10 Great Books for Young Readers with Unique Needs

From dealing with disability to growing up in the foster system, these books are more about being a kid while having to live with a difficult situation in life. They’re so entertaining you parents might want to pick them up some time. Sadly, some of these are out of print (book crime!) but you can find them online or at used book stores. Young Readers are considered ages 8-12. Warning: SPOILERS



The Haunting of Cabin 13 by Kristi Holl

life in a wheelchair, crooked adults

This book not only has a great story but one of the kid sleuths just happens to be in a wheelchair. Laurie and Jenny are best friends trying to enjoy a family vacation on the lake when the drowning death of a former camper comes back to haunt everyone. They soon meet Matt who, after lamenting his disability, is treated like one of the gang as they try to solve the mystery.


Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume

compulsive lying, a new living environment, making friends

Growing up, Sheila was my girl. She lied about being an expert diver, expert yo-yo master, and how many friends she had. After reading this book, I realized how I was starting to sound to my own girlfriends and hey, if it helped me it might help your child too. Sheila’s family moves to Tarrytown for the summer and Sheila realizes this is a fresh start after having alienated just about everyone back in New York City. It takes a dog and a new friend named Mouse to teach Sheila a few lessons in humility.


Holes by Louis Sachar

juvenile delinquency, racism, crooked adults

Holes is an astonishingly good book, covering all kinds of difficult subjects from bad kids to mixed race couples. The book so amazing that there was even talk the year it came out that it should have been given a shot at the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Every page is entertaining as you follow Stanley Yelnats, accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to a reformatory named Camp Green Lake as punishment. His days are spent trying to dodge the very real threats of some very bad juvenile offenders and the evil adults who run the facility who force the boys to dig holes in the desert all day. But for what? The reader goes back and forth in time, from a curse in old world Latvia to the sad story of a black onion farmer named Sam and the white woman named Kate who loved him in the days of the old west. It might all sound very confusing but is tied up with a fantastic ending that will make your child want to read it again. And behave.


A Cry in the Night by Carol Ellis

mother dead from cancer, living with new step-parent

A creepy mystery involving old witch hunts. A vacation town being stalked by a ghost. A Cry in the Night pretends to be a ghost story about a murder but really it is about 12 year old Molly trying to come to terms with the loss of her mother to cancer and learning to live with her new step-mother, Katherine. The book has some great scares but after you’re finished reading you are moved by the realization that Molly is going to be fine and that Katherine may just be the friend she needs. I’ve always been a fan of Carol Ellis who mostly wrote teen horror but this book is what she should be most proud of.


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Iggie’s House by Judy Blume

children learn about racism, crooked adults

It is difficult to find a modern kids book explaining racism that doesn’t revolve around historical events. Here’s to first runner up, Sherman Alexie’s controversial The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, but the award goes to Ms. Blume, yet again. Iggie’s House, written in 1970, is still the best book to explain to children of all races how adults can be poisoned by their own prejudice.

Seen through the eyes of a white girl named Winnie, saddened that her best friend has relocated to Tokyo but happy to find new friendship with the family that moves into the old house, who also happen to be black. Being the only black family in the neighborhood, the Garbers face horrible treatment at the hands of the adults while Winnie watches, trying to figure out what is happening and why, after being told grownups are right, she feels they are wrong.


Don’t Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts

abuse of a child

There is no other children’s novel with as realistic a portrayal of a girl living with an abusive parent. Laurie’s mother moves around so no one will suspect anything and Laurie even covers for her mom’s abuse because no one would believe her anyway. Or would they? This book has a solid ending that helps abused children and their friends realize that there is hope.


Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary

parent loses job, money problems

This book hits me in the gut every time and is on my list of Young Reader books all parents should read. Always able to explain the hardships of growing up without being overly saccharine or blunt, Cleary’s young Ramona Quimby finds her life in sudden upheaval when her father loses his job. By the way, this family did not have a lot of money to begin with. It deals with symptoms of depression from her father (he chains smokes and only watches T.V.) while showing what Ramona has to deal with, having to go without. It may sound like one downer of a book but it isn’t, thanks to Cleary’s standard humor in all things blue collared America. It isn’t just a great book for this list but one of the best kid’s books, period.


This Place has no Atmosphere by Paula Danzinger

popularity, new living environment, narcissism

Fifteen year old Aurora has everything. She’s pretty, popular, and the focus of the cutest boy in school. By the way, she’s also living in the year 2057 and her parents just got jobs on the moon’s new colony. Aurora may be the heroine of the story but it dawns on you that she’s well aware of this. So wrapped up in her own darlingness, Aurora throws a fit when she loses her popular status in her new hometown and when she doesn’t get the starring role in the school play. If your kid needs to take it down a notch, they should read this book.


The Great Gilly Hopkins by Kathleen Peterson

the foster system, foster families, juvenile delinquency, crooked adults

From the author who brought you Bridge to Terebithia came this shocking portrayal of foster care through the eyes of tough-as-nails, Gilly Hopkins. As you can imagine, Gilly has only been hardened by her journey through the system and you are just as cynical as she is when she arrives on the doorstep of the morbidly obese Trotter who has a weakling foster son named William Ernest. At first you can’t stand Gilly and then you root for her when love and family looks to be a possibility. Make sure you have tissues on hand for that last chapter.


The Ghostmobile by Kathy Kennedy Tapp

selfish parents, new living environment, large family

These aren’t parents who had to move because of a new job. These are parents who are going to move their family states away to, like, totally fulfill their dream of renovating a schoolhouse in a cornfield and eventually living in it, man. Many readers may relate to the selfish needs of these parents, the helpless feeling of being last on their list, and the beard Dad grows in order to complete his hippy dippy journey. As they all camp out in the isolated cornfield during the summer, 11 year old Ryan (never losing his sense of humor) not only has to worry about taking care of his younger siblings but solving a little problem with a couple of ghosts only they can see.


Mom, You’re Fired! by Nancy K. Robinson

embarrassed of parent, money problems, friendship problems

Robinson is great at explaining difficult children to difficult children. Her book, Veronica the Show-Off, makes the title character sympathetic as she desperately tries to impress everyone around her. However, Mom, You’re Fired is the winner. Without being too heavy handed, it tells the story of Tina and her free spirited mother, a woman who dresses like a “bag lady” and sings in public. After telling people that Mom is her babysitter, Tina’s lies spiral out of control. In the end she realizes friends come and go but that her Mom is there for her no matter what. You might need a hankie for this one.

Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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