Encourage diversity through these picture books about kids with exceptional needs.
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Picture Books About Kids With Exceptional Needs
Books are gateways to discovering new worlds and learning about life from different perspectives. Here are some of my favorite picture books about kids with exceptional needs.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best
Zulay is usually very happy at school, except for when it comes to learning how to use her cane. With field day coming up, Zulay has to work hard to be able to participate in the annual race. Good thing she has some wonderful friends to encourage her along the way!
Meet ClaraBelle Blue by Adiba U. Nelson
ClaraBelle Blue might ride in a wheelchair, but she is “just like you”! Follow this delightful sunshine as she goes about her day doing all of the things she loves best!
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
Doctors never expected Temple Grandin to talk–but the girl with an amazing visual brain set out to prove everyone wrong and ended up becoming an accomplished scientist and public speaker. The pictures in Temple’s head helped her to connect with animals in a special way, and she was able to use this connection to form new advancements in farming technology to benefit animals around the globe.
How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname) by Pat Mervine
The kids that attend Cherry Street School love assigning fun nicknames for each other based on each person’s unique talents and interests. They are having trouble figuring out what nickname to give their classmate Katie; she doesn’t talk, walk, or act like other kids at all! The class works together to find a way to include Katie in their activities and give her a fun new nickname.
Piggie and Gerald want to play ball with their new friend, a snake. But Snake doesn’t have arms and isn’t able to lift the ball in the same way the other two can. How will they accommodate their differently-abled friend so all three of them can play together?
All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimental
Jennifer Keelan noticed a problem. Many places that she loved going to like school, stores, and museums around town were not built to accommodate differently-abled people. Jennifer decided that even as a kid she could make a difference, and she climbed all the way up the Capitol steps–without her wheelchair–in order to help pass the Americans with Disabilities Act to make public places safer for people just like her!
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
An older sister introduces us to her younger and much-beloved brother Charlie. She explains that Charlie has autism and his brain doesn’t always do things the same way everyone else does. There are some things he has trouble with, but many things Charlie is very good at, like playing the piano and knowing facts about airplanes. His special brain and his autism make Charlie an interesting and unique individual.
Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari
Zara is a young girl in a wheelchair who loves nothing more than her dog, Moose. Sadly, Moose isn’t allowed at school, but that doesn’t stop him from visiting! I love this book for multiple reasons. We never learn why Zara is in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t matter. Instead, it focuses on a girl and her love for her dog.
A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
As a child, the author had trouble with a stutter that made him self-conscious. He promised a jaguar that he would find a way to get rid of his speech impediment. As he reached adulthood, Rabinowitz did find a way to control his speech, and he credits his work with endangered animals for helping him get there.
The Amazing Erik by Mike Huber
Erik loves playing with his friends at the water table, but when water splashes all over his sleeve, Erik starts to feel totally overwhelmed and can’t seem to get excited about playing again. A kind friend who understands Erik’s sensory sensitivities gently helps him return to the fun.
In Jesse’s Shoes by Beverly Lewis
Allie’s brother Jesse has autism, and Allie can’t stand watching other kids tease him for his quirks and unconventional ways of doing things. She sets out to gain a better understanding of her brother by working to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell just like Jesse. In the end, she finds her voice and stands up to those who criticize her brother.
The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen
Hwei Ming, daughter of the Peking Emperor, was born without sight. Her father is desperate for his daughter to see and enlists a whole slew of experts to work a miracle. When the emperor begins to give up hope, an elderly man with a seeing stick enters the city and teaches Hwei Ming how to “see” for the first time.
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You! by Sonia Sotomayer
United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer calls for a celebration of different abilities in this empowering book for children.
Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo
Davey is blind, and as a result, people are always trying to do everything for him. Davey is frustrated by this and wants to gain more independence, so he decides a kickball game is the perfect place to start!
A Screaming Kind of Day by Rachna Gilmore
Scully is partially deaf and so relies more heavily on her other senses to experience the world. The rain falling outside calls to Scully, who wants nothing more than to stick her face under the droplets and let them run down her cheeks, but her mother forces her to come in and stay inside all day. Scully is frustrated at her mother’s directive, and a family feud ensues.
Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy by Bill Wise
William Hoy had always dreamed of playing baseball for a living, but his deafness caused him to first take the route of shoemaker. William still practiced hitting during his breaks at the shoe store, and when a coach discovered his talent, it was up to William to prove that he could make it in the big leagues, hearing or not.
Just Because by Rebecca Elliot
A brother tells the world what things his wheelchair-bound sister loves and hates about being in her chair, and tells us that she likes these things “just because.” This brother-sister duo offer a compassionate look at a sibling pair who lovingly accept each other as they are.
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin
In black and white pages, this intriguing book offers seeing people a glimpse of the colorful world experienced by people with blindness.
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Trisha works extremely hard at school, but she has always been frustrated that she can’t seem to grasp reading and writing as quickly as her classmates. A loving teacher named Mr. Falker helps Trisha see that she is capable of learning and helps her believe in her abilities.
Helen’s Big World by Doreen Rappaport
Helen Keller may have lost her eyesight and her ability to hear, but she never lost her ability to change the world. With an abundance of grit and determination and an understanding friend and teacher in Annie Sullivan, Helen learned to read, write, and speak aloud. Helen used her platform and story to raise awareness and influence people in arenas such as women’s suffrage, pacifism, labor unions, and opportunities for differently-abled people.
Benny Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged by Zetta Elliot
A girl and her best friend Benny don’t experience the world in exactly the same way since Benny has autism, but the two have a wonderful friendship that focuses on valuing the other just the way they are.
Rolling Along With Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Cindy Meyers
In this re-imagining of the familiar tale, Goldilocks is intrigued when she visits the bears’ home and discovers that Baby Bear uses a wheelchair to get around. She also notices he has a special bed with a lift that is motorized.
This book introduces Susan in a way that will connect her to young children. She loves to swing, swim, and laugh just like any other child, and when her wheelchair is revealed at the end of the story readers will understand that disabilities are not impediments to living life.
How Smudge Came by Nan Gregory
Cindy lives in a group home with other people who have Down Syndrome just like her. When she finds a puppy without a home, she is determined to give him one. Problem is…the rules of the house say no pets. How is she going to keep her new best friend around?
My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson
Charlie describes his best friend, Isabelle, who has Down Syndrome. The two are inseparable and enjoy many common interests as well as some differences. Charlie compassionately teaches readers how to respect and befriend children with exceptional abilities and, in this case, extra chromosomes.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
A young girl is very excited about the upcoming birth of her new baby brother. She can’t wait to teach him things and play with him. Her father lovingly explains that some things might take the new baby longer to do as he will be born with Down Syndrome. Then the father lists all of the amazing things her brother will be able to do!
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
The true story of Emmanuel Ofoso Yeboah, a Ghanaian born with only leg who defied the odds. Most children with disabilities were not allowed to attend school, but Emmanuel decided he was going to get an education and hopped two miles to school and back each day. When he grew older, he became a proficient bicycler and rode 400 miles in 10 days, propelling himself by the strength of his one leg and his unbreakable spirit.
The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon
Ginny struggles to do well in school because her eyes are always making her see everything blurry and double. To help her eyes focus, the school nurse gives Ginny an eye patch to wear, and Ginny proudly becomes the Pirate of Kindergarten!
Meet Will and Jake, Best Buds Forever by Community Living Kincardine & District
Will and Jake are pretty much inseparable, and Jake’s extra chromosome makes their friendship even more special. Rather than being a barrier, Down Syndrome is actually a connecting point for these two buddies.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J. Pla
Sammy feels like every part of his day has gone wrong, and he’s frustrated because no one seems to notice. No one, that is, except his autistic friend Benji. And Benji might know just how to help.
The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses Series by Barbara Escham
I love this picture book series that focuses on twice-exceptional kids. Every kid learns differently – and that’s okay!
A few of the ones I’ve read are:
- If You’re So Smart, How Come You Can’t Spell Mississippi?
- Last To Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boy in Math Class
Moses Sees a Play by Issac Millman
When Moses’ school for the deaf takes Moses and his class to a play at the Little Theater for the Deaf, the class is enthralled with the way the actors use their hands and bodies to act without spoken words. After leaving the performance, the class decides to put on a play of their own.
Moses Goes to a Concert by Issac Millman
Moses’s class is off on another field trip, and this time they are headed to a orchestra concert. Moses and his deaf classmates excitedly communicate about the concert through American Sign Language and ‘listen’ to the music using vibrations and touch.
We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
Auggie’s much-beloved story, re-imagined for younger readers in this delightful picture book about a boy born with a facial difference. Auggie’s grit and determination to find a real friend and help others choose kind will have readers cheering him on as they turn the pages.
Ellie loves to bake, and she knows that someday her skills are going to get her a place in a professional chef’s kitchen. But her world is turned upside-down when her mom uproots her to live with her grandfather, who is sick and needs extra help at home. Starting at a new school in a new community might not be so bad, if it wasn’t for Ellie’s wheelchair, which seems to be a barrier to making friends. With spunk and sass, Ellie works to create a home in her new town.
Rescue and Jessica by Jessica Kensky
After losing her legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing, Jessica wonders how she will re-learn to navigate the world. Then Rescue, a service dog, comes into her life and the two form a partnership that helps Jessica begin to hope again. This true story is written by Jessica herself and is one of my favorite picture books.
Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer
Kami, part of a Sherpa community living in the Himalayas, lovingly tends to his herd of yaks. But when some of the yaks wander away from the group in a snowstorm, Kami knows he must get help. His father cannot understand what the deaf Kami is trying to communicate, and Kami’s brothers must step in to help Kami be heard and save the day!
Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander
Stan’s class is making cards for the principal, but Stan gets really frustrated when he can’t seem to get his letters to go the right way and his writing slopes all over the page. His teacher and classmates help him understand that it’s ok if you aren’t a master the first time you try something and that being brave enough to get help for your struggles is something to be proud of!