I have special kids. I’m sure you do, too. I mean, all kids are special, right? But…some more than others.
My older son is very special. He is very wise. He is a talented pianist and violinist. He has a ridiculous sense of humor and he is a giving soul. A sweet, sweet boy.
My younger son is also very special. He sang before he could speak. He feels music as if he were a seasoned composer. He understands lighting and perspective as an artist in ways I never could be taught. And he is special in other ways that I don’t reveal publicly, because I want to protect his privacy. But what I want to share is that we have found a few books that specifically speaks to specialness in kids, and helps our family tremendously in understanding them.
These are not books marketed as books for autistic or ASD children, but they are books about many aspects of being special that have led to many meaningful conversations, meaningful hugs, and meaningful realizations about our identities and our challenges as well as our gifts.
These are some of the books we turn to again and again which help both of my boys converse about how special we all are.
Why Am I Different?, by Norma Simon
Written in 1976 with the simple illustrations to prove it, this is a unique find that is very “light” in terms of messaging. It explores the differences among children without commentary for most of the book. Children are shown with different skills, different family units, and different foods they eat. Allergies are discussed, as are feelings of conflict when you compare yourself to others. Many ethnic groups are depicted, and adoption is one of the differences discussed. The fact that there is such a global presentation of differences makes this especially touching; it’s so important to see that while not all differences are alike, they are the same in principle.
The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm, by LeVar Burton
Actor/director and author LeVar Burton has a rich background working with children, and this book is perfect for children who have emotional challenges, such as an inability to know how to manage big feelings. The rhino is upset and it feels like there is a storm inside of him. He has to learn to release that storm – with tears and ‘letting it out’ – in order to calm the storm. This book allows for nuance in a child’s feelings and we like that a lot. The message isn’t “get over it”; rather, the message teaches about how the brain and body process emotions and shows the benefits of not holding things in.
Just Like You, by Robert Kroupa
This book tells the story of the sweet friendship of a deaf mouse and a spider who is missing a leg. They are both teased because they are different, but when they warn their community about a forest fire that they sense before anyone else, they are appreciated for their differences. The illustrations are beautiful in this book and it rhymes in couplets. We love the animal personalities and the message is perfect for little ones.
Imaginary Fred, by Eoin Colfer
Imaginary Fred is a friend to lonely children. He laments that the children who need him inevitably stop needing him and he longs for the day he will meet a child who never grows tired of him or stops needing him. His wish comes true and he meets a boy named Sam who introduces him to a new way of being appreciated. This is a really sweet book for kids who have active imaginations combined with fears about growing up and away from the things that make childhood so magical.
Frederick, by Leo Lionni
Don’t ask why two of these books are about the name Fred which is also the name of my Little Man. They just are. This classic book from 1967 tells the story of a mouse who operates differently than all of the other mice. He refuses to gather grains for the winter; instead, he gathers words and images. Everyone thinks he is out of his mouse mind, but when days get long and boring and winter is icy, Frederick’s words and poetry light up their spirits. A great celebration of being different and loved for what you can provide.
My differences were painful to me as a child, but with time I realized that my differences were assets. I hope that the books you read to your special kids encourage healthy acceptance, lively conversation, and an appreciation for how important it is to have a sense of humor about being different.