Children’s books about disabilities and differences used to be rare, but are becoming more popular. Kids need to learn about all kinds of diversity so they can grow up to be accepting, inclusive adults. These books teach children about what it’s like to have a disability in a way that is accessible and fun while also being educational.
I have organized these titles by approximate age and grade level, but especially since this is a list of children’s books about disabilities, I feel it’s important to point out that such divisions are based on assumptions and expectations for “typical” kids. Whether your child has a disability or not, they should be free to read whatever they’re ready to read. And as an adult, I know you’re never too old to enjoy — and learn from — the books on this list.
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Why Children’s Books About Disabilities Are So Important
I have had cerebral palsy since birth, and as a child going to school in the 1980s, there were very few books about kids like me. I had one picture book, “Nick Joins In,” about a little boy in a wheelchair who joined a mainstream classroom for the first time after having attended a “special” school before inclusion. It’s hopelessly outdated by today’s standards, but was a lifeline for me as a young child.
I was a highly gifted reader and quickly advanced beyond picture books, but still couldn’t find many children’s books about disabilities or that included relatable disabled characters. There were some cheesy inspirational-but- depressing fiction books about a girl with cancer, and one about a girl who was paralyzed in an accident, but all she did was sit around feeling sorry for herself. I struggled to find any role models with disabilities, real or fictional.
Thankfully, children today have more options. They can see themselves represented in books for all ages, and learn about their own disabilities as well as other disabilities. And just as importantly, non-disabled kids can learn about disabilities, acceptance, and inclusion.
Picture Books and Preschool Children’s Books About Disabilities
These children’s books about disabilities are picture-based with simple text, and are ideal for kids who aren’t reading yet or just started reading.
“It’s Okay to Be Different” by Todd Parr
Todd Parr is one of my favorite children’s book authors because his books teach about all kinds of diversity and show how natural it is to understand and accept others. This book talks about disability alongside other kinds of differences and is perfect for young children.
“Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” by Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a champion of equality, and one of my heroes. This book teaches kids about all kinds of disabilities and chronic illnesses so they can understand and accept their peers.
“Daniel’s New Friend” by Becky Friedman
Mister Rogers was one of the first educational children’s TV show hosts to include kids with disabilities. His legacy continues with “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and this book about Daniel’s friend who uses braces and crutches.
“Different — A Great Thing to Be!” by Heather Avia and Sarah Mensinga
Many children’s books about disabilities focus on how disabled kids are just like other kids. That’s essential, but it’s equally important for kids to recognize and appreciate differences. If we were all the same, what a boring world it would be!
The Superpowers Series by Lori Yarborough
This series of educational books reframes three disabilities as superpowers for young children — autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. They can help typical kids understand common childhood disabilities their peers may have, and of course, help kids with disabilities feel pride in who they are.
“The Girl Who Thought in Pictures” by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley
Autistic and neurodivergent kids often grow up feeling lonely and wondering what the future could hold for them. This children’s book about autistic scientist Temple Grandin can help them see the possibilities and realize that they can succeed in life while being their unique selves and embracing their differences.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin (Amazing Scientists)
23 used from $6.73
“Susan Laughs” by Jeanne Willis
Susan is a little girl who does all the things other little girls do. You don’t find out until the end of the book that Susan uses a wheelchair. This book helps children challenge their assumptions about disability and see their peers with disabilities in a new light.
“The Adventures of Bessie Bunny” by Karen Bunney
This picture book written by a woman with cerebral palsy teaches kids about accepting disabilities through the story of a bunny who was born different and uses a wheelchair instead of hopping
“47 Strings” by Becky Carey
This sweet picture book teaches children about Down syndrome in an inclusive and approachable way.
Early Elementary Children’s Books About Disabilities
These children’s books about disabilities still have lots of pictures, but the text is a bit more advanced. They can be read aloud to young children while slightly older kids can read on their own — depending on individual abilities and learning styles, of course!
“We Move Together” by Kelly Fritsch, Anne McGuire, and Eduardo Trejos
This beautifully illustrated book features children with and without disabilities moving through the world together and learning to accept one another in the process. It’s perfect to share with kids in educational settings and at home.
“All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything” by Annette Bay Pimentel and Nabi Ali
Disability history is so important, yet it is often forgotten. Many adults haven’t heard of the Capitol Crawl, a protest during which people with physical disabilities crawled up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demand that Congress pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. This children’s book tells the story of that watershed moment through the eyes of Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who participated in the protest as a child.
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything (Inspiring Activism and Diversity Book About Children with Special Needs)
$10.49 in stock
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“We Want to Go to School! The Fight for Disability Rights” by Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler
This elementary-level children’s book tells the story of another key battle for disability rights, the fight for children with disabilities to be able to attend school with their non-disabled peers. I am part of the first generation to benefit from school inclusion, and would not be where I am today without the efforts of these advocates. We must educate younger generations about our history to ensure it is not forgotten, and continue to promote and improve inclusion for all kids with disabilities.
“Thank You, Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco is an acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator, but as a child, she struggled to read. This wonderful book pays tribute to the teacher who helped her and shows how much kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities can accomplish if they get the support and encouragement they need.
“A Boy and a Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz and Catia Chien
Alan Rabinowitz is now a renowned zoologist, but he was once a lonely child who spoke with a stutter. He tells his story in this book so children who grow up being and feeling different can see that a bright future awaits them.
Middle-Grade Children’s Books About Disabilities
As children with and without disabilities move into the later elementary and middle school years, they begin to grapple with issues such as identity and fitting in. Bullying often begins at this age, which makes having role models and relatable books to escape into even more important for kids who are different.
“Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper
A New York Times bestseller, “Out of My Mind” takes you into the mind of 11-year-old Melody, a girl with cerebral palsy who cannot speak. Her teachers and peers assume she has a severe intellectual disability and has nothing to say, but she is desperate to find a way to communicate and show how smart she is. This powerful book geared toward older elementary and middle school kids is also unflinchingly honest about the bullying kids with disabilities often experience at Melody’s age.
“Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution” by Judith Heumann
Judy Heumann is a pioneering disability rights activist whose story everyone should know. This children’s book version ensures that future generations will learn about how the disability community fought for our civil rights.
Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution
$13.49 in stock
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“The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family” by Sarah Kapit
Children’s books with one child on the autism spectrum, or one child with a disability in general, have become more common. That has been life-changing for disabled and non-disabled children, but we must be careful not to tokenize characters with disabilities by only including one in each story. This middle-grade novel breaks that mold by featuring two autistic sisters whose autism presents very differently. It teaches kids that each child with a disability is an individual, even those with the same diagnosis.
“El Deafo: Superpowered Edition!” by Cece Bell
Cece Bell’s acclaimed graphic novel uses a world of anthropomorphic bunnies to tell the story of her school experiences as a hard-of-hearing child who often felt left out and misunderstood. She began to imagine a secret superhero identity for herself, “El Deafo,” and you’ll have to read the book (or watch the series on Apple+) to find out what happens next! Adults will love this book just as much as kids.
“The Chance to Fly” by Ali Stroker
I was a girl in a wheelchair who loved theatre but often faced ableism and barriers that ultimately caused me to give up on my dream of performing. This is the book on this list that I most wish I’d had as a child. The author, Ali Stroker, is the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award, and she’s blazing a trail for actors and musicians with disabilities. If your child lives to be on stage, they’ll love this book!
“I Am Not a Label” by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Mark Baldo
Role models are so important for kids with disabilities, as we often grow up not knowing anyone like us, and absorbing society’s messages that we’ll never amount to anything. This book tells the stories of famous and notable people with disabilities and shows how much we can accomplish.
I Am Not a Label: 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists from past and present
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“The Amazing Edie Eckhart” by Rosie Jones
Rosie Jones is a hilarious comedian with cerebral palsy who wanted to write the book she needed to read as a child. This middle-grade children’s book about disability will appeal to adults too!
You may also like: 14 Cerebral Palsy Books Written by Authors with CP
What are your favorite children’s books about disabilities?
Let us know in the comments.
Pexels photo by Min An.