All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything is the book that has been missing from my collection. That makes it an important addition to nonfiction children’s picture books, but it doesn’t guarantee it will be any good. Luckily, it is very very good. The talent of author Annette Bay Pimentel and evocative illustrations by Nabi H. Ali bring the protagonist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins’s story to life. Jennifer was born with cerebral palsy in 1981, many years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by Congress. Pimentel’s telling of Jennifer’s story is engaging and informative. She does an excellent job portraying Jennifer as smart, confident, and capable while demonstrating that the world was built for able-bodied people, which limited Jennifer’s access to many experiences, including school!
Jennifer’s family is clearly supportive and encourages her to speak up for herself, but they stay in the background of this story. Pimentel focuses on Jennifer as an agent of change. At a pivotal moment she flies with her family to Washington DC to join other disability rights activists protesting to have the ADA passed. Many of the adult activists, quite a few in wheelchairs, pulled themselves up the steps of the Capitol Building to draw attention to their cause. Jennifer was told she was too young, but she did it anyway, bringing visibility to the movement.
I am so glad this book exists. I recommend it for school and public library collections. Both author and illustrator do a wonderful job centering Jennifer while contextualizing her activism within a larger social movement. By contrasting Jennifer’s life before and after the ADA was passed, young readers will understand the importance of changing the world and making every opportunity accessible to everybody!