Five Kids’ Books That Help Explain Learning Disabilities to Your Child


Five Kids’ Books That Help Explain Learning Disabilities to Your Child

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Picture books about learning disabilities can make things easier

According to LD Online, approximately 15% of the population has some sort of “learning disability,” or LD. It defines an LD as a “neurological disorder” and explains that “a learning disability results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is ‘wired.’ Children with learning disabilities are as smart or smarter than their peers. But they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.”

Children often are diagnosed with learning disabilities when they first enter school. The teacher may start to comment on difficulties your child is having, and that will eventually lead to an educational evaluation.

If the results of your child’s evaluation indicate there is a learning disability, the school should take actions to assist and support your child. But what do you do? How do you explain to your child the difficulty he is having? How do you make sure she feels good about herself when she struggles with tasks her peers find easy? I reviewed several picture books aimed at early elementary school–aged kids to see if any of them could make your Solo Mom task easier.

Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets
Written by Barbara Esham
Illustrated by Mike Gordon and Carl Gordon
Mainstream Connections, 2008

Barbara Esham writes a series of books under the banner The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses, and I love this series and this book, in particular. Maybe I love this book because I have a son who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age four, and I watched him struggle with confidence, especially in elementary school.

But I get ahead of myself: This is a story of a boy named David, who often gets in trouble at school because he has “great ideas” and acts on them without thinking first. His teacher uses her “talking to David” voice when she loses her patience, and the other kids pick up on her frustration with him. Eventually there is a meeting scheduled with David’s parents. Before the meeting, David overhears his father tell his mother that when he, himself, was a child, he had the “wiggle fidgets” as well. David thinks about things that may help him concentrate and focus in class, and when the meeting finally happens, David presents his solutions to both his teacher and his parents.

I really like that the author addresses the fact that David senses his teacher’s frustration, and he feels bad about it. The author also allows him to brainstorm his own solutions (many of which my own son used in school), empowering David. The book shows that ADHD often runs in families, and there is a large genetic component. At the end of the story, there are several pages of ideas and resources for teachers, children, and parents to try. None of them feels heavy-handed or like the author is trying to “fix” your child. I would recommend this book to anyone whose child was just diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD)/ADHD.

The Art of Miss Chew
Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2012

This book is dedicated to the author’s art teacher and emphasizes the importance of finding a scholastic subject you are good at and having a teacher champion your cause. The main character is a girl named Trish who struggles academically. She has difficulty reading and often cannot finish her tests on time. Her teacher determines that Trish would benefit from extra time on her tests, and that does help her quite a bit. She also meets Miss Chew, who recognizes Trish’s incredible artistic talent. Under the instruction of these two teachers, Trish begins to flourish.

When her regular education teacher must take a leave of absence, the substitute takes away Trish’s extra time on tests and tries to remove her from Miss Chew’s art class as well. Trish begins to struggle again. Miss Chew calls a meeting, Trish receives official support from the administration, and her original teacher returns.

I like this book for several reasons. It never addresses what the nature of Trish’s difficulty may be, other than some hints that she may be dyslexic. So this book would be appropriate for any child who is having difficulty reading. I also appreciate that Trish finds an arena of success where she excels and can start to repair her self-esteem.

Last to Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boy in Math Class
Written by Barbara Esham
Illustrated by Mike Gordon and Carl Gordon
Mainstream Connections, 2008

This is another book in The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series and one I would recommend. In this book, Max Leonhard cannot finish his timed multiplication drills. He is always the last kid to finish, and even though he knows his multiplication facts the night before, as soon as his teacher turns on the timer, his brain “freezes.” Max’s father is an engineer and always says that “the door to success is locked with a math key”—which only adds to Max’s stress about his inability to finish his timed facts lessons quickly.

A meeting is called, and Max expects the worst. To his surprise, his teachers tell his parents that despite having difficulty with “computation” skills, Max shows an incredible understanding of math concepts. Max is asked to join the math team. The author addresses that there are different levels of math skills and just because a child has difficulty with one skill set, doesn’t mean the child will have difficulty with all. She also addresses the notion of test anxiety and how some children struggle with timed tests. If you have a child who is struggling with memorization of math facts, this book may provide some comfort.

How I Learn: A Kid’s Guide to Learning Disability
Written by Brenda S. Miles and Colleen A. Patterson
Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs
Magination Press, 2015

Honestly, I did not expect to like this book. I typically find these nonfiction guides to learning disabilities to be heavy-handed and depressing. But not this one. This book talks about learning disabilities as learning differences and how that may manifest in a classroom. It discusses how one child may love to write stories, but another child could struggle to get her thoughts on paper—and that both situations are OK! The authors also stress that children with learning differences are usually good at many things, and they should celebrate those things. It has a few strategies and tips that may help parents or teachers, but not so many as to make the book a “how to” guide. This book would be good for a child who wants a nonfiction type of book about his learning difference and may need some bolstering of his self-esteem.

If You’re So Smart, How Come You Can’t Spell Mississippi?
Written by Barbara Esham
Illustrated by Mike Gordon and Carl Gordon
Mainstream Connections, 2008

Once again, another book from The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series. As the mother of a child with a learning disability, I honestly cannot say enough positive things about this whole series of books. In this book, a young girl named Katie asks her father for help with her spelling words. Katie’s dad is “the smartest person” she knows. But when Katie asks her dad for help with her toughest spelling word—Mississippi—he confesses to never having been any good at spelling. He describes how he struggled in elementary school and that his peers teased him. Katie realizes there is a boy in her class who is just like her dad. Katie wonders how her dad is so successful if he can’t spell or read well, and her father explains that many people have dyslexia and are very successful and smart. That causes Katie to rethink her opinion of the boy in her class.

The author portrays a successful adult as someone with a learning disability, giving any child who is reading the book hope that he can overcome whatever difficulty his learning disability is currently causing. I also like that Katie has to examine her own opinion of the boy in her class now that she knows her own father struggles with spelling and reading. This book is a must-read for anyone whose child was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.

Learning disabilities, or differences, are fairly common. However, children with an LD often struggle with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. These books can help open up a conversation and provide positive reassurance to not only the child with the LD but also the parent. I would recommend any of them.


Julia Liu is the daughter of a Solo Mom and has a degree in professional communication. She is the mom to two sons. She has worked in early-childhood education and was the director of a nonprofit private preschool for many years. You can follow her on Twitter at @notaDNB1.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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