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While disabilities provide an additional challenge in the lives of children who are already faced with many obstacles to overcome, they don’t define the entirety of a child’s world. In fact, with the right support, learning to face and overcome those challenges can build stronger and more creative children and adults. This month’s book selections recount stories of how children can thrive in their lives, no matter what disabilities they face.

If You’re So Smart, How Come You Can’t Spell Mississippi
By Barbara Esham, Illustrated by Mike and Carl Gordon

A young girl sitting across father with a puzzled look

Katie is an eight‑year‑old third grader who observes a lot going on around her, including her classmate David, who one day accidentally shoots his lunchbox pudding snack all over the students, and Dad, who can’t help her practice spelling Mississippi for her upcoming test. Dad tells her he had to work extra hard while he was in school and still struggled, especially with spelling because of his dyslexia, which o read and spell. Katie remains perplexed how Dad, who is incredibly smart, could have a hard time reading and learning. He’s just like a classmate of hers, Mark Twingle. But Dad tells Katie some great scientists, doctors and inventors struggled with symptoms of dyslexia too. After researching some of them in her local library, Katie understands how tough and yet determined these great individuals were, and how invaluable empathy and support must have been for them in life. She promises herself to reach out to her classmate Mark.

Barbara Esham authors the Adventures of Every Day Geniuses series, geared at children, parents and educators who wish to explore “ideas and theories behind the definitions of intelligence, creativity, learning and success.” The series has won the Academics’ Choice Smart Book, Parents’ Choice and MOM’S Choice Awards. There is a useful information section on dyslexia at the end. Mike Gordon has illustrated many books, including the popular Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? series. Mike and his son Carl’s humorous illustrations of Katie, her sister and their world will have readers smiling. (Ages 6 and up)

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

A classroom of kids with an anxious student in center frame

In this delightful story, again authored by Barbara Esham, we learn about David Sheldon, the classmate of Katie’s who accidentally shoots his lunchbox pudding snack onto the other students. David, readers learn early on, gets easily distracted at school and doesn’t usually realize his mistakes until after they’ve happened. He incessantly taps and rolls his pencils on the desk, experiments standing on one foot with his eyes closed with his hands on his shoulders hopping in place while waiting in line with other students, and takes apart his kid sister’s bike while trying to test another one of his great ideas, which come to him one after another. After the pudding incident, David’s parents and David himself meet with Mrs. Gorski, David’s exhausted teacher, to try and figure out what they can do to manage David’s wiggle fidgets, which he’s inherited from his dad.

Astoundingly, David comes to the meeting with his parents and Mrs. Gorski with some practical strategies he’s discovered and thought over carefully – strategies that may help him and Mrs. Gorski tackle the wiggle fidgets at school and get him to focus and pay attention. Readers can discover the strategies too and enjoy Mike and Carl Gordon’s hilarious cartoon illustrations of David and his world. As one of the Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series, this book also features a handy explanation section at the end on fidgeting, which at its most severe can be hyperactivity combined with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). (Ages 6 and up)

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Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers!
Written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh

A little boy wearing a super hero costume with mask and cape

Isaac, a young school boy, has Asperger’s Syndrome Disorder (ASD) – a kind of autism. Readers learn that his fantastic brain teems with all kinds of interesting, miscellaneous facts and images that he knows and loves telling people about, though he notes that people don’t sometimes find them as interesting as he does. Bouncing around, particularly on his trampoline, for hours, is preferable for Isaac to running around playing soccer in sticky mud. Being pre‑occupied, he often unintentionally forgets to say hello and be friendly to people he knows, even though he loves and talks to his pets all the time. Certain sounds and lights bother Isaac, and he’s scared to look people in the eye. ASD makes Isaac slightly different, and sometimes subject to name‑calling at school, but he meets challenges with strengths and strategies, day by day, stoically and directly, with support from his family, friends and school.

Melanie Walsh is an author and illustrator of many books for children. She wrote this book in an uplifting tone and simple style to help classmates, friends and relatives understand children with ASD, like Walsh’s own son. The text is written in a wide, easy‑to‑read font. Illustrations of Isaac, his family and others, in various situations, are both simple and expressive, and they are set against backgrounds that won’t distract or sidetrack. (Ages 4‑8)

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How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine
By Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, Illustrated by Giselle Potter

A young child inside a hand built shelter daydreaming of various flowers and animals

Temple Grandin, professor of animal behavior, livestock consultant and advocate, and famous autism spokesperson, grew up folding paper kits, making obstacle courses for her dog, and building lean‑tos with actual hinged doors. She disliked scratchy socks, whistling tea kettles, bright lights, smelly perfumes and hugs, being hypersensitive to stimuli in her environment. To Temple, hugs were extremely uncomfortable, even though she noticed hugs cheered up other kids and were sought‑after. And at school, unlike other students, ordinary noises bothered her immensely. However, she discovers that playground swings and being smooshed under sofa cushions made her feel better, and that horseback riding and building things continued to keep her happy and calm. At the end of one school year, she was sent off to spend the summer on her aunt’s farm in Arizona, where she kept busy and useful, and continued to read about inventors and look after baby goats. One day, while observing a skittish young cow being steered into a squeeze chute to help it stay calm and still during a vet exam, she got inspired to build her own squeeze (hug or deep pressure) machine out of a rusty pulley, sawed planks, string, and old cushions. From that point on, Temple became calmer and less overstimulated. As an adult, she would share her inventions, insights and much more with the world. She now also enjoys hugs.

Amy Guglielmo is an award‑winning painter and printmaker, as well as the writer of Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire with Jacqueline Tourville. She lives in the Adirondacks and teaches high school art. Co‑author Jacqueline Tourville, a public school teacher working with children with autism, has also written Albie’s First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein’s Childhood. Giselle Potter’s illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times and she is also the author and illustrator of Tell Me What to Dream About and This is My Dollhouse. Her paper‑doll like drawings of Temple and her world are endearing and curiously ageless. (Ages 4‑8)

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Antonino’s Impossible Dream
By Tim McGlen, Illustrated by Sophia Touliatou

A boy sitting on a rooftop with a paint palette staring off into a night sky with a giant moon

This is a sweet story about possibility, creativity, empathy and unlikely friendship. Antonino is a lonely, young boy who dreams “large, impossible dreams.” He learns to paint on canvas to capture them, but one recurring dream he cannot seem to paint is his dream called “Friend.” He tries so many times, unsuccessfully, that he throws down his brush and hurls paint everywhere. The following morning, Antonino finds a ball and a wall to bounce it against. Bob! Bob! But then, he hears another sound, Tap‑tap, Tap‑tap, softly and gently. Accompanying it is a young blind girl about his age with a long white and red cane. She asks, nonetheless, what color Antonino’s ball is, and he invites her to play with it along the wall as he had been doing, so she can catch it on her own. The next day, Antonino paints on his canvas outside. Tap‑tap, tap‑tap, and along comes the young blind girl again, having heard Antonino brushing on his canvas. This time, Antonino offers to teach her how to paint. Read the rest of the story to find out what masterpieces they are able to paint together.

Tim McGlen is a Montessori teacher in Florida who enjoys helping all kinds of children discover their potential. This is his first picture book. Greek artist Sophia Touliatou has illustrated many children’s books recognized for merit and awards. Her idiosyncratic pictures of Antonino and the young girl, along with their animal friends, will delight readers, as will the vivid colors and layered sketches.

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