You might think that if a kid has a learning difficulty, a book might not be the most helpful thing to offer them. But speaking as someone with ADHD, my personal experience is exactly the opposite. Reading is how I learned to understand my ADHD challenges.
Books introduced me to characters who transformed their differences into unique abilities. Books inspired me to fight through my struggles by showing me people who overcame challenges of their own, whether that was ADHD or something else.
Books can change your life.
With school starting back up it seemed like a good time to highlight books about kids who learn differently. They don’t all have ADHD but each one has some kind of difficulty to overcome . . . and they do. I hope you enjoy these books and the experience of seeing through these characters’ eyes what it’s like to be someone who learns differently.
1. Bright by Brigit Young
Learning difficulties come in all shapes and sizes, but they can all affect the way a kid who struggles sees themselves. I love how Marianne learns that there are different kinds of “smart” and find her own self-worth.
Amazon description: Marianne Blume knows she’s one of the stupid kids. After years of trying and trying and feeling like she’s always failing, she has mastered the art of turning off her brain whenever questions or lectures arise. She gets by in school on a combination of luck, deflection, and charisma―that is, until she lands in the classroom of Mr. Garcia.
To avoid flunking Mr. Garcia’s class, Marianne joins her school’s Quiz Quest team, hoping the move will ingratiate her to him, the team’s coach. Can Marianne learn to be smart if she puts her mind to it? And what does it really mean to be ‘bright,’ anyway?
2. Flipping Forward Twisting Backward by Alma Fullerton
This brand-new book was just released a few days ago and I can’t wait to read it. Claire has so much going for her, but her problems with reading—and her mom—sound like the making of a great story.
Amazon description: Claire is by far the best gymnast on her team, and she’s well on her way to qualifying for the state championships. The gym is where Claire shines. But at school, she’s known as a troublemaker. She seems to spend more time in the office than in class—which is fine with her since it enables her to hide the fact that she can’t read. She has never been able to make sense of the wobbling jumble of letters on a page. No one except her BFF knows.
But when a sympathetic principal wonders if Claire is acting out because she’s dyslexic, her mother balks. She’s afraid Claire will be labeled “stupid” and refuses testing. Claire has always assumed she’s dumb; she never imagined her reading problem could have a solution. Is she strong enough to take on both her reading challenges and her mother’s denial? Is it worth jeopardizing her spot in qualifiers?
3. The View From The Very Best House In Town by Meera Trehan
Part of the fun of reading is getting inside someone else’s head, and this book lets you see the world from three different points of view—one of them is the house in the title. That doesn’t happen very often! This is an exciting book that’s a story of friendship, bullying and what “home” really means.
Amazon description: Sam and Asha. Asha and Sam. Their friendship is so long established, they take it for granted. Just as Asha takes for granted that Donnybrooke, the mansion that sits on the highest hill in Coreville, is the best house in town.
But when Sam is accepted into snobbish Castleton Academy as an autistic “Miracle Boy,” he leaves Asha, who is also autistic, to navigate middle school alone. He also leaves her wondering if she can take anything for granted anymore. Because soon Sam is spending time with Prestyn, Asha’s nemesis, whose family owns Donnybrooke and, since a housewarming party gone wrong, has forbidden Asha to set foot inside. Who is Asha without Sam? And who will she be when it becomes clear that Prestyn’s interest in her friend isn’t so friendly?
4. Trouble at Turtle Pond by Diana Renn
If you’ve read many of my posts you know I love a story centered on kids helping the environment, and Trouble at Turtle Pond delivers. Plus, it’s a mystery. Win-win!
Amazon description: When eleven-year-old Miles moves to Marsh Hollow, he’s desperate for a fresh start. At his last school, his ADHD-related challenges earned him a reputation as a troublemaker and cost him his friends, especially after he lost a beloved class pet. With just one chance to make a first impression, “Mayhem Miles” is determined to do something great in this town. Like solving a mystery.
After witnessing people burying something in his neighbor’s backyard one night, he’s sure there’s trouble—and this time, it’s not his fault. When his other neighbor, Pia, invites him to join the Backyard Rangers to help protect endangered turtles at the pond behind his house, Miles knows this is his chance to investigate. He stumbles on clues that point to wildlife poaching. Sabotaged turtle traps, stolen eggs, and kidnapped hatchlings put the fragile turtle population at risk. Miles and Pia recruit two more Backyard Rangers to help track a string of suspects, including an obsessive gardener, an eccentric pet shop owner, and the town bully and his drifter uncle.
Then the rangers start receiving threatening messages, and an unexpected twist turns suspicion back on Miles. Has his reputation for trouble followed him all the way to Marsh Hollow? It’s up to Miles to convince his new friends that he’s not who they think he is, and to stop the turtle crimes before more turtles—and people—get hurt.
5. A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin
Here’s another new book just released in July, and it’s another mystery that will grab you and keep you guessing. Max’s struggle with ADHD is shown in a realistic way and it really adds to the story, but there’s more to him than his diagnosis. I like that Max is brave enough to stand up for what’s right and determined to figure out what happened to his friend.
Amazon description: Max wishes he could go back in time to before he was diagnosed with ADHD, before he grew to be the tallest kid in his class, and before he and his best friends went into the woods in the middle of the night. Max doesn’t remember what happened after he left his friends Will and Joey and the older kids who took them there. He’s not sure if he wants to remember. Knowing isn’t going to make Joey talk to him again, or bring Will out of his coma.
When the local authorities run out of leads, Max realizes that without his help, they may never know what really happened to Will. Charged by the idea that he may be the key to uncovering the truth, Max pairs up with classmate and aspiring journalist Sam to investigate what really happened that night. But not everyone in the community wants that night to be remembered.
6. Trout and Me by Susan Richards Shreve
Poor Ben! As if he didn’t have enough trouble on his own, his new “friend” is making things so much worse for him.
Amazon Description: Ever since first grade, Ben’s been in trouble, even though he’s really not a bad kid. He just can’t seem to stop doing things that get him sent to the principal’s office. His parents and wise older sister, Meg, swear he’ll be fine in his own time, but when a new kid shows up in Ben’s fifth-grade class, he’s not so sure.
Trout sticks to him like glue, and it’s clear from the start that Trout is a much bigger troublemaker than Ben ever was. So when Ben gets diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), just like Trout, and then has to take Ritalin, just like Trout, he’s not sure what to make of his friendship–especially when he starts to get a bad reputation. Is Trout’s badness rubbing off on him? Can Ben make people understand it’s the ADD, not Trout, causing the problems before it’s too late?
7. Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
I love to read about strong female characters in fiction, especially when one is diagnosed with ADHD, like me.
Amazon Description: Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.
But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.
8. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Friendship is a powerful force and this book really shows that. If you like this one, be sure to read the next book in the series, Max the Mighty.
Amazon Description: Meet Maxwell Kane, narrator of Freak the Mighty. He’s a timid soul stuck in the body of a teenage giant with size 14 shoes. Haunted by a dark secret in his past, he hides out in his basement room, avoiding the world.
But when a new kid moves in next door, Max’s life changes forever. The two outcasts form the “normal” world team up to become “Freak the Mighty”.
Like knights of old, they defend the weak, right every wrong – and solve the mystery of Max’s past – proving once and for all that courage comes in all sizes.
9. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is a hero whose ADHD and dyslexia sometimes get him into trouble. I highly recommend the entire series. Did you know that the author’s mythology-loving son, who learns differently, is the inspiration behind these books?
Amazon Description: Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school . . . again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them.
Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.
10. Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner
Most of us know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by things going on around us—but Lou feels like that all the time. I loved watching her find her true voice.
Amazon Description: Lou Montgomery has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But Lou can only hear the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.
When Lou crashes their pickup on a dark and snowy road, child services separate the mother-daughter duo. Now she has to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. With help from an outgoing new friend, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, she begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music might just be the thing that saves Lou—and maybe her mom, too.
11. The Brave by James Bird
This book will make you laugh out loud and probably shed a few tears, too—both the happy and sad kind. Collin’s story is an inspiration.
Amazon Description: Collin can’t help himself―he has a unique condition that finds him counting every letter spoken to him. It’s a quirk that makes him a prime target for bullies, and a continual frustration to the adults around him, including his father.
When Collin asked to leave yet another school, his dad decides to send him to live in Minnesota with the mother he’s never met. She is Ojibwe, and lives on a reservation. Collin arrives in Duluth with his loyal dog, Seven, and quickly finds his mom and his new home to be warm, welcoming, and accepting of his condition.
Collin’s quirk is matched by that of his neighbor, Orenda, a girl who lives mostly in her treehouse and believes she is turning into a butterfly. With Orenda’s help, Collin works hard to overcome his challenges. His real test comes when he must step up for his new friend and trust his new family.
12. Rules by Cynthia Lord
Catherine is really trying to be helpful…but some rules really are made to be broken.
Amazon Description: Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules—from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”—in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors.
But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?
13. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason is one of those characters you can’t help but love. He has to face bullies, learning disabilities, the death of his friend, and so much more. You’ll be rooting for him from the very first page.
Amazon Description: Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.
An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.
Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground haven for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin and, eventually, Benny. But will anyone believe him?
14. Focused by Alyson Gerber
Author Alyson Gerber grew up with undiagnosed ADHD and EFD. She applies this first-hand knowledge to the character of Clea, which results in a realistic description of what it is like to live with ADHD.
Amazon Description: Clea can’t control her thoughts. She knows she has to do her homework . . . but she gets distracted. She knows she can’t just say whatever thought comes into her head . . . but sometimes she can’t help herself. She know she needs to focus . . . but how can she do that when the people around her are always chewing gum loudly or making other annoying noises?
It’s starting to be a problem—not just in school, but when Clea’s playing chess or just hanging out with her best friend. Other kids are starting to notice. When Clea fails one too many tests, her parents take her to be tested, and she finds out that she has ADHD, which means her attention is all over the place instead of where it needs to be.
Clea knows life can’t continue the way it’s been going. She’s just not sure how you can fix a problem that’s all in your head. But that’s what she’s going to have to do, to find a way to focus.
15. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
I love a gutsy main character and Melody is one of the bravest, strongest ones I’ve read. Great for fans of Wonder and pretty much everybody else, too.
Amazon Description: Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it.
Most people—her teachers, her doctors, her classmates—dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.
16. Real by Carol Cujec & Peyton Goddard
Not only is this an inspiring story, it’s inspired by a true story and that makes it even better! If you ever felt like you didn’t belong (haven’t we all felt that way sometimes?), this one is for you.
Amazon Description: My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old. Actually, thirteen years plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.
Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?
When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.
17. What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen
Just like Libby, the main character, author Sarah Allen was born with Turner syndrome so you know she knows what it’s like. This story is a winner, whether Libby wins her contest or not.
Amazon Description: Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.
When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled―but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?
18. The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The best stories are when characters go on a journey…not necessarily a physical journey, but an emotional one. Charlie and his family go on both kinds and you’ll be glad you went with them.
Amazon Description: Charlie’s perfectly ordinary life has been unraveling ever since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan.
When his father heads from California to Virginia for medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly brothers, and a mysterious new family friend. He decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father were hoping to see someday along the way, then everything might just turn out okay.
19. Trouble with a Tiny T by Merriam Sarcia Saunders
Can you imagine what it would be like if the things you imagined came to life? Yikes!
Amazon Description: Twelve-year-old Westin Hopper gets in trouble–a lot. At home, at school, at his grandparents’ house. . . . His ADHD always seems to mess with his brain, making him do impulsive things. So when Westin finds a magic bag that makes his thoughts come alive, he thinks it’s the ticket to fixing his life. Instead, his wandering brain strikes again, conjuring up a mini T-rex, an army of headless plastic men, and a six-inch Thor. Now they all live in his bedroom, eating lunchmeat, wreaking havoc, and growing. And Westin doesn’t know how to make them go away.
He enlists his fellow social outcast, Lenora, to help him make things right. Lenora helps Westin realize that his talent for drawing could be the key to solving his problems. If Westin can focus while drawing, maybe he can learn to control the magic and get rid of the creatures in his room. But he’d better learn quickly. Tiny T is growing–and fast.
20. Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? By Leslie Connor
I don’t usually include two books by the same author on one list, but sometimes you have to make an exception and this is it. Aurora and Frenchie’s story is by the award-winning author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (#13 above). It’s a beautiful study of friendship and learning to get along with others, even when they’re not like you.
Amazon description: Eleven-year-old Aurora Petrequin’s best friend has never spoken a word to her. In fact, Frenchie Livernois doesn’t talk.
Aurora is bouncy, loud and impulsive—“a big old blurter.” Making friends has never come easily. When Frenchie, who is autistic, silently chose Aurora as his person back in third grade, she chose him back. They make a good team, sharing their love of the natural world in coastal Maine.
In the woods, Aurora and Frenchie encounter a piebald deer, a rare creature with a coat like a patchwork quilt. Whenever it appears, Aurora feels compelled to follow.
At school, Aurora looks out for Frenchie, who has been her classmate until this year. One morning, Frenchie doesn’t make it to his classroom. Aurora feels she’s to blame. The entire town begins to search, and everyone wonders: how is it possible that nobody has seen Frenchie?
21. Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ally has a lot of skills, but reading is not one of them. I really appreciate the message that just because someone learns differently doesn’t make them stupid. Mr. Daniels is a real hero!
Amazon Description: Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb?
However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
22. Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
This book is as sweet as one of the cupcakes made by Foster, the main character. Beyond that, it’s funny, suspenseful and encourages the reader to follow their dreams—just like Foster.
Amazon Description: When twelve-year-old Foster and her mother land in the tiny town of Culpepper, they don’t know what to expect. But folks quickly warm to the woman with the great voice and the girl who can bake like nobody’s business.
Soon Foster — who dreams of having her own cooking show one day — lands herself a gig baking for the local coffee shop, and gets herself some much-needed help in overcoming her biggest challenge — learning to read . . .
Just as Foster and Mama start to feel at ease, their past catches up to them. Thanks to the folks in Culpepper, though Foster and her mama find the strength to put their troubles behind them for good.
23. Eleven by Patricia Riley Giff
Imagine finding documents that talk about your life—and not being able to read them! Especially if you suspect that what you find out may change everything you think you know about who you are. If you were in that situation, you’d need a friend…
Amazon Description: Sam must solve the mystery of who he really is.
Sam is almost 11 when he discovers a locked box in the attic above his grandfather Mack’s room, and a piece of paper that says he was kidnapped. There are lots of other words, but Sam has always had trouble reading. He’s desperate to find out who he is, and if his beloved Mack is really his grandfather. At night he’s haunted by dreams of a big castle and a terrifying escape on a boat. Who can he trust to help him read the documents that could unravel the mystery?
Then he and the new girl, Caroline, are paired up to work on a school project, building a castle in Mack’s woodworking shop. Caroline loves to read, and she can help. But she’s moving soon, and the two must hurry to discover the truth about Sam.
24. The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
What I like about this story is how Fefa’s family refuses to give up. When the doctor says Fefa won’t be able to read, her mom finds a way to help—and that leads to Fefa making a discovery that helps keep their family safe from someone with bad intentions. The Wild Book is set in Cuba and written in verse, but not the rhyming kind.
Amazon Description: Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them?
But her mother has an idea. She gives Fefa a blank book filled with clean white pages. “Think of it as a garden,” she says. Soon Fefa starts to sprinkle words across the pages of her wild book. She lets her words sprout like seedlings, shaky at first, then growing stronger and surer with each new day.
And when her family is threatened, it is what Fefa has learned from her wild book that saves them.
For even more books like these, check out 10 Books with Main Characters Who Learn Differently.