5 Great Kid Books Featuring Characters With Developmental Disabilities

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

By Kara Murphy March 20, 2022

Searching out books with diverse characters to share with your children is important, but it's not always easy: Just 3.4 percent of children's books released in 2019 featured main characters with disabilities, according to a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center.

Macaroni KID wanted to highlight just a few amazing books featuring main characters with developmental disabilities in honor of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, which occurs every March.

Why is it important to include books featuring characters with developmental disabilities on your reading list for kids?

"Stories which provide information and representation really matter in bridging the gap between discomfort and familiarity, between fear of the unknown and true empathy," author Karol Silverstein wrote in a blog post reprinted on the website We Need Diverse Books. Silverstein wrote the 2019 young adult book, Cursed, which is loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with a painful chronic illness at 13. 

Authors like Silverstein also hope their books reach kids like them.

"I felt soul-crushingly alone as a teen. The value of having a book like Cursed available to me back then would likely have been immeasurable," she wrote.

Here are five children books recommended for ages 3 to 12 featuring characters with developmental disabilities. Find them at your library or favorite local bookstore:

We'll Paint the Octopus Red

By Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen. Illustrated by Pam Devito.

About the book: Six-year-old Emma has a lot of expectations when it comes to what she will be able to do with her new baby brother or sister. When her brother is born with Down syndrome, she has to adjust her expectations, but, with her dad's help, she realizes that despite being different than what she expected, her new baby brother is still the baby she dreamed of. 

Recommended for ages 3-7

Daniel's New Friend 

Adapted from a Daniel Tiger episode by Becky Friedman. Illustrated by Jason Fruchter.

About the book: Daniel and Miss Elaina meet a new friend, Chrissie, at Prince Wednesday’s castle. Daniel has so much fun playing with his new friend. Then he notices that Chrissie wears braces on her legs to help her walk. But it turns out they have much more in common than not. 

Recommended for ages 3-7

Too Sticky! Sensory Issues With Autism

By Jen Malia. Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.

About the book: Holly loves doing experiments and learning new things in science class ... but the next experiment involves sticky slime! Holly has sensory issues because of her autism and doesn't like anything sticky. Will she receive the accommodations and encouragement she needs to give slime a try? The author, Jen Malia, is on the autism spectrum.

Recommended for ages 4-8

Aaron Slater, Illustrator

By Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by David Roberts.

About the book: This story is about a boy who loves listening to stories and dreams of one day writing them himself. But when it comes to reading, the letters just look like squiggles to him, and it soon becomes clear he struggles more than his peers. 

When his teacher asks each child in the class to write a story, Aaron can’t get a single word down. He is sure his dream of being a storyteller is out of reach ...  until inspiration strikes, and Aaron finds a way to spin a tale in a way that is uniquely his. 

Printed with a dyslexia-friendly font, Aaron Slater, Illustrator, is an empowering story of a boy with dyslexia who discovers that his learning disability may inform who he is, but it does not define who he is, and that there are many ways to be a gifted communicator. Read a Macaroni KID publisher review of Aaron Slater, Illustrator.

Recommended for ages 5-7

Hank Zipzer

By Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. Illustrated by Carol Heyer.

About the book: Yes, it's that Henry Winkler! This book series is inspired by the true life experiences of the Happy Days star, whose undiagnosed dyslexia made him a classic childhood underachiever. The books — 17 in all, including the newest "A Brand-New Me!," pictured above — feature the high-spirited and funny adventures of Hank Zipzer, a boy with learning differences. 

Recommended for ages 8-12