although Judy had never met anyone with Grace’s disability, she assumed that Grace would be dull-witted and possibly even dangerous. When Grace, an avid reader and former high school student, turned out to be otherwise, Judy was forced to set aside her prejudices and get to know Grace as she really was. The author’s quest to learn more about Grace’s disability took her to a World Down Syndrome Congress, into the homes of other young adults with Down syndrome and all the way to Taiwan where Grace was born and almost institutionalized.

Although nominally Grace’s writing teacher and mentor, Judy discovered that Grace had much to teach her about life with a disability. This illuminating and frank account of Judy’s time with Grace will prompt readers to reconsider the way they, too, relate to people who seem uncomfortably different.

*Debora Pearson is a children’s librarian at North York Central Library, part of the Toronto Public Library system, where The IBBY Collection of Books for Young People with Disabilities is located. Debora works with Leigh Turina, the lead librarian for this collection, and helps promote the collection through social media. She also conducts IBBY collection visits for school classes and youth groups, provides reference support, and assists with the compilation of the collection’s biennial list of outstanding titles.
This review is © Toronto Public Library, 2016.


Read An Introduction to the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities by lead librarian Leigh Turina.

Read MWD’s monthly reviews of books from the Collection.

Visit the Collection’s website to find out more, including how to visit.


  1. Beautiful. We all have so much to teach and learn from each other, if only we keep our minds open.

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