As a mom to a son with special needs, I’m no stranger to “the look.” You know the one I mean—that double take when someone notices anything off the norm. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. A second look makes you see longer, see more, and see details you might have missed that perk your curiosity. That’s what I want for my son—a world populated by curious people willing to engage with him in his world. I happened upon these books mostly by accident, but they now stand in my bookshelf and repertoire as feats of offbeat celebration. They encourage independence and exploring outside the lines, which is what all parents want for their children…the bravery to think for themselves.
Elmer by David McKee
Perhaps my favorite book of all time, mostly because of the 1970s psychedelic illustrations. Elmer is an elephant who boasts a patchwork of colors. He’s good at making the other elephants laugh, but he’s tired of being different so he paints himself “elephant” colored. But when he returns to the herd he notices that everyone looks sad, so in true Elmer fashion, he shakes them up to make them laugh just as the rain washes him off and they celebrate the return of their old Elmer. They decide that once a year they will paint themselves all different colors and will throw a parade in honor of Elmer. This book is the first in a series.
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
A book about a kid who just can’t get it right. All Ramon wants to do is draw the perfect picture, but the lines won’t do what he asks. He crumples up drawing after drawing only to discover later that his little sister has taken them and taped them all to her wall. When he asks her why she would want a picture of a vase that doesn’t look like a vase, she says, after deep kid-thought, “It’s vase-ISH.” So he let’s go of the perfectionism and begins to get creative. The illustrations in this one are clean and beautiful and the message applies to kids and adults, in my opinion.
Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Jane’s a dog in a family of dog circus performers, but she can’t seem to do anything as well as the rest. She’s on a mission to find her extraordinary talent but her efforts lead to disaster when she tries to balance on the balls, walk the tightrope, or jump through hoops. The ringmaster finally tells her that she is “extraordinary” at being herself and that is all the matters. I love this book in a world where competition and being the best seems to be the point of every pursuit.
Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Anderson and Guy Parker-Rees
It’s the annual Jungle Dance and Gerald wants to kick it on the dance floor. But because of his gangly legs and knock knees, he’s hopeless. The jeers of the other animals get me a little teary. But then the message becomes clear: those who are different might just “need a different song” and when Gerald finds his tune, he can waltz with the best of them. The watercolor illustrations in this book are dreamy and make you want to sway while you read.
A Very Special Critter by Gina and Mercer Mayer
This is nostalgia at its best. Critter books were my go-tos as a kid and this one brings back all the feels. It follows Little Critter when a kid in a wheelchair joins his class. This book would be great to read to your kids if they’ve never been around another child with special needs before.