8 teen and tween books with characters who learn and think differently

When we relate to characters, or when the topic is something that reflects our own lives, books are often more meaningful (and fun to read). Check out these great reads for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers who learn and think differently. They feature characters with ADHD, dyslexia, and other differences. Be sure to have a look at the nonfiction choices, too — they’re great sources of information for teens.

Hank Zipzer, by Henry Winkler

You may know actor Henry Winkler from his role as “The Fonz” on the TV show Happy Days. Winkler has lived with all his life. With co-author Lin Oliver and illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson, Winkler created the Hank Zipzer series about “the world’s greatest underachiever,” a boy with dyslexia. The series is written for kids 9–12 and deals with learning differences in a funny and sensitive way. Titles include Summer School! What Genius Thought That Up? and The Night I Flunked My Field Trip.

Trout and Me, by Susan Shreve

Trout and Me is a fictional story about 11-year-old Ben, who gets into trouble because he has ADHD. But Ben — who also has dyslexia — is not a bad kid. Then a new boy named Trout shows up in class. Trout also has ADHD. But Trout is a much bigger troublemaker than Ben. Can Ben convince the adults that it’s the ADHD, not Trout, creating problems? This story for kids 9–12 takes a frank look at ADHD and gives kids a lot to ponder.

Bluefish, by Pat Schmatz

Bluefish is a fiction book about an eighth grader, Travis, who can’t read. In this witty novel for ages 12 and up, Travis finds an unusual friend and a determined teacher who both help him succeed at his new school. The book is about the power of literature — and the power of friendship.

Backwards Forward: My Journey Through Dyslexia, by Catherine Hirschman

The nonfiction book Backwards Forward: My Journey Through Dyslexia is a firsthand account of living with dyslexia. The book was co-written by Hirschman, a 32-year-old woman with learning differences, and her mother. The authors offer a personal window into their lives, beginning in early childhood and continuing through adulthood. Of special interest are Hirschman’s descriptions of how her struggles with dyslexia affected her relationship with friends and family. The book is good for older kids (middle and high school) as well as parents.

ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild, by Jonathan Chesner

ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild is a fun and practical nonfiction book about living with ADHD. The book features bright colors and designs. More than 60 short chapters address distinct topics, such as dating, homework, and family life. It explores how kids with ADHD can adjust to or accomplish things that don’t come easily. This book is for kids 13 and up.

Caged in Chaos: A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free, by Victoria Biggs

This nonfiction book was written by a teenage girl with dyspraxia, which affects motor skill development and often exists with learning differences. Caged in Chaos: A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free is a positive, practical guide for teens struggling with the physical, social, emotional, and learning differences caused by . In a conversational style, Biggs describes the primary effects of her learning difference — disorganization, clumsiness, and poor short-term memory. And she also talks about the bullying, low self-esteem, and loneliness she endures. This book is for kids 13 and up.

Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Teen Guide, by Penny Hutchins Paquette and Cheryl Gerson Tuttle

Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Teen Guide is a highly readable nonfiction book. It offers teens a solid base of information about learning disabilities. The book includes definitions, coping strategies, tips on interpreting test results, legal considerations, and postsecondary school options. Each chapter includes a description of how it feels to have a particular disability. It describes symptoms and offers practical suggestions and resources. Profiles, success stories, and quotes are sprinkled throughout.

College Success for Students With Learning Disabilities, by Cynthia Simpson and Vicky Spencer

As high school students with start to think about college, how do they plan for their college years? There are no IEPs in college, so a student’s skills in self-advocacy become even more important. College Success for Students with Learning Disabilities provides guidance and practical strategies specifically for students with learning disabilities so they can make the most of their college experience.

Looking for more ideas? Find out why graphic novels are a great choice for kids who struggle with reading.


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