If you’re looking for children’s books about disabilities, you’ll appreciate the variety of titles in this post!
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Disability. Noun. A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
What qualifies as a disability? Most of us would agree that Down’s Syndrome, blindness, and cerebral palsy fall under this umbrella. What about autism or ADD? For the purposes of this post I have included books which describe children whose differences may make it challenging for them to do things most people take for granted. That may be the ability to see, walk, learn, understand social cues, or pay attention.
Do you have someone in your family or circle of friends with a disability? One of these books may strike a chord with you – or perhaps a nerve. Please use the Comments section to help us understand your perspective.
I’ve shared these books with my children to help them understand differences among people and how to be a friend to those who are different than they are. Because of the importance of the topic, my reviews are longer than what I’ve written in my other book lists.
I hope these children’s books about disabilities will help you begin some important conversations!
Children’s books about disabilities
My Sister, Alicia May, by Nancy Tupper Ling
This is a wonderful book written from the perspective of Rachel, whose younger sister has Down Syndrome. Alicia May is a lot like other six-year-olds. She likes dogs and horses, paints her toenails, and studies bugs. She can also be hard to have around – like when she doesn’t understand that the kids on the bus are teasing her – and does whatever they tell her to do.
Rachel appreciates her sister’s special qualities (like a sharp memory and the way she always says hello) and learns to stand up for her when others tease. This book is based on the real-life relationship of Rachel and Alicia, close friends of the author. The story and illustrations will grab your heart.
My Friend Has Autism, by Amanda Doering Tourville
This is a simple story perfect for teaching kids about how their friends with autism are different than they are – and that it’s okay. Nick has a friend with autism named Zack. Zack loves airplanes – and talks a lot about them, repeating the same facts over and over. When Zack is focused on something, it’s hard to get his attention. He is bothered by the loud noises at the airport and doesn’t like people to touch him. But, as Nick points out, he’s also a good friend who can beat him at video games and share his love of model airplanes.
A weakness of this book is that it doesn’t go into depth about Zack’s qualities and abilities. We know he loves model airplanes, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. Some Amazon reviewers with autism felt that this book wrongly depicted autism as a disease and depicted children with autism as people to be tolerated. Read with caution.
Ian’s Walk, by Laurie Lears
Have you heard the saying, “If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism”? That’s a good thing to remember when reading this book – it’s the picture of one child with autism, a condition which can look very different from person to person.
Unlike the boy in My Friend Has Autism, Ian is nonverbal. His older sister Tara takes him on a walk and is embarrassed that he stares at the ceiling fan in the drugstore, puts his nose against the bricks by the post office, and lies on the ground with his ear to the cement.
But when Ian disappears, and Tara finally finds him, she sees things in a different way. This is a good book for siblings who may be struggling with their feelings about a sibling with a severe disability.
Don’t Call Me Special, by Pat Thomas
The accepted terminology for people with disabilities keeps changing, and I’m not sure that I’m keeping up. This book (published 2002) states that many people with disabilities dislike the being called ” special” because it makes them sound too different. This book encourages children not to make assumptions about other people. It explains how disabilities can come about, how children with disabilities can get the help they need, and how we are all very much the same.
Howie Helps Himself, by Joan Fassler
This is an honest book about children with severe disabilities. The book begins by talking about what Howie likes and goes on to say the things that Howie cannot do. It’s a long list. He can’t walk without holding onto something, he can’t hold a pencil to write his name, drink his own milk, or build with blocks.
Howie’s family helps him do the things he can’t. His mother helps him put on his socks, his sister draws funny pictures for him, and his grandmother takes him on walks and chases after the ball he pushes off his lap.
Howie likes school most of the time, but he wants very much to do something all by himself: zoom around in his wheelchair without any help at all. After many, many days of practice Howie is determined to move his wheelchair to meet his father at the classroom door. When he finally makes it (dripping with sweat from the effort), “he hugged his daddy just as tightly as he possibly could. And do you know something? When a boy hugs his daddy, it really doesn’t make any difference about how weak or strong the boy’s arms are. It’s how the boy feels deep down inside himself that really counts. And how his daddy feels too.”
Some Amazon reviewers felt the book was too dated and negative. Since the book was published in 1975, you may need to talk to your child about how the wheelchairs and other equipment that children use are different today. But I appreciated the honesty in the story. Having a severe disability isn’t easy, and it’s okay to acknowledge that — while also celebrating successes that may seem small to the rest of us, but mean the world to the child who achieves them.
Sara’s Secret, by Suzanne Wanous
Like many books on this list, this one was hard for me to read without choking up. Sara has a brother with severe disabilities. But “nobody understands that even though my brother can’t walk or talk or feed himself, or even sit up, he can still make me happy.”
When Sara joins a new school, she doesn’t want anyone to know that Sean is her brother. They might make fun of her like they did at her last school. But one day her teacher begins a discussion about disabilities. As Sara listens, she is troubled when her classmates talk about how the children in the special ed class are “slobbery.” The teacher tells the students to bring something to school that would help a person with disabilities.
Sara struggles over what to do. Her parents think she should introduce her classmates to Sean. “If I brought him, they might tease me for the rest of the year…(then) I thought about Justin’s smile and how he loved me just for being near him. He was my brother, not a secret.”
Such a wonderful story with a beautiful ending! Recommended especially for older children who have siblings with severe disabilities.
A Different Little Doggy, by Heather Whittaker
Sometimes it’s best to approach difficult topics from a lighter perspective. This gentle book, written for children ages 4-8, is the perfect springboard for a discussion about differences at home or in the classroom. A Different Little Doggy is the true story of Taz, a dog who is different from her friends in many ways. She is tiny, has pins in her knees, and her ears are floppy instead of standing tall. Later in the book we learn that Taz becomes blind without warning.
Even with her disabilities, Taz is happy to be different and celebrates what she can do. In fact, her differences are not portrayed as disabilities at all. Even after becoming blind, Taz “can still run and play. I just do it in a different way. I now see with my nose and feel with my toes…”
I highly recommend the classroom curriculum for the book, which shares some truly excellent ideas for helping children recognize and celebrate differences in themselves and others. It’s designed for use in the primary grades and can be purchased here.
* I received a free copy of “A Different Little Doggy” and was compensated for my time in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine!
We Can Do It! by Laura Dwight
This book is a perfect follow up to A Different Little Doggy because it features real children with different disabilities – and focuses on what they can do. Five-year-old Gina with spina bifida plays with her dollhouse and rides a special bike. Four-year-old Sarah, who is blind, can read her name in Braille and pour her own juice. Because the children in the book are all preschoolers, I recommend this book for children ages 3-6.
The Pirate of Kindergarten, by George Ella Lyon
This book is a much lighter story than some of the others in this list. Ginny is a kindergartener who loves school. Reading Circle is her favorite, but it’s hard to know where to sit (there are so many chairs!). When she runs into a chair, someone always laughs. She loves to read, but her eyes play tricks and she reads each word twice. When Vision Screening Day arrives, Ginny learns that she has double vision. Ginny becomes a kindergarten pirate when she wears a patch to school. Now she can do read, do numbers, cut, and even take a seat without knocking over a single chair.
Eagle Eyes, by Jeanne Gehret
The author wrote this book after her son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities. It acknowledges the difficulties that Ben experiences at home and school because he has trouble controlling how he moves and thinks. He learns that he’s not a clumsy bad kid, but a gifted boy with a special way of seeing the world. Ben learns to manage his ADD with medication and behavioral techniques.
Be Good to Eddie Lee, by Virginia Fleming
Christy is told by her mother to “be good to Eddie Lee” because he is lonesome and different. Eddie Lee, Christy’s neighbor, has Down Syndrome. Christy is uncomfortable around Eddie Lee and not exactly friendly, but her friend JimBud is truly mean. Most of us have seen children or adults with disabilities get teased or made fun of. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to read about. In the end, Christy appreciates Eddie Lee – both his genuine friendship and his ability to do something she can’t.
Some Amazon reviewers felt the book was condescending and stereotypical. I don’t agree, but you’ll have to read it for yourself. I recommend this book for children ages 8 and up. It’s a little harsh for young listeners.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
Six-year-old Emma is excited to get a new brother or sister. She has a list of a “million things” she’ll get to do with her new sibling. But one day her father wakes her up. His eyes are red. “There’s something you need to know about the baby. Isaac has been born with something called Down Syndrome.” Emma doesn’t quite understand, but she thinks she knows what he means – her new brother won’t be able to do any of the things she’d been counting on.
Yet as they talk about each of the million things, Emma learns that “as along as we were patient with Isaac, and helped him when he needed it, there probably wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”
The reviews on this one were mixed. Personally, I appreciate the acknowledgement that Mom and Dad might be sad, but that a family’s love and support can help a child accomplish many things.
Thank you, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco
Trisha is a little girl who can’t wait to learn to read. But she is quickly disappointed when all her classmates read before she does. She’s left behind in the lowest reading group, all by herself. She is teased and laughed at. She feels dumb. School gets harder and harder. “Reading is pure torture.”
Until the day when she gets a new young teacher – Mr. Falker. He praises her drawings and defends her when her classmates tease. Most of all, he gets her special reading help after school so that after several months, she is able to read all on her own.
It’s a long book – not for preschoolers – but a tear jerker for sure. Especially since it’s a true story about the author who makes a living writing and illustrating children’s books!
Related book lists:
- Children’s Books about Autism from Growing Book by Book
- Books about Cancer for Kids from No Time for Flashcards
- Books for Children with Cancer from I Can Teach My Child
What books would you add to this list?
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