Books with Special Needs in Mind

Stories shape children’s views of the world – and books that portray kids with special needs in positive ways encourage friendships among all kids. We asked local librarians and special needs experts for their suggestions for books that spread the message of inclusion, compassion and acceptance.

Picture books

A Day with Russ Series by Janet Elizabeth Rickert

“Russ has Down Syndrome, but that’s not the point in these stories. It’s great to see him in

photographs having everyday adventures with his family and friends at school and on special outings,” says Holly Southern, children’s librarian at Carmel Clay Public Library.

Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander

Depicting the classroom struggles for a child with learning disabilities, Stan overcomes his fear of asking for help thanks to encouragement from his classmates. “This picture book for younger children received the renowned Schneider Family Book Award, which honors books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences,” says Janet Spaulding, the Indianapolis Public Library’s juvenile collection development librarian.

Moses Goes to a Concert, Moses Goes to School, Moses Sees a Play, Moses Goes to the Circus by Isaac Millman

“This series features Moses and his classmates from a deaf school. The stories are told in written English and in American Sign Language. My favorite is Moses Goes to a Concert, where the students hold balloons to feel the vibrations as the music is played,” Southern says.

 My Best Friend, Will by Jaime Lowell and Tara Tuchel

“This book contains real photos of the author, an 11 year-old neurotypical girl, and her friend, Will, who has autism. This book is great for peer awareness and peer sensitivity activities focusing on acceptance and caring,” says Ann H. Sweet, board-certified Behavior Analyst and autism consultant for Carmel Clay Schools.

The Sound of Colors: A Journey of the Imagination by Jimmy Liao

“Amazing, fanciful illustrations show a blind girl making her way through a subway and through her imagination, unable to remember the blue of the sky, yet happy that she can still watch the clouds change shape in her mind, and notice for the first time that the train in the tunnel sounds like ocean waves,” Southern says.

You Can Be a Friend by Tony and Lauren Dungy

Written by the former Colts coach and his wife, the book tells the story of Jade, who wants to celebrate her birthday at the waterpark, but must decide how to include her friend, Hannah, who is in a wheelchair. “The story illustrates the idea that sometimes being a friend means we have to do things a little differently in order to be sensitive to a friend’s needs,” says Connie Boomer, children’s librarian at Hamilton East Public Library, Noblesville.

Chapter books

Blue Bottle Mystery by Kathy Hoopman

“This is a story about a boy with odd and disruptive behaviors who ends up being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Imbedded in the story line is the importance of friendship as he and his friend try to solve the mystery of a bottle they find on the playground,” says Gaye Kerschner, behavior specialist with Carmel Clay Schools.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

“This one is written from the perspective of Melody, a fifth-grade girl whose cerebral palsy severely disables her physically but not at all mentally. Readers learn what it is like for her to have no ability to communicate or control her bodily movements. Until she receives a talking computer, almost everyone assumes her mind is as disabled as her body. Her story shows a girl with intelligence, humor and love, especially for her family and the rare teachers and caregivers who recognize her as she is,” Southern says.

Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine

“This novel is about a teenage girl with Asperger’s who sees the world as black and white and must cope with the loss of the one person who helped her fit in. In search of closure, she finds comfort in the most unlikely place and helps her father in the process,” Kerschner says.

 Rules by Cynthia Lord

“This book is written from the perspective of a 12 year-old girl who has a brother with autism. While waiting for her brother during his speech therapy sessions, she befriends a young boy with cerebral palsy. It is an honest account from the point of view of a sibling who gains new insights on her brother through her new friendship,” Sweet says.

Consider adding some of these book titles to your child’s reading list to begin a conversation about the importance of valuing all people – and encouraging others to do the same.


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