Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream by K T Johnston, illustrated by Anabella Ortiz – Review by Annette Bay Pimentel

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What does it mean to have a disability?

Sometimes disabilities are obvious to an onlooker—a wheelchair or a white cane signal “disability.”

But many disabilities are silent. Kids in a class might never know that their fellow students live with disability.

Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream by K T Johnston, illustrated by Anabella Ortiz, is a nonfiction picture book that tells the true story of the famous moment in 1952 when Olympic spectators discovered that the athlete they’d been cheering also lived with a disability.

Lis Hartel grew up riding horses and competing in the demanding horse-riding sport of dressage, but as a young adult she contracted polio. The disease left her with severe disabilities, and she spent years fighting to regain mobility. Eventually she returned to riding horses as a therapy. Although she still couldn’t walk confidently on her own, she won the silver medal in dressage in the 1952 Olympics. Her disability wasn’t widely known until the gold medal winner assisted her in her walk to the podium.

The book shows Hartel setting small goals as she recovers from polio and working hard to meet them. She obviously had a lot of privilege—she and her husband had plenty of resources to devote toward her rehabilitation and they already owned multiple horses—and the book doesn’t remark on that, but it does a good job of showing how she found novel and inventive ways to use the resources at her disposal to accomplish her goals.

Who will this nonfiction story appeal to?

Kids living with disabilities will see how someone else with disabilities shaped her life.

Kids currently living without disabilities will see that disability doesn’t define someone. They’ll see an example of what an inclusive world might look like.

And, of course, horse-loving kids will love every moment of this ode to a beautiful sport.

Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream comes out on February 1, 2022. My review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.

Annette Bay Pimentel writes true stories about real people. Her book All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything won a Schneider Honor Award from the American Library Association.

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