Learning differences in children’s books help affirm what some kids experience and build empathy in those that don’t — so here’s a GREAT list of picture books and chapter books that show us stories of how other people handle learning differences.
For children who are challenged with learning differences (disabilities is a term I dislike), seeing a person like yourself in a story is SO affirming. In fact, Rick Riordan said that’s why he wrote Percy Jackson for his son who, like Percy, has ADHD and dyslexia.
And for children without a learning difference, they’ll be able to glimpse into a life for a person who does. That’s empathy building!
I debated about including autism and Asperger‘s since yes, these diagnosis’ mean a child’s brain is neurologically different. But I’ll include autism in a different post HERE. Here I’m only including books with ADHD, dyslexia, and general reading or learning disabilities.
Learning Differences in Picture Books
Knees: The Mixed Up World of a Boy with Dyslexia by Vanita Oelschlager and Joe Rossi
Well-paced and illustrated, you’ll find this to be an easy-to-read and understand picture book about life with dyslexia.
The Alphabet War by Diane Burton Robb
Kindergartener Alex finds that letters trick his brain — he mixes up bs and ds, for example, and it seems like he’s in a war with the alphabet.
Thank You Mr. Falkner by Patricia Polacco
Mr. Falker changes everything for 5th grader, Trisha. He helps her learn to read!
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
I love this book so much about the “special” or “junkyard” class of kids with learning differences. Their teacher, the amazing Mrs. Peterson, helps each child find their talent and gifts.
Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner
Learning Differences in Chapter Books (Ages 7+)
Super Lexi by Emma Lesko, illustrated by Adam Winsor
SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER, ADHD
As Lexi describes her feelings and reactions, we begin to understand that she has some differences than many other kids such as noises affect her strongly and she has phobias. Sometimes she just curls up into a ball. But she is the same as other kids, too — she has a fantastic imagination, loves art, and likes having a friend.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt
Both Ally and her older brother have hidden that they can’t read — until Mr. Daniels who helps her learn to read and discover her value. Excellent!
Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler
Hank is a lovable, very relatable kid who has a most creative an unique brain which makes for lots of delightful and fun adventures.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (series) by Jack Gantos
Joey’s a hyper-active kid whose impulsive choices often get him in trouble.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Albie struggles with learning which affects his self-esteem. But his babysitter Calista, helps him discover his gifts and that makes a big difference in his life.
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
READING ISSUES / ILLITERACY
Foster loves cooking and wants to be on a cooking show but she’s hiding a secret — she can’t read.
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla, illustrations by Steve Wolfhard
Comic book geeks (YAY!) and kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD) will find a kindred spirit in Stanley Fortinbras. He agrees to compete in comic book trivia contest to help save a friendship, even though large crowds make him very anxious. In the end, his friend ditches him but to save face, Stanley and his new homeschooled neighbor, Liberty work together. The contest takes them all over the city, something very challenging for Stanley. When Liberty’s mom picks her up, and he’s left alone, Stanley must use all his strategies to get through to the end. As a parent of a child with sensory processing issues and anxiety, I’m not totally convinced a person can use mind over matter strategy for this kind of situation but I know every child is different.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason’s a big kid with severe learning disabilities, an overactive sweat gland, and a dead best friend named Benny. As the story progresses, we see Mason’s confusion at why the police keep pestering him about the day his friend died. We know he’s a suspect but Mason doesn’t see it. Mason befriends another kid who is also bullied by the neighbor boys. This story is a lot about their growing friendship. Then, a situation reveals the truth about Benny’s death … which I was anxiously awaiting.
Eleven by Patricia Riley Giff
11-year old Sam can’t read well enough to determine if the hidden documents in his grandfather’s attic prove that he was kidnapped from his real parents. Who can he trust to help him?
Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
READING ISSUE – ILLITERACY
13-year old Travis can’t read until he meets Mr. McQueen, a teacher who helps Travis learn.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
READING DISABILITIES – ILLITERACY
This is one of the best chapter books I’ve ever read whose characters I felt deeply connected to. The main character, Doug, is struggling to read while living in poverty with an abusive dad and older brother. What saves him, is the connecting to a librarian who shows him Audobon’s bird paintings – and how to draw. It’s excellent!!!!
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
This is a thrilling adventure about a boy who is half-human, half-Greek god, questing to save the world and stay away from the monsters trying to kill him.
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
This is a moving story of a friendship between a large boy with learning disabilities and a very small boy with physical disabilities. Together, they overcome the bullying at school. Sad but powerful.
Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa
Focusing is hard, even with his ADHD medication. Then, Tyler finally finds something where he can focus — video games.
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