Reading children’s books with autistic characters like these picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books validates, educates, and develops empathy. I love using books to inform and spark conversation. I hope these books help you have rich conversations and a new understanding of autism.
There’s a saying that when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism, meaning that autism looks differently for each person. Hence the use of the word spectrum. Which is why I think we still have a ways to go in showing characters on the full autism spectrum. Please consider this when you read these books.
Since I believe it’s life-changing to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I would encourage you to ask a mom or dad friend to share their story of parenting a child on the spectrum –and then really listen as they share. Reading memoirs also is very helpful; memoirs like these:
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
*originally published 2/18, updated 7/23
Incredible Children’s Books with Autistic Characters
Bitsy Bat School Star by Kaz Windness
Bitsy Bat is excited about school…but once she’s there, her differences (sitting upside down, painting with her feet, eating different foods) feel overwhelming, and she has a meltdown. Her parents remind her that it’s okay to be different than her classmates. The next day, Bitsy adds sunglasses and headphones and shares an idea with her teacher. Soon all the children are making stars describing what makes them special. This is a joyful celebration of being yourself, starring a neurodivergent (autistic) bat who helps her classmates see what makes them special, too. The artwork is ADORABLE.
Big Truck Playdate by Laurie Carmody, illustrated by Jennnica Lounsbury
Corey is a boy on the autism spectrum who loves trucks! When his school hosts a semi-truck extravaganza, it is too noisy and Corey breaks down. But he really wants to play and see the truck. How will he navigate this road with so many warning signs? In this fun-to-read-aloud picture book filled with truck language that speeds, honks, and zooms, you will cheer on Corey as he finds the courage to connect with his classmates about his favorite thing: TRUCKS! Readers will love the heartwarming story, illustrations, and the big 2-page spread of a semi-truck with Corey’s favorite parts labeled.
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
A must-own lavishly-illustrated book that is both eye-opening and empathy-building as it increases a reader’s understanding of others; in particular, other people with physical and neurological differences. The book features kids with autism, a wheelchair, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, food allergies, Down syndrome, and more. It shows all these kids working together to plant a garden, showing that just like the variety of plants in the garden, our differences make the world more interesting and richer.
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song
Henry hopes he will find a friend in Classroom Six. The precise text reflects Henry’s literal viewpoint, the kids around him, and his confusion at their reactions. “Katie smelled like strawberry milk. She read storybooks all by herself. She slid down the Big Slide.” Unfortunately, he has many friendship misunderstandings until Henry meets another child who is also looking at the fish. “Want to play blocks?” he asks. And Henry makes a friend! This is a sweet, heartfelt friendship story that will help kids see other people’s perspectives.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J Pla, illustrated by Ken Min
For a boy or girl whose sibling is on the autism spectrum, this book might be reassuring so they know that they are not alone. Sammy arrives home after a bad day, but his little brother Benji is having a bad day, too and is in his box. When Benji has a bad day, the rest of the family tiptoes and speaks softly. Sammy thinks it’s unfair and wishes he had a box, too. He wishes that he could go to karate instead of going to Benji’s clinic. He wishes that someone would notice him, would notice his tears. Then, to his surprise, Benji notices. Benji comes out of his box to wrap Sammy in a burrito blanket. Such a sweet story of feelings and kindness.
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
I liked how the author simplifies Dr. Grandin’s life story in a meaningful way. We see how Dr. Grandin didn’t fit in at school since her brain is different. She’s kicked out and lives at her aunt’s farm where she connects with animals who are easier to relate to than people. Her story continues with a new school and an understanding teacher, inventions, and a life after college that includes speaking about autism. “Each person is special– so UNIQUE are our minds. This world needs YOUR ideas. It takes brains of ALL kinds.” Engaging, beautiful illustrations throughout the story.
A Day With No Words by Tiffany Hammond, illustrations by Kate Cosgrove
Written in rhyming first person, this boy communicates using a tablet throughout his day so he can express the words he wants to say just like the speaking people around him. This story represents non-verbal autistic individuals with a loving, inclusive story about a close-knit family.
I really like it when children read books with representation. Often we think of cultural diversity first, but it’s so important to consider neurodiversity as well. You’ll find memorable autistic characters in these three children’s book choices. I love that these books are windows, doors, and mirrors. Don’t you?
West Meadow Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher by Liam O’Donnell engages readers right away in a fast-paced mystery. Myron’s new school isn’t too bad because he wants to know who is stealing the snacks every morning. He and his new friend, Hajrah, both in a special class for half the day, decide to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Slug Days by Sara Leach is a first-person slice-of-life story about a girl named Lauren who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s a big fan of insects so she describes how her days feel by insects — slugs or butterflies. We see her struggle to manage her behavior at school where she has a plan to help her stay calm and learn in her own way.
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold tells the story of a boy with divorced parents. His mom is a vet who brings home a baby skunk who lost his mother. Bat wants his mom to let him keep the skunk as a pet. The author skillfully shows Bat’s unique perspective on the skunk situation, his sister, and his weekend visits to his dad.
Middle Grade Books
I LOVE this list of middle grade books with autistic characters because they really give readers such insight into the worlds of the neurodiverse characters. These all are great choices for a book study, a book club, or a read-aloud. My favorites are Planet Earth is Blue, Rules, Mockingbird, The Someday Birds, and Counting by 7s but they all are incredible choices.
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A heartwarming story of family separation, animal rescue, and friendship! Sila and her dad miss Sila’s mom who has been stuck in Turkey for a year trying to fix her immigration problems. When her dad brings her to a mechanic job, Sila meets Gio, a lonely older man named Gio who had won the lottery. Gio spontaneously uses the money to buy an old circus elephant named Veda. He hires Sila and a boy on the spectrum named Mateo for the summer to help with the elephant, building a close friendship with each other and the animals. When Gio’s mom, a lawyer, learns about Sila’s mom, she gets involved. The story’s beautiful ending made me cry!
The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla
Maudie is an autistic girl staying with her father for the summer but a California fire forces them from their cabin. She and her dad head south to where her dad grew up. A friend sets them up in an old camper at a campground near the beach. While her dad looks for work, Maudie works up her courage to ask an older surfer woman for lessons. She spends the summer worrying about her big secret and learning to surf, hoping to win the beginning surfer competition at the end of the summer. Maudie makes a new friend who is friendly and neurodiverse like her. All of these things help her consider that she is more than what her mom and her abusive stepdad think of her. This is a moving coming of age story of a girl who learns to thrive instead of survive.
Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern
Chester is a service dog struggling to help his 10-year old companion, Gus. Gus has autism which is impacting how he acts around Chester — he doesn’t pet Chester or feel comfortable around him. But Chester won’t give up on his person. Slowly, the two develop a way to communicate and a special bond.
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Moose’s family has moved to Alcatraz when it was still a prison for his dad’s prison guard job in this coming-of-age story filled with heart and humor.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
A meaningful, coming-of-age story about 12-year old Catherine. She’s worked hard to help her autistic brother, David, learn the rules about life. Now, with new friends, she’s feeling more embarrassed than compassionate towards David. What she does, surprises even her.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we might guess she has Asperger’s) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her both confused and without her parent’s support. But Willow pushes on and finds an unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
Co-written by Libby Scott who is a girl on the autism spectrum and based on her journals, this poignant, exceptional story shows what it’s like to be autistic…But it also shows how difficult it really is for family and friends to understand, too. Tally’s behavior reflects her brain trying to navigate the world and it is challenging for others, even when they try hard to understand. Tally relates to 3 legged dog who doesn’t like new people. She takes everything literally, and has trouble (big trouble!!) with mandates, feelings, and friendships. Eventually, Tally learns to find her own version of “normal”, a word that comes up a lot in this book. Please read this #ownvoices story that so deftly shows what autism can be like. It’s a story that will help those of us who aren’t on the spectrum have more empathy and compassion.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
A heart-wrenching, powerful story about autism, intolerance, kindness, and righting wrongs. An autistic girl in Scottland named Addie is treated cruelly by people in her town and especially by her mean teacher at school. That’s why it resonates with Addie when she learns the history of how the witches were treated (killed) in the Scottish witch trials. Life is complicated and as Addie experiences all of this, she feels determined to show people that intolerance is wrong and needs to be both acknowledged and apologized for.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
Nova is autistic and nonverbal. In this story, she imagines writing letters to her runaway big sister, Bridget. Nova holds fast to Bridget’s promise that she will come back to Nova for the Challenger launch. But the launch comes and goes. And Nova will have to face the truth about her older sister… And it will make you cry. Beautiful, gifted storytelling, and probably one of my favorite autistic characters.
Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother Devon is killed in a school shooting. Caitlin, who has Asperger’s, is trying to make sense of the world without her brother’s compassionate and understanding guidance. Her father isn’t helpful because he’s lost in his own grief. So when Caitlin reads about grief and closure, she decides to go after closure in a literal, hands-on way. And it will help both she and her father build their relationship and let go of Devon. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read — so powerful and honest.
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Jason, an autistic 12-year-old who feels like he doesn’t fit. He finds an online friend through a forum called Storyboard. When his parents take him to a Storyboard conference, he worries his online friend won’t accept him in real life since she doesn’t know about his autism.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
What a page-turner! Vivy is an autistic girl who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
This middle-grade novel is a puzzling mystery that only the boy named Ted, who seems to be an autistic character can solve. How did his cousin disappear from a closed pod on the London Eye? The enjoyable action and intrigue will keep your attention throughout — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t guess the ending before Ted.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, a girl with Asperger’s syndrome, loves homonyms like her dog’s name — rain and reign. She lives with her single father, a father who spends most time drinking at a bar. When Rose’s dog goes missing during a storm and Rose sets off to find her, by herself, despite her anxiety and the dangers.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The Someday Birds is a magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want to go on. Charlie searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday… with the hope that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone, growing him in ways he never imagined.
How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby
Instead of hanging out with friends in her own life, Lily’s life is about being her autistic brother’s caretaker. Her stepfather, still in denial about her brother, Adam’s, needs, thinks a dolphin friend will fix everything. Adam loves the dolphin, but Lily knows that it’s not enough, not to mention she worries that captivity isn’t the best place for a dolphin.
Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Kiara uses Mr. Internet to help her navigate the world except the Internet isn’t helpful with making friends. And it’s hard to make friends when you have Asperger’s syndrome and have been kicked out of school. Maybe her new neighbor, Chad, will be her friend?
Books for Kids with Characters on the Autism Spectrum