Kids’ Books Featuring Differently Abled Characters

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In this powerful novel, 10-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy, a condition that restricts her from talking, moving or writing — which means that few people know how brilliant she really is. Over time, she begins to make herself known through the use of a machine that allows her to communicate. Readers accompany Melody on her journey of self-acceptance and find themselves caught up in a roller coaster of emotions as they watch the main character struggle with the realization that she will never truly be like the people around her. This book is recommended for young readers over the age of 10.

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A task is always less daunting when you have a willing companion and friend by your side. In “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus,” Aven and Connor navigate the ups and downs that come with having a disability while solving a mystery at Stagecoach Pass, the dilapidated Western theme park Aven’s parents are running in Arizona. Aven was born without arms and Conner has Tourette’s syndrome, and both issues are touched on with light humor as well as dignity for both characters. Author Dusti Bowling gives readers an entertaining yet impactful story of strength, determination and friendship that’s best for readers ages 8 to 12.

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Catherine is embarrassed by how David acts in public and creates her own rules for him to follow. But when she makes new friends — a boy who is nonverbal whom she meets at David’s occupational therapy appointments, and a new neighbor Kristi, whose behavior surprises her — she begins to rethink her rules and how she relates to the people around her. “Rules” tells an empowering story that teaches children important lessons about self-sacrifice, encouragement, discipline and what it means to be “normal.” “Rules” is a 2007 Newbery Honor Book, and a great option for readers ages 9 to 12.

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Extraordinary, fascinating and engrossing, “Counting by 7s” is a must-read. Willow is a brilliant young girl who has several obsessions, including diagnosing medical conditions and counting by sevens. Her world suddenly comes tumbling down after the loss of her adoptive parents in a car crash. She provides an extraordinary example of strength to young readers as she pushes through her grief to find a new and diverse surrogate family. Willow’s analytical way of thinking can be a good way to introduce young readers to people who see the world in a different way. This is a great option for readers over the age of 10.

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Intense and insightful depictions of 12-year-old Molly’s evolving mind will move young readers as they watch her begin to struggle after her mother moves away for a year. What begins as an attempt to win a poetry slam contest soon manifests as tendencies toward obsessive-compulsive disorder for Molly. Readers can learn much about what it means to deal with a mental health issue and how friends and family can play important roles in managing issues like this one. This is a great option for readers in the 8-to-12 age range

Expert Commentary 

“Giving children a chance to learn about those who are differently abled via reading is a great path to allow for reflection. Fortunately, there are great books available now that allow children to learn about these sensitive topics in a controlled environment. Parents, teachers and other educators can encourage reading the right books at the right times for each child in their development.”