9 books that explore and embrace difference

Embracing difference is a process of discovery. That’s true for both kids and adults. Books can help you understand and appreciate learning and thinking differences in a deeper way. 

You can find many of these books from our partners at Bookshare — a free service that provides books in accessible formats to people with dyslexia, blindness, and other barriers to reading.

The Understood team has pulled together some of our favorite reads for all ages. Here are books about difference, recommended by our team members.

For kids

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, by Sonia Sotomayor

Recommended by: Kim Greene, Editorial Director, U.org

In this picture book, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor uses her own experience as a child with diabetes to celebrate the different abilities kids have. Available on Bookshare

Kim adds: “The book includes kid-friendly descriptions of disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD and, equally important, highlights the ‘powers’ of each character. Just Ask! is a reminder that it’s never too early to start teaching kids about the power of difference.”

Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty

Recommended by: Craig Woody, Senior Data Engineer

Rosie Revere dreams of becoming a great engineer one day. She constructs great inventions and finds inspiration in the strangest things. But she’s too afraid to share her inventions with the world. A visit from her great-great-aunt Rose reminded her that you can only truly fail if you quit. Available on Bookshare.

Craig adds: “I love how throughout the story, Rosie learns to embrace her difference rather than hide it.”

El Deafo, by Cece Bell 

Recommended by: Laura Key, Executive Director, Editorial 

Starting a new school is scary, especially with a visible disability. At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. But at her new school, things are different. What will it take for kids to stop staring at her and be her friend? 

Laura adds: “This is a great graphic novel about being different, embracing that difference, and building empathy. My daughter is obsessed!”

My Busy, Busy Brain: The ABCDs of ADHD, by Nicole Russell

Recommended by: Indiana Cano, Administrative Manager to the Co-Presidents

Nicole has ADHD and a very busy brain. She loves to learn, but she can’t help but daydream. One day, she decides to confront her struggle with inattention. She finds out she’s not alone.

Indiana adds: “I’m a huge fan of the positive messages found within this book. It’s truly a confidence booster for kids.” 

For tweens and teens

Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, by Rick Riordan

Recommended by: Julie Rawe, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy

This five-book series follows the demigod son of Poseidon and his friends on a quest as they meet gods, battle monsters, and take on the Titans from Greek mythology. Available on Bookshare

Julie adds: “There’s a great backstory about how Riordan created this series to encourage his own son to read. And as a parent, I love knowing how his son’s learning differences helped shape the series.”

A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass

Recommended by: David Waggett, Senior Director, Finance and Operations

Mia Winchell appears to be a typical kid, but she’s keeping a big secret: Sounds, numbers, and words have color for her. No one knows, and Mia wants to keep it that way — until trouble at school forces her to reveal her secret. Available on Bookshare

David adds: “We listened to this book during a family vacation many years ago. Much like the main character, my daughter also perceives color with letters, numbers, and words. We enjoyed finding a book that placed a synesthete at the center of the story, as it’s a condition you don’t often hear about.”

For young adults 

Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults): 17 First-Person Stories for Today, edited by Alice Wong

Recommended by: Jennifer Spindler, Senior Manager, Ecosystem

Some disabilities are visible, while others are less apparent. But all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Activist Alice Wong brings together this collection of essays by people with disabilities. Available on Bookshare.

Jennifer adds: “To put it very simply, the stories captivated me. Each story chipped away at my own stereotypical ideas of what living with a disability means. I felt completely moved by the diversity of the stories.” 

For adults and professionals 

A Radical Guide for Women With ADHD: Embrace Neurodiversity, Live Boldly, and Break Through Barriers, by Michelle Frank and Sari Solden 

Recommended by: Rachel Hirsh, Senior Project Manager

Written by two ADHD experts, this book helps women accept and value their differences with the help of strategies, tips, and worksheets. Readers will overcome negative self-talk, combat the shame of an ADHD diagnosis, and connect with a supportive community.

Rachel adds: “It was incredibly helpful to me as it factored in gender-based narratives that have been deeply embedded in my psyche growing up as a cisgender woman.”

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown

Recommended by: Andy Kahn, Associate Director, Behavior Change and Expertise

A research professor and thought leader on vulnerability and courage, Dr. Brené Brown shares 10 guideposts on the power of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. Available on Bookshare.

Andy adds: “This book has become a go-to text for helping me be more compassionate toward myself as I live with my differences and their impact. Brené Brown helps the reader to consider the importance of cultivating acceptance of your authentic self and managing the shame that inevitably comes when you fail to live up to your unrealistic and culture-bound expectations.”

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