Middle Grade Books with Neurodivergent CharactersBy: Cheryl Long
Seeing yourself reflected back from the pages of a story is an incredibly powerful moment and we all deserve to experience that. It is especially powerful to kids/tweens/teens as they begin to form their identities and how they view the world.
Stories not only provide a powerful message of acceptance — someone out there understands me — they are incredibly important teaching tools for empathy, understanding, tolerance, and education. While stories of fantasy and escapism are my own daughter’s first picks, the contemporary stories that expand her world view and teach her about walking in the shoes of someone else’s life, always have a lasting impact and spark the best conversations.
Here at OwlCrate Jr we want to encourage you to read richly and diversely! So we are always working to curate lists of fantastic middle grade stories that highlight diversity & inclusivity representation. For this article, we are excited to be sharing some of our favourite middle grade books with autistic characters!
The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters: Logan Foster desperately wants to be adopted, but has never “clicked” with prospective families - which he believes has something to do with his awkward manner, photographic memory, and love for fact recitation. But everything changes when he meets Gil and Margie! However, things aren’t quite right at their house — they are out at all hours of the night and there is a section of their home under severe security! Is his new prospective family… superheroes? Join Logan’s journey as he fights for his forever family (and the safety of the world) in this charming past OwlCrate Jr book pick!
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner: Lu has a beautiful voice, one that her mother hopes will land them a recording contract, forcing her to performance after performance. But Lu hates singing - she hates the crowds, the lights, the noises, and she desperately hates being touched. After an accident lands Lu in child protective services, she goes to live with her Aunt and Uncle, and slowly comes to learn that her sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of.
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan: This beautiful story just happens to be one of Sally’s favourite past OwlCrate Jr picks, so I’ll let her sum up why you need to read it asap! In addition to being one of my all time favorite animal stories, this book weaves together plot elements about family, immigration, loneliness, acceptance, biodiversity, and more. One of the many wonderful characters in this multi-POV contemporary story is Mateo, an autistic boy who our main character, Sila, is paired up with through a program that tries to encourage kids to expand their social skills. I absolutely love the way Sila accepts Mateo, becoming more comfortable in her own skin and learning from him the more time they spend together. And did I mention they befriend an elephant??
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla: A beautiful and uplifting story about a bird-loving boy named Charlie who reluctantly goes on a road trip with his family. Charlie would prefer life to be predictable, organized, and stick to routines, but ever since his father was injured at his job, things start to feel more out of sorts than ever. On his way across the country to meet up with him, Charlie decides that he’s going to try and spot all of the birds he and his dad have left on their Someday Birds list, as a way to cope with his anxiety about his dad and all of the changes around him. This book is a great story about personal growth, empathy, and hope (and birds!)
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family by Sarah Kapit: Fans of The Vanderbeekers and Penderwick series will want to take note of this charming story! Twelve-year-old Lara Finkel runs her own detective agency — FIASCCO (Finkel Investigation Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only) — and she does not want her sister Caroline to help. But determined to join, Caroline actually lands the firm’s first mystery! Their allegiance is short lived as suspicions and sisterly jealousy interfere with the investigation - can these squabbling siblings work together and become friends again?
Real by Carol Cujec: Charity is a thirteen year old girl who loves sour gummies, pepperoni pizza, math, and is blessed with a near perfect memory. But no one knows this because she hasn’t spoken a word in her entire life. Her body “jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably” and as such, people often ignore her or treat her unkindly. When her parents enroll her in a public junior high school, Charity will face her greatest fears — fighting to be accepted in a world that wants to ignore her.
Me and Sam - Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught: After the police arrest Jesse’s dad, the main suspect in the missing library fund, Jesse, along with her friend Springer, are determined to clear his name. Jesse has a neuro-processing disorder that leaves her frustrated with her crime solving capabilities. But when a tornado strikes her small town, Jesse’s unique talents will shine as she works to help her dad and confront the town bullies.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit: Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball - ever since her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello, taught her to pitch at a family fun day for kids with autism. But her mom won’t let her join a league! When she’s given the assignment of writing a letter to someone she knows, Vivy writes to VJ … and he writes back! Follow along Vivy’s journey in this warm-hearted, epistolary novel as Vivy follows her dream of joining a little league team.