Representation is hugely important in kids’ and young adult fiction. Unfortunately, it can seem like the selections that star kids with special needs as main characters–not sidekicks–are few and far between. If you have a kid that would love to read about a character like him–or would just like to see the world from a different perspective–this can be discouraging. So we’ve rounded up 10 titles whose protagonists have special needs, and that fall under every genre of fiction, so your child can see herself represented in works that might become some of her favorite reads.
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner
This novel stars Ellie, a sassy, take-no-prisoners 12-year-old who wants to be a professional baker and who happens to get around in a wheelchair. When she and her mom move to a new town to help her grandma out, readers will get an inside look at what it means to navigate school, friends, and family with a physical disability. Roll With It is funny, poignant, and real.
Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler
Carlos Cooper used to own the basketball court, but now, after the accident, can’t find his way on the wheelchair basketball court. He’s still learning the ropes when the corrupt mayor threatens to demolish the wheelchair team’s practice court, but when the game he loves is threatened, Carlos realizes he has to get it together or leave basketball behind. This book brings kids into the wild world of wheelchair basketball.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
This is a classic that your child might be required to read in high school. But if he’d like a head start, he’ll be enthralled by the narration of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old with a superbly logical brain. Christopher relates well to animals, but not to humans. He knows all of the countries of the world and their capitals, but cannot stand to be touched. It’s Christopher’s penchant for rules and patterns that leads him to be the hero of the story, attempting to solve the murder of his neighbor’s beloved dog, Wellington. Christopher experiences the world completely differently than many kids, which is exactly why yours should read this book.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August “Auggie” Pullman just wants to be ordinary, but he was born with a facial difference that classmates at his new school just can’t seem to get over. The book switches from Auggie’s hilarious perspective to his classmate’s, his sister’s, her boyfriend’s, and more to paint a portrait of a whole town learning how to be accepting. It’s a must-read to teach tolerance, kindness, and perspective.
Flying to the Light by Elyse Salpeter
This novel gives kids a chance to experience the perspective of a teenager who has a sibling with special needs. Michael Anderson and his little brother Danny, who is deaf, are faced with mortal danger after their parents are kidnapped and the brothers find themselves on the run from a truly creepy villain. When Michael figures out that Danny has a special gift, he must figure out how to protect him from those who might want to abuse it. Flying gives voice to a character many readers who have siblings with disabilities might relate to.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
Six-year-old Emma can’t wait for all the things she’ll be able to do with her baby brother, Isaac. When she learns he has Down syndrome, she starts thinking in terms of what Isaac can’t do. But with the help of her dad, Emma learns to be patient with Isaac, and discovers that with compassion (and a good big sister!), Isaac can do anything. This is perfect for little readers ages 3-7 and showcases the power of compassion and acceptance–and because of that, is a great read for kids of all ages.
Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Jason is a 12-year-old with autism who doesn’t feel like he belongs in the neurotypical world. But that begins to change when he meets PhoenixBird–aka Rebecca–online, posting stories to the same site he does. Jason can finally be himself. He thinks Rebecca could be his first real friend, but is terrified that if they meet in person, Rebecca won’t be able to see past Jason’s disability. This novel is an eye-opener into differences, acceptance, and what it means to be yourself.
Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
Anxiety in kids often goes misdiagnosed, but worriers will definitely see themselves in Wilma Jean, a little girl who sometimes finds her anxiety impeding her life. The book aims to normalize anxiety for kids, give kids the tools to feel more in control, and provide parents with tips for lessening the severity of their child’s anxiety–all while telling a funny and relatable story.
Counting to D by Kate Scott
Sam is dyslexic, smart, and can’t read–so kids at her old school never knew how to treat her. When Sam moves to a new city and falls in with the Brain Trust, a group of über-competitive smart kids that includes her new crush, she decides to keep her learning disability a secret. But the odds of getting the guy, the grades, and more are stacked against her. Readers who have learning disabilities of their own–and really any reader–can relate to Sam’s challenges and triumphs.
My Brother Sammy is Special by Becky Edwards and David Armitage
Younger kids who have siblings with special needs might see themselves in Sammy’s brother, who gets frustrated by all the things Sammy cannot do–like take the same school bus, play in the park, or be a “normal” brother. But just as Sammy’s brother learns that Sammy’s autism doesn’t mean he can’t be a good brother, readers will learn an important lesson about acceptance, differences, and the power of family.