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11 Books That Embrace Disabilities and Differences

by Sarah Mangiola

It’s important for children to understand that everyone is different, and that our differences make us wonderful and unique. But sometimes, this message isn’t so easy to convey. These books that celebrate differences and disabilities highlight characters who are different from (and in some cases similar to) the reader. From the real life story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who had a deformed leg and eventually became a cyclist, to John Green’s novel about a girl coping with anxiety, these books embrace the things that make us who we are.

  • Just Ask!

    by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

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    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor uses her own childhood experience with diabetes to craft this beautiful and inspiring children’s picture book. Being different can be tough, especially when you’re a kid. But just like a garden, where different flowers and plants make it beautiful, different types of people make our world a more wonderful place.

    Sotomayor’s story of children working to build a community garden encourages kids to ask questions and learn how we’re all different.

    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • We’re Amazing 1,2,3! A Story About Friendship and Autism

    by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Mary Beth Nelson

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    Sesame Street’s Big Golden Book focuses on autism as Elmo introduces his longtime friend Julia to Abby. At first, Abby doesn’t understand why Julia doesn’t say hello to her, but then Elmo explains that Julia is autistic and does things a little differently. Soon, Abby finds she has a lot in common with Julia, even though some things about them are different. A story that focuses on love and friendship, this is a great introduction to autism for children.

    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

    by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

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    When Louis Braille lost his sight at the age of five, he was determined to learn how to read. But even at his school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. Louis didn’t give up on his dream, and instead created his own alphabet that could be read by touch. This story, which highlights sound, smell, and touch, is sure to inspire little readers.

    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

    by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

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    Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born with a deformed leg in Ghana, West Africa. Though no one thought he could amount to much, his mother taught him to reach for his dreams — and he did. Eventually, he became a cyclist and in 2001 rode across Ghana to share his inspiring story and the message that disability is not inability.

    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

    by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

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    Growing up, Horace Pippin loved to draw. Even during World War I, he drew from the trenches… until he was shot. Upon returning home after the war, Horace couldn’t lift his arm to draw. But he didn’t give up, and slowly but surely he regained the use of his arm and went on to become a famous artist. Another inspiring story from Jen Bryant, children will be empowered to never give up.

    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Wink

    by Rob Harrell

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    Based on author Rob Harrell’s real life experience, this middle grade novel follows Ross Maloy — a seventh grader with eye cancer. He just wants to be a normal kid, but it’s hard to be normal when your friends don’t know how to act around you. Funny and poignant, this book is packed with comics that your tween is sure to relate to.

    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

    by Sarah Kapit

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    Vivy Cohen just wants to play baseball, but her mom is worried about her being the only girl on the team — and the only autistic kid. When an assignment tasks her with writing a letter to someone, Vivy chooses her hero: Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Her luck turns when a coach sees Vivy playing ball and invites her to join the team, and VJ starts writing her back! But when an accident lands her back on the bench, Vivy will have to do all she can to stay in the game.

    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Wonder

    by R.J. Palacio

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    R.J. Palacio’s novel Wonder took the middle grade book world by storm when it introduced us to Aggie Pullman, a boy with a facial difference. After being homeschooled all his life, he finally starts fifth grade at Beecher Prep. There, he wants to be treated like everyone else — but people can’t seem to get past his face. Told from the perspective of multiple characters, Wonder encourages kids to choose kindness over bullying and will have readers rooting for Auggie.

    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Song for a Whale

    by Lynne Kelly

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    Twelve-year-old Iris may be a tech genius, but as the only deaf kid at her school people often treat her like she isn’t very smart. After learning about Blue 55, a whale who can’t speak with other whales, she finds herself relating to him and wants to invent a way to “sing” to him. This novel is full of heart, and will show readers just how far our determination can get us.

    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Turtles All the Way Down

    by John Green

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    Aza is struggling to be good at everything — a good daughter, a good friend, and anything else life throws at her. When her friend Daisy is eager to investigate the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett — and the $100,000 reward — Aza ends up trying to also be a good detective. John Green’s latest novel tackles anxiety, OCD, and mental illness in a refreshingly relatable way.

    (Ages 13+)

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  • Scars Like Wings

    by Erin Stewart

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    A year after Ava loses everything — her parents, her home, her best friend, and her face — her aunt and uncle decide it’s time she returns to high school. There’s no escaping being the “Burned Girl,” but when Ava meets Piper, a fellow survivor, and Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, she may be on her way to getting her life back. But Ava’s not the only one going through something, and she’ll have to decide if she’s going to let those around her help her really shine or if she’ll retreat into herself.

    (Ages 13+)

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