Books for Kids with Special Needs {A Gift Guide}

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Each child with special needs exhibits his or her uniqueness and needs in different ways from another. Likewise, each child wants and needs different things from books, too.

Books for Kids with Special Needs {A Gift Guide from The Library Adventure}

So, while I can’t offer the ultimate list of book best for every child with special needs, here are just a few of our favorites, especially for preschoolers and early elementary ages:

Books for Eliciting Speech Sounds

Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig, Illustrated by Marc Brown (Knopf Books, 2012)

Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig, Illustrated by Marc Brown

We love this one and re-read it often. The words are written in an easy-to-interpret, bouncy beat, and it’s one of the first books my kids memorized. With perfectly-timed page turns, kids have multiple opportunities to call out the next animal and practice animal sounds (plus some fun other sound effects).

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1970)

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss

I mentioned this book in one of my recent posts here, but this book is another good one for enticing both normal and “made-up” speech sounds.

Books for Encouraging Pretend Play

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, Illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Viking, 2013)

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

My son reads this book almost every single day. Seriously. This book plays (haha) off of the concept of pretend play, a big focus in our house. My son with special needs has a hard time pretend playing on his own, but books like this one give him ideas to model (a good step towards pretend play). We love this book so much, I wrote a list with pretend play ideas to use in conjunction with it.

Bathtime for Biscuit by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Illustrated by Pat Schories (HarperCollins, 1999)

Bathtime for Biscuit

My fella loves these Biscuit early readers. He loves to pretend play as Biscuit and his friend, Puddles, in this book. Biscuit’s playful attitude is enough to make my boy laugh, but still make this book a sweet read. Plus, many preschoolers love pretend playing as an animal.

Books for Gross Motor Skills

Wiggle by Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Scott Menchin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005)

Wiggle by Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Scott Menchin

This brightly-illustrated book offers multiple opportunities for kids to get up and wiggle, giggle, and shake. There’s several in this series of “moving” books, including Stretch and Bounce.

Eyes and Nose, Fingers and Toes by Sesame Street (Sesame Beginnings board book, 2007)

Eyes and Nose, Fingers and Toes - Sesame Street

We try not to overload on “commercialized” characters in our books, but my kids love this simple board book. We picked it up in the Target dollar section one day! With simple rhyming and “baby” versions of four of the Sesame Street characters, this book gets your child moving around, identifying basic body parts, and following one- and two-step directions.

Books for Making Friends/Understanding Feelings

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman (Henry Holt and Co., 2008)

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman

I mentioned this book before, too; it’s such a good one for making new friends. Katie, the dog, is SO excited about her owner getting three new kittens that she jumps and howls all around them. But that howling scares the kittens! Katie feels sad when she can’t control her excitement and it’s misunderstood. My son gets rather excited like Katie does and can’t always control the outward expressions of his emotions, too. This book provides a good example of how to interact while still being excited.

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf, 2012)

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

How do you greet someone you’d like to be friends with? Boy and Bot both share how in this simply awesome book. Plus, Boy and Bot both have turns to take care of each other in their own unique ways. We’ve had this friendship tale for over a year, and both kids still regularly pull it off the shelf. I created a preschool robot theme full of activities to accompany this book.

Books for Understanding Special Needs

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira, Illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Knopf, 2013)

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira

Another previously-mentioned favorite, this book actually caught my attention before my kids even read it. I just thought it to be a cute story until I reached the end. The first half of the story focuses on a pig who only says, “Ribbit!” while a community of frogs try to figure out why he’s acting so “strangely.” It’s the second half that makes me cry almost every time. Spoiler alert: We find out the pig is only saying “ribbit” because he’s trying to be like the frogs so he can make new friends. This is my son. Because he can’t talk and the way his brain works, he often tries to imitate what another child is doing to make a new friend. Reading this book helps him see it’s fun to make new friends in different ways and it helps other kids see that some people may just want a friend!

The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini (Running Press Kids, 2009)

The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen

I rarely include a book I haven’t read yet, but I’m making an exception for this one. I’ve read several of Jane Yolen’s other books, and this book seems to have consistently high reviews. A young princess is born blind and her father tries all the “magicians” in the kingdom to “cure” his daughter. It takes an “old wise man” to show that sometimes people just need new ways of accomplishing tasks that fit their needs, rather than to be “cured.”

We hope this gets you started on some helpful and fun books for kids with (or without!) special needs!

What book would you add to this list? What books have helped your child develop new skills or encourage new friendships with kids of all abilities?

About Caroline Flory

Caroline is a wife, homeschooling momma to two undeserved blessings (one of whom has special needs), writer, picture book fanatic, decaf coffee drinker, former public school teacher, and major library advocate. In addition to writing posts on special needs here at The Library Adventure, she blogs about family, faith, and books at Under God’s Mighty Hand. (including free printables!), contributes monthly to a couple of other sites, and loves to connect on Twitter.


  1. Great list Caroline! Thanks! One of my favs is No One Saw by Bob Raczka – uses famous artwork to show how everyone sees the world differently.

  2. Susan Lloyd says:

    Do you have any suggestions for adults with special needs. Our daughter is almost 37 and reads at a 3rd or 4th grade level. She is Down Syndrome, loves country music and Days of our Lives. Loves her Soap Opera Digest magazines, but would like to see her read some books, too. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Hi, Susan! Thanks for your comment. I’ve been thinking about your question since I read it yesterday, and my first thought is that if your daughter likes soap operas, she might enjoy getting into a book series so she can get to know and follow the characters over several books.

      Perhaps C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia? Or The Boxcar Children series? The Boxcar children books are definitely geared towards kids, but I personally think can be enjoyed by more ages, too.

      You might also find some ideas by asking a local librarian for series at that reading level or asking for “middle grade” recommendations.

      Another book that might be interesting: Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I actually haven’t read this one yet myself, but it’s on my to-read list. I’ve read MANY glowing reviews of it.

      I hope this helps! If you find something she particularly likes, come back and let us know!


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