Great Books Featuring Young Characters With Special Needs

Special needs Books

I am a middle school English teacher who is always reading (and recommending to my students) books I think they'll enjoy.

I am also the mother of two boys who both have special needs.

I am drawn to books that teach my boys they are not the only ones with different abilities and special needs. And I love introducing my students and my own children into the worlds of children with different abililities as well.

We live in a diverse world, where each and every person is created differently, and I love seeing diversity in our literature. Especially since stories are such a great vehicle to help us understand and appreciate cultures, worlds, and abilities that are different than ours.

Books and stories are some of the best tools we have to teach our children about new things and new concepts, as well as teach them empathy by putting them in other characters' shoes and imagining what their life is like.

These books can help open doors so that you and your children will feel comfortable offering friendship, support, and kindness to the people they meet or know who have special needs and different abilities.

And if your child has a different ability of their own, these books have within them a character that just might help them to feel less alone and that they have much to offer this world as well.

Great books featuring young characters with different abilities | books about characters with special needs

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Picture Books


We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio

After Wonder became a best-selling book and movie, R.J. Palacio brought us We're All Wonders, to introduce younger audiences to the amazing Auggie and to the message of choosing to be kind. As it says on the back of the book "We’re All Wonders may be Auggie’s story, but it taps into every child’s longing to belong, and to be seen for who they truly are. It’s the perfect way for families and educators to talk about empathy and kindness with young children."


Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-El

Not Your Typical Dragon--a great book for children who feel a little bit different

This is our family's favorite book! Typical dragons breathe fire, but Crispin cannot–instead he has an ability that is not so typical. Bar-El creates an entertaining and encouraging tale aimed at children who long to be appreciated for what they can do, and a gentle reminder to parents that if your child can't do exactly what you expected, what they can do is pretty amazing too. Not only has our family read this book many times, I have also read this book to my son's class and we talk about my son's speech disorder and how sometimes it's hard for him to express his ideas, and the students always have a greater understanding and appreciation of my son's challenges and his character after reading this funny and charming book.


The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a child and grew into a woman who has made many advances to science, agriculture, education, autism advocacy and more. This is her remarkable story about growing up in a time when not much was done for children with special needs, but Temple Grandin's mother fought for her education and the therapies she needed. Told in a cute rhyme with great pictures, this is an eye-opening read that our whole family was fascinated by (especially for my son who is on the autism spectrum as well).


Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant

Six Dots: Louis Braille's story

My boys were absolutely fascinated by the story of young Louis Braille who loved to read and then lost his eye sight and then determined to create his own alphabet so that he could continue to read. They thought it was such a cool story and imagined what it would like to suddenly go blind (love that emphathy in action) but when I told them Louis Braille was a real person and that braille really existed they were so very excited and wanted to learn braille themselves, lol. Definitely another one of our favorites.


I Am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer

Helen Keller

Because my boys liked the story of Louis Braille so much, I knew I had to introduce them to Helen Keller, and this book did not disappoint. We all loved it! Cute, well-written, with fun pictures (and speech bubbles that my kiddos love to read) this book is a great introduction to Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf. We especially loved the page that was all black to illustrate what Helen Keller was able to see, and the page that told them to cover their ears and that's like what she could hear, to really help them understand Helen Keller's world.


Middle Grade and Young Adult Books


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Ok, if you haven't read this best-selling book, or watched the movie yet, you are truly missing out! I read this book when it first came out (2012) before I had even really entered the world of special needs parenting. I loved the book. I reread it when I learned they were making it into a movie, and loved it even more. This is the story of Auggie who has Treacher Collins syndrome which causes facial deformities. It's a beautiful story with a much needed message about kindness, compassion, empathy, and acceptance that all people need to read (or watch) immediately if they haven't already. (Recommended age is 8 and up).


Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. In this New York Times Bestselling book, we join Melody Brooks, a young girl with cerebral palsy, who cannot walk or do a lot on her own, and who is also unable to speak. We learn however, that that doesn't mean she doesn't have a lot to say or even think. So many people think that not only is her body limited, but her mind is too, but they are in for a suprise, because when Melody gets a new speech device that allows her to share her thoughts with the world--well, watch out world! (Recommended age is 10 and up).


The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Another award-winning, best-selling book, this one follows Christopher, a teenager with autism who understands animals much better than people and cannot stand to be touched. He uses his unique abilities to help solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor's dog in this eye-opening, captivating, and poignant story. (Recommended age is 13 and up)


Roll with It by Jamie Sumner

Roll with It by Jamie Sumner

This is a fun book about Ellie, who loves to bake and happens to have cerebral palsy. The book gives us a look at her thoughts about dealing with cerebral palsy, navigating life in a wheelchair, and her struggles with how others treat her because of it. Just when it seems she's beginning to get a handle on things, she finds herself starting all over again at a new school. I loved the sassiness and the poignant perspective Ellie offers to those around her, and to us as readers. (Recommended age is 10 and up).


Here's Hank by Henry Winkler

Here's Hank by Henry Winkler

This is an entire series written by Henry Winkler (yep, the Fonz from Happy Days) based on his own childhood experiences with dyslexia. In this series, Hank Zipzer is a second grader who aways gets into some kind of reading or spelling adventure mishap and has to find his way out of it. My boys and I enjoy this series, the characters, and the humor sprinkled in each book. And I especially love the support that his classmates, family, and teachers offer to Hank. As a special bonus, the series is written in dyslexie font--a font that has proven much easier for those with dyslexia to read. (Recommended age is 7 and up).


Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

This New York Times bestselling book is based on Einstein's quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” This story follows the adventures of Ally, who struggles with dyslexia and tries to hide it from others by either getting into trouble, or hiding behind her gift for art and math. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the characters, but what I really loved was that each chapter seemed to have a beautiful message embedded inside, whether it be about different abilities, acceptance, kindness, friendship, self-worth, or celebrating individuality. (Recommended age is 10 and up).


What are your favorite books that feature young characters with special abilities?