All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything Book Poster Image
Inspiring story of activist and disability rights movement.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the disability rights movement that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. A foreword and back matter provide further information about Jennifer and the movement.

Positive Messages

You don't have to be a grown up to make a difference. Believe in yourself. Find a group of people who can help you achieve your goals. Never give up! Protesting injustice can change minds and laws.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jennifer is super inspiring: a dedicated kid activist, her story shows kids they can make positive change, too. She's also confident and realistic: she knows change takes time, and shows perseverance when she faces unfair treatment, finding strength within the disability rights movement. Jennifer uses a wheelchair and her family appear to be White, while organizing and protest scenes show people of various genders, skin colors and physical abilities.

Violence & Scariness

Jennifer experiences exclusion from school/school officials and meanness from other children due to being in a wheelchair.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything, by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, tells the true story of Jennifer, a self-assured young activist with cerebral palsy who helped lead the "Capitol Crawl." That's when activists left their wheelchairs and crawled up the steps of Congress (which had no ramp). This action led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (known as the ADA). Young readers will learn about the long work of activism and the ADA, while being inspired by Jennifer's example that kids can make a difference in their world. Jennifer and her family appear to be White, while background characters are diverse in skin color, gender, and physical ability. Young or sensitive kids might feel upset about the unfair, and sometimes mean, treatment Jennifer receives, though there's no physical violence in the story. While the foreword by the now-adult Jennifer and back matter provide historical background seem geared to older readers, the story in this picture book biography is simple enough for little ones. All the Way to the Top is a comprehensive introduction to an important part of American history for young readers.

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What's the story?

Jennifer isn't held back by her wheelchair, until she encounters curbs that are like cliffs, stairs that block her ability to get into her school building, and other children who tell her she doesn't belong. But she knows she deserves to be in school with all her peers and that she's a "friend just waiting to happen." So when she meets adults who are working to make the world easier to navigate for disabled people, she's inspired to fight alongside them in protests and other activism. Jennifer participates in the Capitol Crawl, in which she and other disabled adults haul themselves up the steps to Congress and make it ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP. And lawmakers finally pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Context is provided in a foreword by Jennifer and information-packed end pages.

Is it any good?

This compelling story about a confident young girl who helped change the world is a wonderful introduction to an important, often overlooked part of American history. The strength of All the Way to the Top is in seeing a child resist the unfair limitations in her environment based on her conviction that she was not a problem, but a force for positive change. Young readers will find her a compelling character, and the helpful back matter can spark wonderful family conversations about history, inclusion, and the power of kid's voices.

Nabi H. Ali's  digital illustrations, saturated in jewel tones, beautifully support the text and portray inspiring protest scenes and Jennifer's fierce determination. Given the  educational information that introduces and follows the end of the story, this book is great for both educational and home settings.    

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the work of organizing and activism shown in All the Way to the Top. What inspired Jennifer to become a leader? 

  • What character strengths does Jennifer show? How do teamwork and perseverance play a role?

  • What is an injustice (something unfair) you know about and want to try to change? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of kids with challenges and strong girls

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