Andy and His Yellow Frisbee by Mary Thompson Andy and His Yellow Frisbee tells the tale of a young boy living with Autism. When a girl notices that Andy spends most of his recess spinning a frisbee by himself, she befriends him despite his trouble connecting with others. It’s a great story, made all the more affecting because it’s told through the prism of Andy’s older sister, providing a great perspective on Autism that even the youngest kids can understand.
Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis Susan Laughs won the Nasen Special Educational Needs Book Award in 1999 and for good reason. The book uses simple rhymes to show Susan laughing, playing, being scared, working hard, and more. Susan, readers will see, is a pretty badass little girl no different than anyone else. It’s not until the end of the book that Willis reveals Susan uses a wheelchair. It’s a simple, yet powerful, way to show how people aren’t defined by the barriers they face.
Dan and Diesel by Charlotte Hudson Dan’s dog Diesel is basically the gnarliest companion a kid could ask for. He rides trains, fights dragons, helps Dan to the market and goes everywhere he goes. Diesel is never afraid and the duo take off on a series of boy-and-his-dog adventures. It’s only at the end that it’s revealed that Dan is blind and Diesel is his seeing eye dog. It’s a remarkable story.
The Deaf Musicians by Pete Seeger The Deaf Musicians tells the story of Lee, who’s forced to leave his jazz band when his bandmates notice he’s struggling to play the piano. The reason for his rhythmic difficulties? Lee’s losing his hearing. Things pick up though, as Lee enrolls in a school for the deaf and finds new friends — and most importantly — a new band. It’ll help teach your kid to find the happiness in any situation. It won’t, likely, help them “get” jazz. That’s on you.
When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron Worry wreaks havoc on a lot of kids, tying their stomach into sailor knots. Through illustration and activities, When My Worries Gets Too Big explains diagnoses like crippling anxiety and ADHD in a way that makes it easy for kids who struggle with them to not feel so alone. The included stories are fun, engaging, and littered with encouragement to help kids come up with their own calming methods when anxiety issues arise.
Big Brother Dustin by Alden Carter Dustin, a young boy with Down Syndrome, is pretty stoked when his parents tell him he’s about to have a little sister. He tries to come up with a name for her but struggles at first. With a little creative thinking, however, Dustin eventually finds something his parents love. It’s a story that deals with many of the same emotions siblings-to-be experience and illustrates how perseverance, no matter your struggle, helps overcome any obstacle.
Danny and the Merry-Go-Round by Nan Holcomb One day while watching kids play and ride a carousel, Danny becomes frustrated by his inability to participate. It’s not easy to join in because he is living with cerebral palsy. Luckily, a little girl befriends him and they embark on an adventure. It’s a touching story, made more powerful for its simple treatment of cerebral palsy. By making the syndrome less strange, the book reduces the stigma.
Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds This wonderful and inspiring book for children with a variety of special needs, but most specifically, those with ADHD. For children with ADHD, sitting still and focusing for long periods of time can be difficult and challenging. Happy Dreamer tells the story of a boy who follows his heart and can’t help but “hear a beat and I gotta move.” Each page describes a different kind of dreamer. At the end of the book, the author includes a comprehensive and beautiful spread of different kinds of dreamers as well as different types of happiness. This is a children’s book that can be read over and over again and can stimulate important conversations.
Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson & Rosemarie Brennan A story about a free-spirited girl named Willow who has a creative imagination. Willow’s teacher, Mrs. Hawthorn, doesn’t like children to use their imagination. She just wants them to follow the rules and stay within the lines. Willow is constantly getting in trouble for breaking crayons, drawing something a different color than it should be, and just being plain different. She even gets teased by her peers for being different and thinking “outside the box.” For the holidays, Willow gives her mean-spirited teacher Mrs. Hawthorn her beloved art book. Mrs. Hawthorn is so touched by Willow’s generosity that she decides to turn over a new leaf for the New Year. I love this story because it encourages children to be themselves and never lose hope in others. I think it’s important to celebrate our children’s differences and encourage them to express themselves in all ways, especially through art.
What Do You Do With by Kobi Yomada Takes the reader through the process of having an idea that you love and believe in, but others might not agree with. The main character in this book struggles with this huge idea because he is not sure what to do with it. The boy tries to forget the idea, but it keeps following him and begins to grow and grow. He realizes that he feels most content when he is with his idea. At the end of the story, his idea “went from being here to everywhere. It wasn’t a part of me anymore … it was a part of everything.”
My Brother Sammy Is Special by Becky Edwards Sammy has autism, and sometimes his older brother gets frustrated with how “special” Sammy is and wants a different brother who is more like him. But then the older brother realizes that to Sammy, he is the “special brother” and begins, to his delight, to try things the way Sammy likes them.
Keeping Up With Roo by Sharlee Glen Gracie and her Aunt Roo, who has a cognitive disability, have been best friends who play and learn together, until Gracie starts to grow up. On the day that Gracie brings her friend Sarah home, she at first feels embarrassed about Roo’s difference. When, in showing Sarah around, Gracie realizes all that Roo has taught her, she introduces Sarah to Roo, and they all play together.