BOOKS THAT HELP – NEURODIVERSITY

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PIFF AND A PUFFLE (Sarah Lavelle, Jill White)

This exciting and colourful story follows Piff the puffer fish as she sets off in pursuit of her dream to join the fishy circus. But she needs an act! Unfortunately, lionfish taming and hermit crab juggling all end in disaster. Piff feels like she’s done something wrong, even though she can’t help getting into a puffle. Eventually, she learns to embrace who she is. Maybe being a puffle isn’t a bad thing after all?

This is a fun and playful story that will show neurodiverse children that they are not alone, especially girls with ADHD.


MILO AND MONTY (Roxanan de Rond)

Milo and Monty are two puppies that do everything together. But Monty loves being with people and Milo is nervous. In Milo and Monty (Child’s Play, 2019) life gets busy and Milo goes to find his quiet spot. But someone is already there. Someone like him! Milo meets someone with a special toy, who likes quiet time and doing the same activities at the same time each day.

The dogs’ owners learn that Milo loves being with them just as much as Monty, he just shows it in his own way, making this a good book for young children with neurodiverse friends and family. Indeed, this story could be used to encourage discussion and awareness about autism, anxiety, empathy and friendship.


BEA BY THE SEA (Jo Byatt)

Bea By The Sea (Child’s Play, 2021) is a subtle look at a neurodiverse main character who loves lions! Bea thinks about lions all the time and doesn’t doing anything unless lions are involved. She definitely doesn’t like the sand, which is scratchy and gritty between her toes.

But when Bea meets Sand Lion, he helps her enjoy the sand even though it feels funny. In return, Bea helps Sand Lion when he is unsure about the water.

This story could help a child with sensory processing problems a try new experiences. The lion facts on the endpapers are a very nice touch.


CHOICES (Roozeloos)

Overthinkers will resonate with this book, Choices (Child’s Play, 2021). It’s a visual look at the many different choices we face every day. Big ones, small ones and some in between ones… from choosing an ice cream to deciding whether or not to face our fears.

The sparse text and detailed illustrations are a lovely combination. The ‘space’ leaves a gap for readers to peruse Roozeboos’ use of colour and movement and invites reflection. When faced with difficult choices, this story suggests readers should follow their heart, gently encouraging them to try new things.


UP AND DOWN MUM (Summer Macon)

Up And Down Mum (Child’s Play, 2019) depicts the ups and downs of having a parent with bipolar disorder. The child and mother do lots of things together. Most day are fine but some days Mum seems different and even scary. The bipolar disorder is explained in an accessible way for young children. “Everyone has days they feel happier than others, but for your mum it’s more extreme.” Grandad describes it as though Mum is riding a roller coaster and the child gives mum the nick name, Up and Down Mum. “When she is happy it feels like she is on the top of the world, and she can do anything. When she is sad nothing can make her feel better.”

The child learns it isn’t down to them to help Mum when she is having a hard time. The family have help from other relatives and trained professionals including a social worker, and a trained therapist.

This book could benefit children growing up in the care of parent who has bipolar disorder, who sometimes spends time away to get specialised help. Whilst such a life can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety, the child in the story loves their mum despite her difficulties and ups and downs.


WHERE BJORN BELONGS (Sam Langley-Swain, Mirna Imamovic)

Where Bjorn Belongs  (Owlet Press, 2022) is written by Owlet publisher, Sam Langley-Swain, and beautifully illustrated by Mirna Imamovic. Arthur wants to be an arctic explorer and carries his toy polar bear with him everywhere he goes. It’s approaching Christmas time, and Arthur is finding the lights, the noise, the bustle, all a bit too much but he finds comfort in his toy bear. Then, disaster – the bear is lost. Arthur asks Father Christmas for a new one and wakes up to find a gorgeous polar bear in his garden. A real one!

This is an inclusive and sensitive story of friendship and belonging and letting go, centred around the unbreakable bond between a boy and a bear. There’s a generous sprinkling of magic, too. The perfect Christmas story for animal lovers who sometimes struggle with big celebrations and festivities.


LEO AND THE OCTOPUS (Isabelle Marinov, Chris Nixon)

The world was too bright for Leo. And too loud.
“I must be living on the wrong planet,” Leo thought.

In Leo and the Octopus (Templar, 2021) Leo struggles to make sense of the world. He doesn’t understand the other children in his class, and they don’t seem to understand him. Sometimes it feels like he is living on an alien planet. But then one day, Leo meets Maya. Maya is an octopus, and the more Leo learns about her, the more he thinks that perhaps he isn’t alone in this world, after all.

Isabelle’s text navigates the world and friendship through the eyes of a child with Asperger’s and Chris’ illustrations are bright and eye-catching, especially the neon detailing on the cover. Together they depict a subtle yet accurate look at how it feels to have autism, helpful for neurodiverse and neurotypical readers.


DRAMA LLAMA (Rachel Morrisroe, Ella Okstad)

‘One day a worry comes to stay, and simply will not go away!’

Rachel Morrisroe and Ella Okstad’s Drama Llama (Puffin 2022) sees Alex Allen – a super worrier – with a seriously silly llama problem. The more Alex worries, the bigger the llama grows! Rachel’s snappy, energetic verse is dynamic and fun, while Ella’s illustrations— of the bright, pink, fluffy llama — are hilarious.

The ending has a powerful takeaway about living with a llama, rather than getting rid of it completely, meaning readers will not only be full of smiles but also empowered to share their worries.


TALKING IS NOT MY THING (Rose Robbins)

Talking Is Not My Thing (Scallywag Press, 2020) is a celebration of all the different ways that people communicate, highlighting that for some non-verbal children, talking just isn’t their thing. Rose’s gentle storyline, sparse text and endearing characters show us that there are still plenty of things the autistic main character can do. She can still have fun with her sibling and importantly, she can still make her needs known, including through body language, drawing pictures, making gestures or using flash cards.

The use of speech bubbles – to share what the autistic character is thinking – is clever, and the main character is empowering because she has chooses when she needs help, and when she doesn’t.


I TALK LIKE A RIVER (Jordan Scott, Sydney Smith)

I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.

And I can’t say them all . . .

The first person voice in I Talk Like A River (Neal Porter Books, 2018) is powerful and honest, combining with Sydney Scott’s emotive illustrations to create an empowering story of a child who is as quiet as a stone, who gets ready for his day without a word. At school he hopes he doesn’t have to speak because his words tangle in his mouth. But throughout the story, his parent helps him to see that his bad speech day is temporary, not fixed or permanent. “When the words around me are hard to say I think of the river all around me. Even the river stutters like I do,” says the child.

This touching book for children who live with speech difficulties, is also relevant to children who have felt different from their friends and/or who might know someone who struggles. This is a stunning book, both visually and metaphorically, that leaves a lasting impression.


WILD FOR WINNIE (Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Jenny Løvlie)

Winnie is no ordinary child. She sees, hears and views the world differently, which makes starting a new school challenging. It’s also a bit difficult for the other children in the class. But when the teacher suggests they try things from Winnie’s point of view, they realise that what Winnie needs is to feel included in their world, on her terms—not theirs.

Wild for Winnie (Dial Books, 2022) is a story filled with useful ideas and interventions that prevent Winnie from being excluded from school with her peers, including time to monkey around outside and calm spaces.

At the end of the book there are some carefully considered suggestions that can make a classroom environment more inclusive for neurodiverse children, including swinging, deep-touch pressure, thrill-seeking activities and some calm ones.

Jenny’s colour palette is cosy and perfectly chosen, as I’ve come to expect from Jenny’s work. The metaphors and similes for Winnie’s behaviours – howling like a hyena, being antsy, chomping like a piranha, monkeying around – are visual and accessible to young children. This would be a great class read, helping children and staff make their classrooms accessible for all, whilst also being a book to help neurodiverse children settle into a new setting.

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