Learning about our differences can be a powerful way for children to see from another person’s point of view. I encourage all parents to introduce some of these chapter books or others like these to their children and use these stories as a reference when children bring up differences in school, particularly with special needs classmates. Because how great would it be if it were OUR child who can reach out with compassion like MacKenzie in The Friendship Puzzle?!
The Friendship Puzzle and My Brother Charlie are a particularly powerful combination for anyone who has a sibling or classmate with autism and would be a great pair of books for any child starting kindergarten. Other books have characters that facing challenging situations such as passively participating in girl bullying as in the case of The Hundred Dresses, starting a new school and not knowing the language in Sumi’s First Day of School Ever, or just plain old trying to stay true to yourself as in the sweet book by James Howe, Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores. I hope these books can help start a discussion around the idea of compassion when your child comes home complaining about a child in his or her classroom who turns out to have special needs that affect their socialization. This is actually how my idea for this list was formed!
p.s. You might like these posts too.
Teaching Empathy Successful in Preventing Bullying (NYTimes)
Teaching Tolerance to Kids for Their Special Needs Classmates
Best Children’s Books About Special Needs Classmates
Books That Teach Kids Compassion
10. Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores by James Howe
Horace, Morris, and Dolores are best friends who love adventuring until one day, they have to be separated into boys-only and girls-only clubhouses. This is no fun at all, so one day Dolores takes a stand. They form a new inclusive clubhouse for boys and girls and are joined by new friends Chloris and Boris. A fun book that is my 5-year-old son’s favorite about inclusion.
9. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
This Newbery Honor book was written in 1944 but it’s still so relevant today. The author’s daughter said that her mother, who grew up in West Haven, Connecticut where the story takes place was the girl (Maddie)who stood by while her friend (Peggy) led the girl bullying towards a girl who was Polish and claimed to have one hundred dresses in her closet while wearing just one shabby dress every day to school. Like the girl in the story (Wanda), this little girl moves to New York City, but the author never gets a chance to tell her how sorry she is. Instead, she writes this book.
8. Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak
Sumi doesn’t speak English and today is her very first day of school ever. Will it go well? It does after a rocky start thanks to a kind teacher and new friend who finds a way to play with Sumi. She practices her very first sentence in English with her new friend.
7. Arnie and the New Kid by Nancy Carlson
Arnie teases the new kid Philip who is different because he’s in a wheelchair. But then one day while teasing Philip, Arnie has a bad fall and ends up in crutches. Now Arnie wishes he were in a wheelchair! From seeing things from another’s point of view, Arnie becomes friends with Philip that lasts even when the cast comes off!
6. Yoko by Rosemary Wells
Everyone makes fun of Yoko’s lunch because it’s different. Her teacher frets and comes up with a plan to have an International Food Day. But still, no one will touch Yoko’s sushi. Finally, Timothy tries it and loves it. Yoko and Timothy push their desks together to have a “restaurant” serving sushi and sandwiches every day!
5. The Friendship Puzzle: Helping Kids Learn About Accepting and Including Kids with Autism by Julie L. Coe
This is a great book to teach children how to relate to their classmates with special needs. In this picture book, MacKenzie Macabee meets Dylan, the new boy at school who seems a little different. When he has trouble fitting in, she puts the pieces of the puzzle together of why and learns about autism, but, even more importantly, she learns how to connect with him. Her friendship with Dylan helps to bring her classmates around and he becomes a sought-after soccer player.
4. Introducing … Sasha Abramowitz by Sue Halpern
I really like this book. It reminds me of Rules by Cynthia Lord that won a Newbery Award so it’s hard to believe that this book didn’t win a Newbery! If you child like Rules, this would be a good choice. Sash Abramonwitz is an articulate, funny, aspiring chef living on a college campus with her two college professor parents. Only one thing is missing, her brother Danny .who has Tourette’s Syndrome and is living at a care facility. When he moves home unexpectedly, it forces her to deal with all the issues she’s facing both about Danny and about growing up.
3. Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
A rat with a lisp becomes the unlikely class hero when he inadvertently gets rid of the new class bully forever.
2. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
“If there is one book teens and parents (and everyone else) should read this year, Out of My Mind should be it” Denver Post
Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow. In this breakthrough story—reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—from multiple Coretta Scott King Award-winner Sharon Draper, readers will come to know a brilliant mind and a brave spirit who will change forever how they look at anyone with a disability.
My 5th grader, PickyKidPix, highly recommends this book about a girl with severe Cerebral Palsy that makes it impossible for her to move any part of her body except for her thumb. Despite this handicap including the inability to speak, Melanie has a videographic /photographic memory. It made my daughter very angry how Melanie was treated by her peers at school and what is even more interesting is that we have a child at school who might be very similar to Melanie. This book opens your eyes in a way that you view special needs kids forever!
1. My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Charlie and Callie are twins and they have a lot in common but also have a lot of differences. One thing that is different about Charlie is that he is autistic and has trouble communicating with people. But Callie has a special connection with her twin and feels lucky to be his sister.
Honorable Mention Books That Teach Kids Compassion
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
After being homeschooled all his life, 10-year-old August Pullman is starting 5th grade at a private middle school in his Upper East Side neighborhood. He wonders if anyone will realize that he’s just a normal kid underneath his disfigured face, an affliction he was born with. His middle school classmates are challenged to “be kinder than is necessary” but can they? Will they? In this uplifting story, it turns out that everyone carries some kind of disfigurement that feels isolating, even though most can’t be seen. We cheer for Auggie, as we are moved to tears, that kindness can indeed change the world. Warning: this chapter book teaches compassion.
Beryl: A Pig’s Tale by Jane Simons
When Beryl decides to look for a family that will love her just the way she is, from her pig nose to her curly tail, she bravely sets off on a journey that will ultimately change her life forever. Away from the cruel and ill-tempered pigs on the farm where she grew up, Beryl finds her preconceived notions of wild pigs– and everything else–put to the test. And with the help of the many unlikely friends she meets, Beryl discovers, at the cost of some heartache, that there just might be a place she could call home after all. If she could only get there . . .
A Cinderella of pig stories that are also an allegory for subtle differences and prejudices seen through the eyes of anthropomorphic domesticated and wild pigs. This is a beginning chapter book that really makes the reader think.
The Can Man by Laura E. Williams, illustrated by Craig Orback
This is an advanced picture book perfect for children who have noticed homeless people in their communities. This story is about Tim who seems to be anywhere from 8 to 10 years old and wants a skateboard for his birthday that his parents can’t afford. He notices his old neighbor, now homeless, collecting cans and does the same to save up for a skateboard. From his encounters with The Can Man, Tim realizes that the cans he’s collecting are at the expense of his old neighbor and he decides to give the money to him instead. And there is a happy ending!
How to Talk to An Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefanski (an autistic kid)
Written by a fourteen-year-old autistic AND artistic boy, Daniel sheds light on the do’s and don’ts of treating special needs classmates or kids, particularly those who are autistic. My oldest has had an autistic child in her grade since Kindergarten, and I found this book to be simple, direct, and extremely helpful. I wish I had read it with my oldest years ago to get pointers. This book is geared towards ages 6-10 with short chapters, large font, and illustrations on every page.
Rocky Road by Rose Kent
Seventh grader Tess Dobson’s mother is bi-polar and her little brother is deaf. Things look grim when her mother uproots them to take over a run down ice cream store in Schenectady, NY where they live in a retirement home. Is it true that “Ice cream warms the heart, no matter what the weather?” or will this latest get rich scheme fail?
Arlene on the Scene by Carol Liu
Arlene is a nine-year-old spunky, “can-do” kid that is determined to run for student government even though, technically, she’s one grade too young. That doesn’t stop her! What is more remarkable is that nothing stops her, not even CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which affects 2.6 million people around the world. It’s a nerve disorder that can affect physical movement. In Arlene’s case, she needs to wear special braces on her legs to help support them. This is a heartwarming chapter book that has the reader rooting for Arlene as well as seeing life through the eyes of a child who doesn’t let physical barriers or special needs slow her down.
Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity and Put-Downs by Sandra McLeod Humphrey
This book won the Mom’s Choice Award and Young Voices Foundation Award. Its heartbreaking dedication is to “In the memory of Tommy, who took his life at the age of twelve years, two months, and ten days.” Sandra McLeod Humphrey has created a fictitious elementary school with a cast of characters who face a quandary of uncomfortable and downright cruel situations. After each short scenario, questions are posed to the reader: “What do you think s/he should do? Why? How does feel?” It’s a clever way to pull the reader into different points of view including bully, victim, bystander, and pawn. This is must-read material for any elementary school-age student starting from grades 3 but DEFINITELY before entering middle school.
p.s. I am joining my first Linky Party. It’s hosted by author Maria Dismondy. She is hosting a linky party on the first Monday of every month that focuses on character traits like empathy, respect, fairness, and courage.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.