Abdul likes straight lines and a good story. But at school, Abdul struggles to keep his “scribbly, scratchy, scrawly letters” within the lines of his paper. And spelling? It’s downright impossible. “Some stories are for books,” Abdul thinks, “but not his.” When a writer named Mr. Muhammad visits Abdul’s class, he encourages Abdul to embrace his “mess,” and Abdul realizes that a good story might come from his messy writing after all.
Abdul’s Story is an honest, encouraging depiction of a boy with a learning disability and the power of finding your story. Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow candidly portrays Abdul’s emotions and challenges. She captures the way his inability to write “neat sentences” leads to both feelings of failure and a sense of determination. Her narration is well balanced and invites the reader inside Abdul’s experience. Her text describes Abdul’s difficulties without specifically labeling them, so readers with a wide range of learning disabilities will be able to identify with him.
The book’s illustrations by Tiffany Rose are lively and optimistic, filled with friendly lines and details that round out the story without overwhelming the eye. Bright background colors and scenes of Abdul’s bustling neighborhood and cheerful classroom contribute to an overall sense of approachability and welcome. At one point, Abdul writes and erases so many times that he tears a hole in his paper. Ashamed, he hides under his desk and imagines “an eraser big enough to erase himself.” Rose poignantly brings this sequence to life. As Abdul crouches under the table, his eyes downcast and arms wrapped around his knees, the eraser of a giant yellow pencil has already smudged out his hands and feet.
In a picture book that centers on a character with a learning disability, different typographical choices—particularly on pages where text appears on a colored background opposite an illustration—would have increased readability for dyslexic readers. One widely cited study by Luz Rello and Ricardo Baeza-Yates, for example, suggests that dyslexic readers may find sans serif typefaces easier to read, while Abdul’s Story’s text is set in Absara, a humanist slab serif font.
In a world that can often be inaccessible, Abdul’s Story is an example of the power of casting a child with a learning disability in a starring role. As we witness Abdul working hard to improve his story, we’re reminded that very few things are ever perfect on the first try, but it’s in the trying that we eventually find success.