autism, book list, disability awareness, social-emotional

Book List: Understanding Autism

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures (The Innovation Press)
Written by Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by Daniel Rieley

For ages: 4-8
My first encounter with the concept of autism came through Temple Grandin. I was a child when I saw a report about her on ABC’s 20/20, and at the time, I didn’t fully understand what made her different. I know much more now as an adult and someone on the spectrum. This story, told in rhyme, teaches children about Grandin by starting with her childhood. First, she feels frustrated when trying to communicate with other children. Eventually, a high school teacher fosters a love of science in the young woman who invents a special machine that will soothe cattle, keeping them from a panic so they can be more humanely slaughtered. There are lots of extras in the back pages that will extend your student’s learning. This is also one of the few books I could find that talks about autism from the autistic person’s perspective.

A Friend For Henry (Chronicle Books)
Written by Jenn Bailey
Illustrated by Mika Song

For ages: 4-8
Henry is looking for a new friend in his classroom but getting frustrated. The other children don’t make sense sometimes. They scream so loud. They can’t stay in their seats. They like things that Henry does not like. While the text never explicitly states that Henry is autistic, we can infer it through his behavior and traits. The most fun Henry has is when he can sit quietly and watch the class goldfish swimming in her bowl. Eventually, Henry does find Katie, someone who seems to have patience for him and shares the same desire to be still & quiet. Henry can become more flexible when he finds someone that shows him empathy. This is an excellent text to help children understand classmates who may see things differently. 

My Brother Charlie (Scholastic Press)
Written by Holly Robinson Peete & Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Illustrated by Shane Evans

For ages: 4-8
Actress Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter Ryan share a story based on their experiences with Rodney Jr, Ryan’s twin brother. At age three, Ryan was diagnosed with autism. The Peete family has spent years learning about it and educating others. Told from the point of view of Callie, we learn about her twin brother Charlie. Callie loves Charlie deeply but still has moments where she doesn’t understand him. Charlie shows love differently, and sometimes he feels like he is distant from everyone else. Callie learns that autism means her brother shows affection and connection in his way. Callie has so much love for her brother and is a great model for siblings who are learning about an autistic sibling.

My Friend Has Autism (Picture Window Books)
Written by Amanda Doering Tourville
Illustrated by Kristin Caraan Sorra

For ages: 4-8
I include this book on the list with a caveat. This is not a very positive take on autism. At one point, the author talks about a “cure.” Autism is not something those of us on the spectrum feel a need to cure. We aren’t disabled because we are autistic; we are disabled because the world doesn’t accommodate people with any disability very well. Nevertheless, there are some excellent nuggets of information sprinkled throughout. There are disagreements even within the autistic community on phrasing, and this book certainly has portions that will raise an eyebrow. I am not someone who pushes back on the phrase “has autism”; I think it’s one of the lesser problematic things allistic people say about us. But you may have a different viewpoint, so know this before picking up this book.

Leah’s Voice (Halo Publishing International)
Written by Lori Demonia
Illustrated by Monique Turchan

For ages: 4-8
Author Lori Demonia has based this book on her two daughters. Eldest child Leah was diagnosed as autistic at two. Lori felt concerned about how to explain Leah’s behavior to her younger sibling Sarah. She wanted the girls to have a strong bond but thought there might be difficulties. This book is a celebration of the differences between her two girls. They have varied personalities and interests, but their love for each other and their mother’s love for them is a constant. Demonia doesn’t pull punches, though, and shows how there can be moments where Leah does something that scares her, like running off when they are at the movies. The sister character in the book is frightened as well but has to learn how to talk to Leah about what is safe and unsafe in a way that Leah can understand.

My Best Friend Will (Autism Asperger Publishing Company)
Written by Jamie Lowell and Tara Tuchel
Photographs by Bernard Portrait Design

For ages: 4-8
Jamie’s best friend is Will. They share a lot of interests and have so much fun when they are together. Will is on the spectrum, so Jamie had to learn to communicate with him when they became friends. Sometimes Will does things she doesn’t like, but she learned why and now knows how to talk to him about it. The story is told through photographs of real people, which will help students connect to the people in their community who are on the spectrum. There are additional resources in the back, including Tips for Teachers on follow-up activities and ways to extend your students’ learning on autism. The text keeps things simple, which in turn, helps children understand better.

Spaghetti Is Not a Finger Food (Little Pickle Press)
Written by Jodi Carmichael
Illustrated by Sarah Ponce

For ages: 7-10
This beginner chapter book is about Connor, an autistic boy learning about the world around him. At school, he sometimes interrupts his teacher. He’s not being mean; he feels compelled to do that. She talks about subjects he knows, so Connor wants to share with her and the class. Sometimes the school counselor meets with Connor to listen to all the cool things he knows and to help him become a better listener. Told from the perspective of Connor, this is a sweet first-person slice-of-life story. Connor sees everything in his world and can describe it in rich detail. Unlike some other portrayals of autism, Connor is a vibrant character, not closed off from the world. While many stereotypes place autistic people as closed off, there are plenty of outgoing people on the spectrum. It’s good to have books like this one that show the diversity within the disability.

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