Reading a story is one way to travel by imagination to a new location or try an activity that a reader might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. Reading stories can also be an avenue for understanding another’s person situation and developing empathy. I will never know what it is like to be blind or deaf or struggle with a reading disability, but I can read a book with characters who do have these differences and gain an appreciation for their challenges. I can also recognize similiarities between my life and these characters and develop a connection to them.
Sharing books in class that have characters with physical disabilities or learning differences gives students an opportunity to see a diverse range of people. This topic is as important as sharing information about different cultures and backgrounds.
It is harder to locate books that include characters with disabilities. Until recent years, there were not that many choices. Look for books that have been given the Schneider Family Book Award. This is an award given to juvenile literature that incorporates a disability experience in some way.
Below is my starter list of books that have a character with a difference. It is not always a main character, and it is not always revealed at the beginning of the story. Are there other books that work well for upper elementary and middle school students that I should add to the list?
Character with Physical Differences
- Candymakers by Wendy Mass
- Deenie by Judy Blume
- A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
- Gathering Blue (and any Giver companions) by Lois Lowry
- Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
- Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
- The Million Dollar Putt by Dan Gutman
- The Running Dream byWendelin Van Draanen
- A View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Characters with Learning Differences
- Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
- Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
- Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
- Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler
- Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
- Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
- Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
- Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
- Rules by Cynthia Lord
- The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Many of these titles make me cry, but they are so good, I read them anyway– even if it means shedding a tear in front of my students. I have found one humorous realistic fiction book that works well for reluctant upper elementary readers and is tissue free. The Million Dollar Putt by Gutman is about a blind kid who is a natural at golf. He attends his local school and is in regular ed classes. This is a great book to share with students and offers many opportunities to discuss differences in friends, classmates, or any people we encounter in our daily lives.
If you use one of these books in your classroom this year, follow up with this Characters with Differences Activity Page, which asks students to think about how daily activities change when you live with a challenge.