This must-read books on inclusion for children and young adults has been curated by 17-year-old Aditif from Bangalore, a voracious reader, featured blogger and award-winning, prolific writer at Bookosmia. Aditi is on the autism spectrum and an inspiring self-advocate, appreciated globally for her stunning way with words and breaking the myth that ‘not speaking doesn’t mean not thinking.’
Aditi’s latest book Small Stories, Big Thoughts, published by Bookosmia is available on Amazon.
Books are a great way to travel, experience something new or become someone else while reading , for they fuel the flight of imagination. All that it takes is to lose yourself in the pages of a book and off you go to a whole new world !
I am a neurodivergent writer who is on a mission to help the neurotypical world get a granular understanding of the world of people who are ‘different’ and what better way to do it than through books that depict the world of those who are different? So here’s my list of books , categorised by age , that I believe do a good job of helping the reader understand that we are just different – different but not less !
While scanning through literature with disabled or just plain ‘different’ characters for this age group, I realised that there are many books, both Indian and non-Indian , that are neuro affirming and positive, and not unrealistic in their depiction of a different kind of ability. I was spoilt for choice. This is not an exhaustive list of books, a few of which do not state the disability in obvious terms, but gives the readers a ringside view of what it means to be ‘different’.
Pre schoolers < 6 years
It is never too early to introduce a child to the beautifully diverse cosmos that we call home .
1 ) Come Over to My House ,
Author-Eliza Hull and Sally Rippin| Illustration- Daniel Gray-Barnett | Publisher-Hardie Grant Publishing
This picture book explores characters with disabilities woven in a fun rhyming tale about inviting friends over for a play- where there is fun to be had, food to eat and families to meet! We may have our differences, but hey, we are fun to be around too!
2) Perfectly Norman | Reccomended Age- 3-6 years
Author & Illustrator-Tom Percival | Publisher – Bloomsbury Childrens’
Here’s another wonderful book that talks about owning yourself with pride and being comfortable in your own skin and wings! Norman is a ‘perfectly normal’ little boy until one day , he grows wings ! The tale follows his journey of self acceptance – from hiding his wings beneath a stuffy coat to throwing the coat away and soaring high ! This book is a must read for neurotypical and neurodivergent young kids alike.
Primary Schoolers -6-8 year olds
3) Kanna Panna | Age 6-8 year olds
Author- Zai Whittaker| Illustrator- Niloufer Wadia Publisher- Tulika
This book is a heartwarming tale of a quick witted little boy whose presence of mind saves the day . Incidentally, the boy is visually impaired and possibly neuro atypical ! This book inverts the notion of disability and is one of my favourites.
4) Gappu Can’t Dance | Age 6-8 year olds
Author- Menaka Raman | Illustrator – Krishna Chandran|Publisher- Pratham
What does shaking a leg mean to a six-year-old ? Joy! But what if you are like Gappu, who cannot get a single step right , because following the dance teacher’s instructions is just not easy! Would you become an object of ridicule in the class ? Not if you have Komal Ma’am for a teacher . Most of us encounter a Gappu or two, labels notwithstanding, in a classroom , but as the story elucidates, being ‘inclusive’ is not a rocket science after all!
5) Satya, Watch Out | 6-8 years
Level 2| Author- Yamini Vijayan | Illustrator Vishnu M Nair | Publisher- Pratham
Here’s a book that is all about movement, because Satya, the main protagonist, loves to be perennially on the move! But what is a book about movement doing on this list ? Satya and his antics could remind some people of a term called ADHD, but hey, Satya is the happiest when he gets to be himself and to me this story is a reminder that it takes minds of all kinds to make this world a beautiful place .
6) Welcome to the Forest | Recommended Age 6-8
Reading Level 3 |Author -Bhavna Menon| Illustration- by Kavita Singh Kale |Publisher- Pratham
A trip to the forest is a sensorially enriching experience replete with excitement and little Tulsa is no exception to perceive the trip differently , except she has a visual impairment.
Based on a true story, the book describes Tulsa and her friends’ visit to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh – the descriptions remind us of ways we could appreciate the world around us even if we did not have the ability to see .
7) Clumsy | Recommended Age 6-8 years
Author- Ken Spillman | Illustrator- Manjari Chakravarti | Publisher- Speaking Tiger
Clumsy , careless , slow coach- all words that are uttered to children who just ‘cannot measure up’ and this story is about one such little girl, except , when she is given a brush and a box of paints, she transforms the narrative ! A delightful read, this book reminds young children that all of us bring our own unique strengths to the table
Pre teens and Early teens – 9-15 years
While looking through books about diversity for this age group , I realised that some much read and loved books feature protagonists who could be neurodivergent! Fair enough , for neurodiversity is a normal part of human diversity . My list here includes books with characters who are obviously ‘different’ and not obviously so .
8) Extra- Extra Chromosome, Extraordinary Love
Author- Archana Mohan | Illustrator- Prarthana Merchant| Publisher- Not That Different
What is the image that conjures up in your mind when you hear the term ‘Down syndrome’ ? It would probably be of a petite person with an ever smiling countenance ! You wouldn’t be completely wrong, but that is just a facet to a person with Down syndrome , as Sara finds out during her vacation to Anjor, a sleepy fishing village, to meet her cousins whom she has not seen in years. Extra is a heartwarming tale about summer, fun, friendship and about ‘finding the highest point of love’! And the cherry in the cake- little Shreya, who has down syndrome, is the first person to understand the meaning of the moon’s poem!!
Written by Archana Mohan( award-winning writer and author of the globally acclaimed Not That Different comic book)with inputs from Shivani Dhillon, and illustrated by Prarthana Merchant, Extra seamlessly portrays a tale of rising against odds. After all, disability notwithstanding, with family and friends by your side, sky is the limit !!
Acclaim– Featured by The Better India, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, ABPN News, Zee News and many more.
9 ) Wonder | Recommended Age 9-12 years
Author- R J Palacio | Publisher- Corgi Childrens
They say that beauty is skin deep . Is that statement true for a child with severe facial deformities, especially in the context of his experience with the world outside? The main protagonist of Wonder , Auggie Pullman, is a ten year old boy with a rare genetic disorder called Treacher Collins syndrome , which has left his face severely disfigured . After undergoing multiple surgeries to stay alive and being homeschooled , Auggie begins to go to middle school . The book follows his journey and experience at school – from being covertly and obviously bullied, to parents getting together to ask for his expulsion from school -for his appearance is too disturbing for the children to handle, to receiving a medal for exceptional strength and character at the end of the school year, the story is a realistic portrayal of the kind of experiences that a child who is different has at school. The book also traces the relationship between Auggie and his older sister Via, who for once wants to move away from the shadow of being Auggie’s sister, beautifully.
Wonder is a must read.
Acclaim– “Wonder is a bold, brilliant book”- The Guardian | “Wonder is an excellent book that tells a moving and inspiring story”- The British Council
10) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime | Reading Age 12-17 years
Author- Mark Haddon | Publisher- Vintage Children’s Classics
Touted as a mystery book for young teens, the story follows the quest of a fifteen year old protagonist , Christopher John Francis Boone, who is brilliant in Mathematics but behaviourally ‘different’ , to find out the truth behind the death of his neighbour’s dog , found speared fatally with a fork. What he stumbles upon, in the process , is a few uncomfortable truths about his own family and his mother who is presumed to be dead . The character of Francis would remind many of Asperger syndrome , a form of autism. Francis’s inner voice is governed by a very strong moral compass , a trait that is typical to autistics who perceive the world as black or white. The part about his journey to London to move in with his mother, does a fair job of describing the sensory challenges and social difficulties that make commonplace experiences a challenge for those with autism.
A word of caution – This book was temporarily banned by a reading program in the United States for the use of foul language in certain places , but the ban was quickly withdrawn .
Acclaim- “Wondrous…brilliantly inventive…dazzling. Not simply the most original novel I’ve read in years – it’s also one of the best” ― The Times and endorsed by Sunday Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and winner of seventeen literary prizes, including the Whitbread Award.
11) Anne of Green Gables | Recommended Age 9-15 year olds
Author- Lucy Maud Montgomery | Publisher-Read & Co. Children’s
You read that right! I am talking about the classic novel written by the Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery .Think of Anne who flavoured a cake with anodyne liniment , who fell off a roof on a dare, who nearly drowned in a pond enacting a tragic poem , who smashed her slate over Gilbert’s head , who had imaginary friends and story clubs and who said if she wasn’t a girl, she would like to be a bee. Now think of ADHD and there is the connect! Just goes to prove that neurodiversity is as old as humanity itself . Passion, creativity and out -of -the -box thinking are just a few strengths that we neurodivergent bring to the table .
Acclaim– A 100- year-old classic that has been adapted into radio and TV series, movie and web-series, the book is widely acclaimed in the literary industry.
12) Mockingbird | Recommended Age 10-13 years
Author-Kathryn Erskine | Publisher- Puffin Books
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is a story about a ten year old girl with Asperger Syndrome, Caitlin Smith, who loses her older brother in a school shooting. The story beautifully depicts the fact that while we autistics may process grief differently , what we also need is a closure that can be achieved by human connection . After all, autistics are as human as anyone else! This book is another must read!
Acclaim-It won the 2010 U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.In 2012, it was awarded the Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award.
13) A Mango Shaped Space | Recommended Age 10-14 years
Author- Wendy Mass | Publisher- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
We read words , speak words and hear words . We see colours . What would it be like if we could hear colours and if words and sounds brought forth colours in our mind?! A Mango Shaped Space is a novel by Wendy Mass, in which the main protagonist , the thirteen year old Mia Winchell, has synesthesia- a rare neurological disorder that causes a jumbling of senses! The book details Mia’s journey beautifully , including the challenges that she faces at school, but the theme that stands out is the support of family and friends to be able to move on. Another must read in this category.
Acclaim- The book received the American Library Association Schneider Family Book Award in 2004. The novel has since been nominated for, and received, a number of other awards.
14) A Kind of Spark | Recommended Age 11-15 years
Author- Ellie McNicol | Publisher- Knights Of Media
What is the one thing that stands out in the story of Greta Thunberg, an autistic environmental activist? The passion to make a difference! Turns out, it is all in day’s work for many autistics! A Kind of Spark by Ellie McNicol is the story of Addie, an eleven year old autistic girl, who is the main protagonist, and her quest to build a memorial for women who were once tried as witches in her Scottish village. A powerful book, it brings forth the challenges that we autistics face- being misunderstood and being the favourite target of bullies and our biggest strength- the conviction to follow our beliefs to make a difference.Just like the witches in the story, there is more to autism than what meets the eye! Another must read that gives a ringside view of the autistic mind.
Acclaim- The book is adapted to a TV series and applauded in the literary world.
15) Can You See Me 3 Book Series including Can You See Me, Do You Know Me and All the Pieces of Me | Recommended Age 9-12 years
Author- Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott | Publisher- Scholastic Fiction
A series of three books written by Rebecca Westcott – these books revolve around a fictional character , Tally ,who has autism. Tally, the fictional autistic girl, is eleven in the first book in the series and it follows her experiences and journey over the years until she becomes a teen who is in her ninth grade, in the last book . The books are based on the diary entries of Libby Scott, Rebecca’s autistic daughter and is by far among the most realistic and endearing account of life as an autistic adolescent.
Older teens and Young Adults ( 16 years plus)
Here we are, in my favourite section of the compilation . The understanding of disability in general and neurodiversity in particular has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years and what is a better indication of this than the sheer number of books , both fiction and non fiction , that are centred around neurodiversity . Here are a few that have grabbed my attention
16) The Reason I Jump | Recommended Age 13- 17 years
Author- Naoki Higashida | Publisher- Sceptre
Autism is an enigma for the world at large, more so non speaking autism . Non speakers are often labelled as lacking intelligence, but a lack of reliable mode of communication does not mean that a person has nothing to say. Naoki Higashida is a non speaking young autistic adult from Tokyo who began communicating using an alphabet board and eventually picked up the ability to type . In the book The Reason I Jump, Higashida has tried to explain why we autistics do some of the things we do thus dispelling some common myths associated with non speaking autism. A good read for those interested in getting a granular understanding of autism- The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism.
Acclaim- “One of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read. It’s truly moving, eye-opening, incredibly vivid.”—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show | Names One of The Best Books of The Year by NPR • The Wall Street Journal • Bloomberg Business • Bookish | Finalist For The Books For A Better Life First Book Award • New York Time Bestseller
17) The State of Grace | Recommended Age- 13-17 years
Author- Rachel Lucas | Publisher- Pan Macmillan
Grace is, for me, by far the most endearing character with autism . She may have Asperger syndrome , but she is , by no means a prodigy! She cannot draw exceptionally , she is not an ace with numbers or patterns, nor is she obsessed with trains! She is as ‘regular’ as anyone else, except being autistic means navigating social situations, change and even love is a challenge. What happens when Grace kisses Gabe and things begin to change at home ? Read on and find out ! This Carnegie nominated book is written by Rachel Lucas and is also my personal favourite in the list .
Acclaim- Appreciated by The NY Times and The Publisher’s Weekly
18) Marcelo in the Real World
Author- Francisco Stork | Publisher- Scholastic Paperbacks
Marcelo in the real world is a coming of age story about Marcelo Sandoval, a seventeen year old boy with mild autism, who goes to a special school . Things begin to change for Marcelo when his father asks him to begin working in his law firm . The experiences that he has at the firm and the friendships that he forms helps him find his passion and true calling in life ! A must read , this book also dwells extensively on the strong moral compass that many autistics possess and how it shapes their interpersonal relationships.
Acclaim: Marcelo in the Real World won the Schneider Family Book Award in January 2010 and hailed in the New York Times Review.
19) NeuroTribes- The Legacy of Autism and Future of Neurodiversity
Author- Steve Silberman | Publisher- Penguin
The term Neurodiversity was first coined in the 90s by sociologist Judy Singer who believed that conditions like Autism, ADHD and more were not disabilities but just a different way of perceiving and experiencing the world and cognitive diversity powered by neurodiversity brought with it a host of strengths that could be put to productive use with appropriate modifications and accommodations in the environment. The Neurodiversity movement has gained a lot of momentum over the years .
Written by Steve Silberman, Neurotribes is an ambitious attempt to upend conventional understanding of autism and replacing it with a broader model of understanding and acceptance to ensure full participation in the society of people who ‘think differently’. This book builds on the premise of presuming competence and promotes the idea that neurodiversity’s not a product of error of nature but a natural variation in the diverse presentation called humanity . This book is yet another must read .
Acclaim– NY Times Bestseller, Winner of the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, applauded by The Economist, The Boston Globe and many more.
The number of books around disability in general and neurodiversity in particular has increased over the years and these books have, in their own ways, contributed to creating greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of people who are ‘different’
Gratitude to my fellow neurodivergent Midhun Noble, Karolin Susan, Gopika Regi, Swara Swami, Aditi Gangrade , Anandita Kundu and two awesome parents of neurodivergent Padma Jyothi and Monalisa Pawar for enriching my reading list with awesome recommendations .
Hope you enjoy reading the books listed by me. Happy Reading!!