I had a reader approach me early last week about books about special needs life after reading my post on Secrets Special Needs Moms Won’t Tell You But Wish You Knew. I knew of a few books but really wanted to come up with a resource for not only her, but for those curious about different special needs, families looking for books about special needs for siblings, or books about special needs for children with those special needs so they have someone that they can identify with in a book. I polled my special needs mom friends on Instagram and in my Special Moms Summit (an upcoming respite retreat for special needs moms) Facebook group, and got everyone’s input.
These books about special needs are all incredible and I hope you’ll make it a goal to grab all 25 books to add to your library. The first book is near and dear to my heart- Giraffes Can’t Dance, as it’s a book we’ve read to Addie hundreds of times since her days in the NICU. My friend Lauren gifted us a copy of it, and it makes me teary every time we read it. I hope you love each and every book on this list, that they teach you things you didn’t know, that they inspire you and give you hope, and that they teach you more and more of acceptance, love, and living life without limits.
1| Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae – A touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. with crooked knees and thin legs, it’s harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.
2| The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca– When young Temple as diagnosed with autism, no one expected her to talk, let alone become one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Yet, the determined visual thinker did just that. Her inquisitive mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the globe
3| Billy’s Sister: Life When Your Sibling Has a Disability by Jessica Leving– Growing up with a sibling who has a disability can be hard. But it can also be awesome! Based on the author’s real-life experiences, this unique and touching children’s book explores how siblings of kid with disabilities are special, too.
4| Chromosome Kids Like Me by Annette Fournier– A sweet, fun story that takes something complex- understanding chromosome disorders- and compares it to something we can all understand- socks! This charming book is the perfect way to teach children and adults about chromosome abnormalities and what makes the people who have them special.
5| El Deafo by Cece Bell– Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful and awkward hearing aid.
6| Lemon the Duck by Laura Backman– Neurological issues make Lemon unable to walk, but with the support of a compassionate teacher and her students, Lemon is still able to become one happy duck! Through caring for Lemon, the students share in her victories and learn that acceptance, love, and extra special care can go a long way. They also come to understand that her difference doesn’t make Lemon any less special.
7| Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds– This empowering picture book reminds children of how much their dreams matter, and while life will have ups and downs, he enlists readers to stay true to who they are, to tap into their most creative inner selves, and to never ever forget to dream big,
8| My Friend Has Down Syndrome by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos– In this reassuring story, two children, one with Down syndrome and one without, learn that they are both good at different things and that by helping each other overcome their fears and difficulties they can accomplish a great deal together.
9| The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin– All William Ellsworth Hoy wanted to do was play baseball. After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder- eventually earning a position on a professional team. But his struggle was far from over. In addition to the prejudice he faced, he could not hear the umpires calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, out. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever.
10| Some Kids Use Wheelchairs by Lola M. Schaefer– This book teaches diversity and tolerance to young readers, and helps them understand and appreciate those children who have health differences. Colorful photos show kids with disabilities enjoying activities with their peers.
11| Daniel’s New Friend (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) by Becky Friedman– Daniel and Miss Elaina are visiting Prince Wednesday’s castle for a play date. When they arrive they are so excited to meet a new friend Chrissie! Daniel has so much fun playing with his new friend! Then he notices that Chrissie wears braces on her legs to help her to walk. Even though Chrissie may walk differently than Daniel, she loves the color red and playing pretend just as much as he does! Daniel is thrilled to make a wonderful new friend. This delightful story is perfect for helping little ones understand that despite small differences, anyone can become a new friend.
12| Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson– This powerful and winning picture book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds. Born in Ghana with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by many, but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability.
13| Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis– Told in rhyme, this story follows Susan through a series of familiar activities. She swims with her father, works hard in school, plays with her friends, and even ride a horse. Lively, thoughtfully drawn illustrations review a portrait of a busy, happy little girl with Home at younger readers will identify. Not until the end of the story is it revealed that Susan uses a wheelchair.
14| Don’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas– This delightful picture book explores questions and concerns about disability in a simple and reassuring way. Younger children can find out what a disability is, and learn how people deal with their disabilities to live happy and full lives.
15| A Rainbow of Friends by P.K. Hallinan– Friends come in all colors and sizes; they can be funny or serious, musical or athletic, outgoing or quiet. This book reminds children to celebrate their differences because that is what makes each of us so special.
16| Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo– Even though Davey is blind, he is quite capable – until he tries to play kickball. After several missed cakes and a trampled base keeper, no one wants Davey on the team. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a solution that will work for everybody.
17| Moses Goes to a Concert by Issac Millman– Moses and his school friends are deaf, but like most children, they have a lot to say. They communicate in American Sign Language, using visual signs and facial expressions. Today, Moses and his classmates are going to a concert. They are teacher, Mr. Samuel’s, has two surprises in store for them, to make this particular concert a special event. Isaac Millman tells Moses’s story in pictures and written English, and in ASL, introducing hearing children to the signs for some of the key words and ideas. At the end of the book are too full conversations in sign language and a page showing the hand alphabet
18| Wonder by R.J. Palacio– August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more 5an to be treated as an ordinary kid- but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. The book begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
19| My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best– Zulay and her three friends Are all in the same first grade class and study the same things, even though Zulay is blind. When their teacher asks her students what activity they want to do on Field Day, Zulay surprises everyone when she says she wants to run a race. With the help of a special aide and the support of her friends, Zulay does just that.
20| A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz– Alan loves animals, but the great cat house at the Bronx zoo makes him sad. Why are they all alone in empty cages? Are they being punished? More than anything, he wants to be their champion – their voice – but he stutters uncontrollably.
21| Just Because by Rebecca Elliott– This heartwarming picture book about being perfectly loved, no matter what, tells of a brother’s love for his sister. He is so enthusiastic about just how loving and special she is, and delights in telling us about all the fun things they do together. Only as his tale unfolds does the reader begin to realize that his sister has special needs… and by then we just accept as he does all the wonderful things about her. This amusing and touching story encompasses the issue of disability in a charming celebration of sibling friendship to which all children can relate.
22| Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco– Patricia Polacco is now one of America’s most loved children’s book creators, but once upon a time, she was a little girl named Trisha starting school. Tricia could paint and draw beautifully, but when she looked at words on a page, all she could see was jumble. It took a very special teacher to recognize little Trisha’s dyslexia: Mr. Falker, who encouraged her to overcome her reading disability. She will never forget him, and neither will we.
23| The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon– Ginny suffers from undiagnosed double vision, and seeing two of everything is causing her difficulty in school. On vision screening day, a nurse discovers the problem, and the prescribed eye patch gives Ginny a new identity– the pirate of kindergarten. With the help of her pirate patch, Ginny can read, Ron, and even snip her scissors with double the speed!
24| Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor– Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges – and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: when we come across someone who is different from us but we are not sure why, all we have to do is just ask.
25| Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw– Shane Burcaw was born with a rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which hinders his muscles’ growth. As a result, his body hasn’t grown bigger and stronger as he’s gotten older – it’s gotten smaller and weaker instead. Not So Different offers a humorous, relatable, and refreshingly honest glimpse into his life. Shane tackles many of the mundane and quirky questions that he’s often asked about living with a disability, and shows readers that he’s just as approachable, friendly, and funny as anyone else.