I Am Not A Label – review

34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists from past and present

By Cerrie Burnell Illustrated by Lauren Baldo

Published by Wide Eyed Editions ISBN: 9780711247444

Reviewed by Jamie Stevenson

The message woven into the words of I Am Not A Label is a simple yet vitally important one. In this thoughtfully written and beautifully illustrated anthology of biographies, author Cerrie Burnell presents young readers with a collection of 34 short tales. They tell the stories of inspiring and influential disabled role models from around the world and throughout history, each one proving that living with a disability or chronic illness does not mean giving up on your dreams or conforming to anyone’s expectations of success.

Having been born with a disability herself, Burnell has used her platform as an author, actress, singer, playwright and television presenter to help increase visibility of disabled people and change society’s preconceptions of disability. In her introduction to I Am Not A Label, she reflects on her own childhood role models, saying: ‘Looking back now, I realise there just weren’t enough books with a disabled protagonist having daring adventures. This is something that needs to change.’ True to form, Burnell hasn’t waited around for someone else to respond to that need. She has taken it upon herself to collect these motivating and awe-inspiring stories of achievement into a book that can be absorbed and appreciated by children of all ages (and maybe challenge the expectations of a few adults!)

The biographies are diverse, from musicians and actors to athletes and scientists; each one a shining example of human excellence and ambition. Burnell’s awareness and thoughtfulness is always at the fore, with special sections dedicated to mental illness and hidden disabilities, and a glossary of terms and list of useful sources at the back of the book.

Alongside all this, Lauren Baldo’s precise yet vibrant illustrations give a colourful richness to these people and their stories from the first page to the last. Burnell’s narrative style is consistent throughout, but the visual atmosphere and tone of every page is tailored to the individuality of each figure; from the spellbinding musicality of Beethoven to the glamour and radiant confidence of contemporary fashion model Aaron Philip.

Whatever your dreams are, and whatever your doubts are about achieving them, there is a role model here to help you cast off society’s labels and inspire you on your way.

21st December 2020

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