In books, the most compelling characters often remind us of ourselves. These great reads may resonate with kids with dyslexia or ADHD. That’s because the heroes in these books share those challenges—and the triumphs that come with them.
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief,” by Rick Riordan
“What was so great about me? A dyslexic, hyperactive boy with a D+ report card, kicked out of school for the sixth time in six years.” That’s what 12-year old Percy used to think. But that was before he discovered his true identity—as a demigod. The Lightning Thief throws a modern-day twist into ancient Greek mythology. And this popular, action-packed adventure story helps kids rethink their own abilities. Plus, there’s a movie version that could help spark the interest of reluctant readers.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 9+
“Fish in a Tree,” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
In Fish in a Tree, sixth grader Ally Nickerson is clever at hiding her reading and writing issues. How? She acts out in class and creates distractions so people won’t figure out what’s really going on. But with the help of her teacher, Mr. Daniels, Ally discovers that she has dyslexia. She gets the support she needs, and her self-confidence skyrockets. This New York Times best-seller sends kids an uplifting message as Ally begins to recognize her own strengths.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 10+
“My Name Is Brain Brian,” by Jeanne Betancourt
Brian thinks he’s dumb. It doesn’t help that kids laugh when he reads aloud and writes on the board at school. But Brian’s sixth-grade teacher notices him reversing the letters of his name. That makes her suspect he has dyslexia—and she’s right. With more help from his school, Brian finally comes to realize that he’s a smart kid who learns differently. My Name Is Brain Brian reinforces the idea that kids can learn to work around their issues and achieve their goals.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 8–12
“Clementine,” by Sara Pennypacker
Life can be tricky for 8-year-olds. Just ask Clementine, who has a really bad week in this first book in the series named after her. On Monday, she gets in trouble for cutting her friend Margaret’s hair off. (Margaret got glue in it, and Clementine was just trying to help!) Every day after that gets worse, and Clementine starts to worry that her parents are going to label her “the hard one.” (Her brother would be “the easy one.”) This book never uses the term ADHD, but Clementine has many characteristics of kids with attention issues. So they are likely to relate to her challenges and creative, comic solutions.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 6–8
“Playing Tyler,” by T.L. Costa
Tyler MacCandless has adult-sized problems. A drunk driver killed his dad. His big brother’s in rehab. And his ADHD isn’t helping matters, especially at school. But just when things seem unbearable, Tyler’s given a flight simulator video game to beta test. If he does well, he might have a shot at getting into flight school. But what if the game’s not really a game? This twisty, technology-rich plot (which includes a bit of romance) will keep teens on the edge of their seats.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 13+
“The Alphabet War: A Story About Dyslexia,” by Diane Burton Robb
Adam has been having trouble with reading for a while, and in third grade he still can’t read on his own. Adam is finally diagnosed with dyslexia and his teachers put a plan in place. In The Alphabet War, kids get to see how Adam learns to match letters to sounds. It’s not easy, but he works hard. He also starts focusing on what he’s good at—and realizes he’s smart in other ways besides reading.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 7–10
“Thank You, Mr. Falker,” by Patricia Polacco
Trisha struggles to read and she’s ashamed about it. Kids at school call her dumb and she thinks they’re right. She feels lonely and rejected. But then, in fifth grade, a very special teacher recognizes her amazing artistic talent—and her reading disability. He steps in to gently guide and support her. Slowly, Trisha begins to blossom—hence the gratitude of this touching best-seller’s title, “Thank You, Mr. Falker.” The story may be especially poignant because it’s autobiographical.
Typically recommended for kids: Ages 5–8