Special books: Helping children understand disabilities and appreciate differences

October 1, 2006

This list of books help teach children about special differences.

Having set out to find books that help teach children about special differences, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't have to search long or hard before coming across an impressively large number of books offering valuable messages, age-appropriate tales, and colorful pages for children of all ages (and for adults). My true challenge arose when I sat down and had to decide which of the more than 50 books I'd gathered were most worthy of inclusion.

In considering the full range of disabilities, challenges, and differences-one's own, one's siblings, or those of others-the list simply grew. Some of the books included in this article address specific subjects-from deafness, Down syndrome, and wheelchair dependency to speech impediments and learning disabilities. Others address these and many other related topics in more subtle, but equally effective, ways. Ultimately, each book serves as an important step toward teaching understanding and acceptance and celebrating differences big and small-an overall life lesson that is best summed up by the Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners' insightful title, "We Are All Alike...We Are All Different."

-Laura A. Jana, MD

Be Quiet, Marina, by Kirsten DeBear, Star Bright Books, 2001 (40 pages, hardcover); 2 to 5 years

Straightforward narrative accompanies black-and-white photographs depicting the interactions of 4-year-old friends Marina and Moira over the course of a typical school day. The emphasis on how the girls share many similarities while learning to respect and accommodate each other's differences is especially meaningful in the context of their respective disabilities: Moira has Down syndrome and Marina has cerebral palsy.

We Are All Alike...We Are All Different, by the Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners, Scholastic, 2002 (32 pages, paperback); 2 to 6 years

This book achieves its goal of promoting multicultural values and acceptance of commonplace differences. Short, easy-to-read verses are accompanied by photographs of, and original illustrations from, this Pennsylvania kindergarten class of 1991 that are likely to appeal to the book's target audience.

A Duck So Small, by A.H. Benjamin, Little Tiger Press, 2004 (32 pages, hardcover); 2 to 6 years

Duffle is a very small duck in a world where Big is in. Taunted by his peers and repeatedly reminded of his limitations by the simple and oft-repeated chant "A duck so small can do nothing at all!," Duffle is beginning to be convinced of his own inferiority when he is suddenly able to put his size to good use: he rescues a duckling from a very small hole, and, in doing so, changes the attitudes of those around him.

Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis, Henry Holt and Co., 2000 (36 pages, hardcover); 2 to 7 years

Young readers follow along with the day-to-day activities of a happy little girl named Susan as she laughs, sings, flies, and swings her way through this simple but cleverly constructed book. The author ensures that readers can easily relate to the story's main character long before her physical challenge of being wheelchair-bound is revealed on the last page of the book.

The Perfect Tail: A Fred and Lulu Story, by Mike Araki, Chronicle Books, 2005 (28 pages, hardcover); 3 to 7 years

Accompanied by simple, brightly colored line drawings, Araki tells the tale of a rabbit, Fred, who is at first jealous of the array of tails possessed by other animals he encounters. With a little help from his friend, the rhino Lulu, he soon learns to appreciate himself for who he is-or, more accurately, to appreciate his little furry round bunny tail for what it is, and isn't.

All Kinds of Friends, Even Green, by Ellen B. Senisi, Woodbine House, 2002 (28 pages, hardcover); 3 to 7 years

An appealing book, with a twist, about a young boy in a wheelchair who rolls his way to school and is asked to write about the meaning of friendship. After thoughtful deliberation, he ends up considering the differences and likenesses between himself and a pet iguana who is also happily living life with special needs of her own (her toes were poisoned by mites and subsequently fell off).

I Like Myself!, by Karen Beaumont, Harcourt Children's Books, 2004 (32 pages, hardcover); 3 to 7 years