One of my secret pleasures is reading books written for older children and young adults. Two of my favorites are Wonderby R. J. Palacio and Out of My Mindby Sharon Draper. These books explore the emotions, experiences, and discrimination children with looks or abilities that differ from the typical child. Both of these books would be great read-alouds for children who are in first grade or older to start conversations about how we treat others, but most younger kids would not relate to the experiences of the characters. To help share those same perspectives and start similar conversations, here are recommendations for picture books with characters who have different abilities.
Remember those new school jitters? The excitement and the worry about making friends keeps Jessica up the night before her first day at a new school in Jessica's Box by Peter Carnavas. At first, no one seems to want to play with her, but with the help of a box, she finally makes a friend.
Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher celebrates the joy a boy feels riding on his Mom's lap while she's in her wheelchair. Simple illustrations, capture his enthusiasm and pride in his mom. A delightful romp through a family's day that is appropriate for the youngest child.
all dogs have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann shows images of dogs doing what they do and describing it as what children with ADHD experience. Each image has only a few words and opens the door to conversations about what it feels like to have to ADHD. By highlighting both the strengths and challenges of ADHD, all dogs have ADHD helps to normalize the learning style of ADHD and will help young children accept themselves.
Zulay is very excited to be at school and can't wait to tell her friends about her new running shoes in My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton, although she is reminded that the middle of class isn't the best time to do so. She goes through the school day as most of her friends, except for writing where she uses as brailler and when she works one on one with an aide to learn how to use her cane. The cane makes her feel different since her teacher announces it to all the other students (a friendly reminder not to do that for teachers). When the teacher announces Field Day, Zulay isn't sure what event she wants to do, but because of her shoes decides on running. With the help of her aide and her cane, she can complete the race to the cheers of her friends.
Sarah starts a new school and notices a boy who just sits and spins a yellow frisbee during recess in Andy and His Yellow Frisbee by May Thompson. She watches him and one day brings her pink frisbee to see if he would show her how to do that. His older sister watches and worries that it might upset him since his autism makes change challenging. Fortunately, Sarah's calm acceptance does not upset Andy. Although, Andy never responds eventually his sister plays frisbee with Sarah.
Alan Rabinowitz shares his struggle with stuttering and how he eventually overcomes it as he worked to save endangered species in A Boy and A Jaguar. As a young child, Rabinowitz spoke fluently only whenhe was alone with animals. His teachers decide his stuttering disturbs the other children, so they put him in a class for disturbed children (this part simultaneously broke my heart and infuriated me at the things our school system can do to children). Eventually, he is made whole again when he follows his life's passion of protecting animals and speaks up for jaguars as he promised he would do as a boy.
In Moses Sees A Play by Issac Millman, Moses, who is deaf, goes to see a play with his classmates who are also deaf. The play put on by the Little Theatre for the Deaf is performed in ASL, and the children so love it so much they are inspired to put on their own. This book not only teaches children several signs but also shows the tools deaf individuals use to communicate, such as a TTY device for talking on the phone.
In Goose's Story by Cari Best and Holly Meade, a young girl watches as the geese return to the pond in her yard in the spring and notices that one has hurt her foot and cannot use it. Worried, the girl wants to feed her, but her parents help her understand that the goose must learn to live on its own if it is going to survive. She watches as it struggles and overcomes each obstacle throughout the summer until it finally learns to fly again and migrates with the other geese. The following spring it returns with a mate, and they have goslings. A good book about resilience and a reminder that a disability does not need to hold anyone back.
In Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen and Daniela Terrazzini, the daughter of the emperor is blind. Both her and her father are very sad that they cannot find a cure. However, an old man comes along and shows her how to see with her hands using the seeing stick. She realizes that by feeling she can see things which opens up the world to her.
As you read these books, help to normalize differences in abilities between people so children understand we all have our strengths and challenges. For some, they might be fast climbers while others may be great at drawing. One may speak very well while another is good at doing math. Add discussions about how all our bodies work differently so that by working together we can often accomplish a task more easily. Both these discussions can also help to remove the stigma that individuals who are differently-abled experience.
As always, I hope you enjoyed this blog and look forward to your additional recommendations of books that have children with different abilities as characters.
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