12 Ideal Picture Books for Children with Autism

Characters in these books, including a few classics, are comfortable being different from others and engage with their world in nontraditional ways.

I selected the following booklist with undiagnosed autistic girls in mind. However, these are good selections for all autistic children since both autistic boys and girls, whether diagnosed or not, share core attributes relating to social interaction, repetitive behaviors/intense interests, and atypical sensory responses. These stories, where the main character remains the same, may also reassure children with other types of neurodiversity or those struggling with cultural assimilation. Indeed, I hope they send a message of self-worth and encouragement to all ­children.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. illus. by David Roberts. Abrams. Sept. 2016.
K-Gr 3–Ada, like many autistic children, is intensely focused on what interests her: clocks, noses, and ultimately smells. Despite the chaos her curiosity creates, her parents and brother don’t ask Ada to change; they change. They remake their world so they can help her figure out the answers to her many questions.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. Harcourt. Apr. 1993.
Gr 1-3–When a newborn bat lands in a nest filled with hatchlings, she is expected to mask her true self and act like a bird. But when Stellaluna meets a group of bats, she learns that bird ways are perfect for birds and bat ways are perfect for her.

How to Party Like a Snail by Naseem Hrab. illus. by Kelly Collier. Owlkids. Sept. 2022.
K-Gr 3–Snail is overwhelmed by noise at parties. So, he throws a party perfect for him and even discovers a friend who joins in. Especially affirming for autistic children who are hyper-responsive to their environments, this story celebrates enjoying life in a way that suits each individual’s needs.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. illus. by Robert Lawson. Viking. 1936.
PreS-Gr 3–While the other little bulls play at bull fighting, Ferdinand lives in his own quiet world, smelling flowers. When he is mistaken for being fierce and carted off to a bull fight, he saves himself by zeroing in on his special interest: flowers. In this way, the story validates the positive and calming side of having intense interests, as many autistic children do. What is more, when Ferdinand’s mother sees that he is not lonely when he’s absorbed by flowers, she stops struggling with his differentness and lets him be happy.

A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni. Pantheon. 1975.
PreS-Gr2–Wanting to be like other animals who don’t change color, a chameleon decides to stay on a leaf and be green forever. When the leaf—and he—turn yellow, then red, the chameleon gives up hope that he will ever be like other animals. His outlook changes, however, when he meets another chameleon, and they agree to remain side by side. The reassuring message is clear: even if these two different ones aren’t like others, they will always be different together.

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. Harper & Row. 1972.
PreS-Gr 2–In the opening chapter, “A List,” Toad makes a list of things to do, and because he is a rule-follower—as many autistic children are—he rigorously follows it. Frog joins in without question. And when Toad loses his list and won’t leave his spot because he has lost his rules for the day, Frog sits with him in solidarity. He doesn’t ask Toad to change or be different than who he is.

Ways to Play by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. illus. by Gabriel Alborozo. Levine Querido. Aug. 2023.
PreS-Gr 2–Riley’s bossy cousin Emma is dead set on showing Riley the right way to play. By the end of the story, however, Emma is playing Riley’s way. The message—that different kids have fun in different ways—will be welcoming to autistic children who often choose nontraditional ways of engaging with their world.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. illus. by E.H. Shepard. Dutton. 1926.
K-Gr 4–While not a picture book, these original Winnie-the-Pooh stories may be encouraging to autistic children because they are about friends who—with the exception of Rabbit at times—accept each other for who they are. Nobody tells Pooh to get over his obsession with honey. Nobody tells Piglet to grow a thicker skin. Nobody tells Eeyore to think more positively.

Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Knopf. May 2022.
PreS-Gr 3–When a dog is overwhelmed by a hot and jam-packed city, his owner sees his struggle and whisks him away to a cool and uncrowded beach, where he enjoys life to the fullest. Similar to How to Party Like a Snail, this story reassures hyper-responsive children that there are others like them and places that suit their individual needs.

A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele. Balzer + Bray. June 2019.
PreS-Gr 3–Pip sees herself as a normal pig until a new pig comes to school and makes fun of her. Pip struggles with being singled out as different, until she learns that things may be “weird for you, but not for me.” Children may appreciate the message that “weird” is a relative term. The use of a pig as protagonist in addressing bullying also creates a buffer for readers since anthropomorphism places the story in a fantasy realm.

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule. illus. by Sara Palacios. Bloomsbury. Mar. 2020.
PreS-Gr 1–Poppy Ann Fields spends long afternoons listening and talking to bugs; but when people are around, she prefers to hide. When, at a party, a dragonfly draws Poppy out of the background and every guest notices her, Poppy soothes her anxiety by focusing on the dragonfly and feeling the kinship they have. As with The Story of Ferdinand , this tale celebrates intense interests and the joy and connection they may bring to the lives of autistic children.

Edward Almost Sleeps Over by Rosemary Wells. Open Road. Feb. 2013.
PreS-Gr 1–When Edward’s parents can’t reach Edward at a playdate because of an unexpected snowstorm, his friend’s parents see his distress and find a way to get him home. Autistic children, who are often overwhelmed by unexpected events and rely on their routines at home, may take comfort from this story about a young bear who is seen and validated for his unique self.

Sandra Nickel is an award-winning children’s book author.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing