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Picking Books For Kids on the Spectrum

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If you are working with kids on the autism spectrum, you know they can be very picky when it comes to how they spend their time and what grabs their interest. However, motivation is key in getting them to do their work. Picking books for kids on the spectrum can be difficult, but I hope to make it a little easier for you today. We’re going to review things to consider and the list of some of my favorite books.

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If you’re anything like me, then you can think of hundreds of great books for kids, right up until you need to pick one to read. Then it’s a complete blank. Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of books I like to use as go tos and things to consider when I have to pick a brand new book.

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Here are my tips and tricks and things to consider when picking books for kids on the spectrum. These work for novel studies or pleasure!

  1. Reading Level and Purpose – Think about your students current reading level, or if you are reading it aloud to them, their current ability to comprehend language. Then consider your purpose. If you are just reading for fun feel free to pick sometime at their instructional level. If you’re asking them to do anything academic or anything involving analysis, go just a little bit lower. You want to focus on them being able to master the skill. Having a book that is too difficult can make the process cognitively exhausting.
  2. Child’s Age – Kids tend to reread the same baby books again and again. I just think they have to be so bored, because they’ve probably read that book a million times. You don’t have to go and give them Harry Potter or anything, but maybe something a little more advanced or even just new. It can improve engagement.
  3. Interests – What do your kids on the spectrum like? What motivates them? If the book is engaging that will improve their ability to attend and hence their performance on your lesson.
  4. Diversity – All kids have a right to read books by authors of all colors, backgrounds, and ability levels. Do your research and try to find books written by a wider variety of authors.
  5. Something you love – If you pick a book you hate, your kids are going to hate it too. Sometimes when I’m thinking of books to read with my kids, I ask myself what I liked as a kid. Then I consider which book I think they’d like and that I’d like to share with them. Then we aren’t just learning, I’m giving them a piece of my childhood that I loved.
Be Thoughtful in Your Choices

If you are still unsure of what books might work, try asking your child for ideas. Maybe they have a book they’ve wanted to read but have never gotten around to. 

Even if they don’t, kids on the spectrum often appreciate it when you ask their opinion on what to do educationally speaking. You’d be surprised how often people forget to treat them like human beings.

You may be picking books for kids on the spectrum, but you’re also just picking books for kids, first and foremost.

Sometimes when I’m thinking of books to read with my kids, I ask myself what I liked as a kid. Then I consider which book I think they’d like and that I’d like to share with them. Then we aren’t just learning, I’m giving them a piece of my childhood that I loved.

My infinte wisdom

We’re Going on A Bear Hunt – Classic tale of kids moving through all kinds of terrain to find a bear. I love this one because it can easily become a dancing game. It’s a great pick!

Pout-Pout Fish – I have a student who, even though he has outgrown it, still reminds me of when we would read Pout-Pout Fish all the time. It’s about a grumpy fish, and doing a funny voice for him is a great bonding exercise. 

Goodbye Havana, Hola New York – This one has gorgeous illustrations and a really compelling story about a girl having to flee Cuba. It can be a great way to introduce some simple Spanish or spark a kid’s imagination. 

Good Dog Carl – This one is from my childhood. It was a great precursor to my writing days. It’s a story about a dog named Carl, but it has no words. Asking your kids to come up with their own stories can be a wonderful, fun, and unique exercise. 

Drita My Homegirl – This one I have found to be super compelling for kids of all age levels and genders. It tells the story of Drita, who moved to New York City from Kosovo, and how she made friends. It’s a wonderful way to help your kids learn empathy and spark a conversation about refugees. 

Mercy Watson – This series tells the story of a family that has a pig who they treat as a child. This one is perfect because it was written in simple language with concrete actions that were easier to understand when transitioning to longer books. 

A to Z Mysteries – These don’t have as many pictures and are a little less concrete, but I have students who find the compelling mysteries and funny antics worth it. Just be prepared to use a few more scaffolds.

Artemis Fowl – I had a student on the edge of his seat when we were reading Artemis Fowl. I found it to be a great way to teach about how creative authors can be when blending technology and magic. Also, click here to check out the Novel Study I made for Artemis Fowl.

Ella Enchanted – I have a student that would kill me if I didn’t put something by Gail Carson Levine on this list. What started as me just trying to share something that I loved from my childhood, exploded into a deep dive into multiple books by Gail Carson Levine. Click here to check out the Novel Study I made for Ella Enchanted.

Secret Garden – This one is a challenge, no doubt about it, but the story is so compelling. I use this one to teach kids about imagery and work on their own writing to improve their descriptive language. Click here to check out the Novel Study I made for the Secret Garden.

The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle – Full disclosure I haven’t finished reading this one at the time I’m writing this, but I love it enough to put it down anyway. I’m currently using it to teach about spotting flaws in a character and identifying components that make someone an unreliable narrator. 

Turtles All the Way Down – This one I love for personal reasons, since I have OCD, but goes into my belief that kids should be exposed to characters with disabilities. John Green tells a compelling story of a teenage girl living with OCD. That is probably the most accurate and compelling representation I’ve ever seen.

The Bone Witch – This one still haunts me. My sister refused to read the rest of the series because it evoked such strong emotion. If that doesn’t speak to great writing, I don’t know what does? Tea is a bone witch, a rare but powerful thing in this world, and after bringing her brother back to life, sets off a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – This was the first book by Sherman Alexie I ever read, and I was crushed when I learned he doesn’t usually write YA. This follows the story of a young Native American boy who leaves his reservation to go to a nearby white school and his feelings about navigating between these two worlds.

Obviously, there are way more books that I love but this is just a simple shortlist to get you started.

Don’t stress too much about picking books for kids on the spectrum. When in doubt just think of the things you like to read and the things your students like to read and find a place they intersect. Remember reading is supposed to be a fun shared experience, not something you have to get through. Make it enjoyable. 

If you liked this post and want more ideas about how to do novel studies with your middle-grade readers, check out this post here! And be sure to subscribe to my email list to stay up to date on my latest posts!

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