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10 Books That Embrace What Makes Kids Unique

by Devon A. Corneal

Background credit: Slanapotam/Shutterstock

R.J. Palacio’s extraordinary book Wonder started a small revolution in children’s and young adult literature. Finally, books for kids and teens are including characters with physical, educational, or psychological challenges and doing so in ways that celebrate both their unique strengths and struggles. These stories are about kindness, strength, bravery, fear, tragedy, and humor, and deserve a spot on everyone’s bookshelves.

  • We’re Different, We’re the Same

    by Bobbi Kates, illustrated by Joe Mathieu

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    In this bright and upbeat book, the gang from Sesame Street — along with a diverse group of kids and grown-ups — celebrates our differences and the common human connection that underpins them all.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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  • Just Ask!

    by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López

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    Taking her own experience of childhood diabetes as inspiration, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor explores other differences and disabilities — ADHD, autism, and Down syndrome, among them — against the backdrop of a group of children building a community garden. She encourages readers to simply ask one another about their differences, in order to foster understanding and friendship.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • We’re All Wonders

    by R. J. Palacio

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    Younger readers no longer have to wait until their chapter book days to get to know Auggie! R. J. Palacio’s picture book is written from a younger Auggie’s perspective, highlighting the ways in which he’s just like every other kid his age — which is to say, a wonder.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Wink

    by Rob Harrell

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    Like Wink’s starring character, author-illustrator Rob Harrell was also diagnosed with a rare eye cancer as a middle schooler, which lends to the authenticity of this novel. Everyone’s bodies are changing in the seventh grade, but Ross Maloy’s even more so, and he navigates the hallways of both hospitals and middle school with wry humor and candidness.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • Planet Earth Is Blue

    by Nicole Panteleakos

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    While her previous foster families and teachers were all quick to write off Nova because she’s nonverbal, Nova knows who she really is, and so does her big sister, Bridget. The trouble is, Bridget’s disappeared, tired of the foster care system. As Nova waits for her sister’s return, she begins to make friends on her own and develop a relationship with her new foster family.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • Wonder

    by R. J. Palacio

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    Wonder takes readers back to the uncertainty and awkwardness of middle school, with its fragile friendships and quicksand-like social structures. And at the center of the hormonal maelstrom is August Pullman, a boy born with facial deformities so severe he won't even describe what he looks like because, as he says, "Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." August is plucky and funny and vulnerable and charming, so he's hard not to like. But what you’ll love more is Palacio’s glorious exploration of the nature of friendship, tenacity, fear, and, most important, kindness.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Paperboy

    by Vince Vawter

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    This coming-of-age story of a young boy with a significant stutter is masterful. The summer Vince takes over his friend’s paper route will change his life forever as he comes to terms with the realities of the segregated South and the relationships in his small community.
    (Ages 10+)

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  • Fish in a Tree

    by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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    Ally has been fooling people for a long time, hiding what she thinks is stupidity behind disruptions and distractions. But when she changes schools, a new teacher sees through her façade and helps Ally discover that she shouldn’t be ashamed of her dyslexia — and that she shouldn’t let it hold her back, either.
    (Ages 10+)

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  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

    by Teresa Toten

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    Adam is a teenager who just wants to marry the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. A girl he met in his Young Adult OCD Support Group, which, of course, complicates things. An insightful and authentic look into the realities of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
    (Ages 13+)

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  • Full Disclosure

    by Camryn Garrett

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    Simone Garcia-Hampton is the new girl at school, a bona fide theater kid, and Miles’s new crush. She’s also HIV-positive and was bullied because of it at her last school. As Simone and Miles grow closer, Simone knows she needs to share her status, but she’s worried about things turning ugly again, even as she longs to be her truest self. An inclusive coming-of-age love story you don't want to miss.
    (Ages 13+)

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2021.