By Alaina Leary
Happy Autism Acceptance Month! Are you looking for published or upcoming books by autistic authors and/or about autistic characters? Here are 15 young adult, middle grade, and picture books that are either already out or are coming out soon. All of these books have been recommended by autistic readers.
To learn more about why We Need Diverse Books and autistic advocates use Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month, read this article.
1. Too Sticky!: Sensory Issues With Autism by Jen Malia, Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (April 1, 2020)
Holly loves doing experiments and learning new things in science class! But when she finds out the next experience is making slime, she’s worried. Slime is made with glue, and glue is sticky. Holly has sensory issues because of her autism and doesn’t like anything sticky! With help from family and her teacher, Holly receives the accommodations and encouragement she needs to give slime a try.
2. Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp (September 15, 2020)
End the game before it ends you.
For five friends, it was supposed to be one last getaway before they went their separate ways—a time to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past 3 years. But they all have their own demons to deal with and they’re all hiding secrets.
Finn hasn’t been able to trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.
And things take a deadly twist when the game turns against them.
3. Rogue by Lyn Miller Lachmann (May 16, 2013)
Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.
When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.
4. The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung (October 6, 2020)
Best friends Matt and Eric are hatching a plan for one big final adventure together before Eric moves away: during the marching band competition at a Giant Amusement Park, they will sneak away to a nearby comics convention and meet their idol—a famous comic creator. Without cell phones. Or transportation. Or permission. Of course, their final adventure together is more than just that—really, it’s a way for the boys to celebrate their friendship, and their honest love and support for one another.
5. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (March 8, 2016)
That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.
Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?
When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?
6. The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas (April 6, 2017)
Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.
Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She’s got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that’s pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn’t make much sense to her any more.
Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it’s up to Grace to fix it on her own.
7. Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit (February 25, 2020)
Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch. And now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch, and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team, the Flying Squirrels. And VJ starts writing back.
8. The Way To Bea by Kat Yeh (September 19, 2017)
Everything in Bea’s world has changed. She’s starting seventh grade newly friendless and facing big changes at home, where she is about to go from only child to big sister. Feeling alone and adrift, and like her words don’t deserve to be seen, Bea takes solace in writing haiku in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot.
But then something incredible happens—someone writes back. And Bea begins to connect with new friends, including a classmate obsessed with a nearby labyrinth and determined to get inside. As she decides where her next path will lead, she just might discover that her words—and herself—have found a new way to belong.
9. Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (May 14, 2019)
Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger—it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.
While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”
10. Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijkamp (September 18, 2018)
This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today’s teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.
The contributing authors are award-winners, bestsellers, and newcomers including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis—and their characters reflect this diversity.
11. Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT Is OK! by Clay Morton and Gail Morton, Illustrated by Alex Merry (October 21, 2015)
Johnny is different. He is never exactly on time, he can’t seem to stick to a routine and he often speaks in cryptic idioms. Johnny is neurotypical, but that’s OK.
A picture book with a difference, Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap turns the tables on common depictions of neurological difference by drolly revealing how people who are not on the autistic spectrum are perceived by those who are. The autistic narrator’s bafflement at his neurotypical friend’s quirks shows that ‘normal’ is simply a matter of perspective.
12. Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J. Pla (September 25, 2018)
Nothing seems to be going right for Sammy today. At school, he got in trouble for kicking a fence, then the cafeteria ran out of pizza for lunch. After he walks home in the pouring rain, he finds his autistic little brother Benji is having a bad day too. On days like this, Benji has a special play-box where he goes to feel cozy and safe. Sammy doesn’t have a special place, and he’s convinced no one cares how he feels or even notices him. But somebody is noticing, and may just have an idea on how to help Sammy feel better.
13. The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde (May 22, 2018)
As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.
Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.
Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?
14. Forever Neverland by Susan Adrian (June 25, 2019)
What if Peter Pan wanted to take you to Neverland? Would you go?
A contemporary sequel to J. M. Barrie’s timeless classic Peter Pan, perfect for kids who loved THE LAND OF STORIES and dream of going to Neverland.
Clover and Fergus are the great-great-grandchildren of Wendy Darling (yes, that Wendy). And now Peter Pan wants to take them to Neverland for the adventure of their lives! But Clover’s a little nervous–she’s supposed to look after her brother. Fergus is autistic, and not everyone makes him feel welcome. What will happen to him in this magical world?
Fergus isn’t nervous at all. To him, Neverland seems like a dream come true! He’s tired of Clover’s constant mothering and wants some independence, like Peter and the Lost Boys have. He wonders, Why can’t the real world be more like Neverland?
Neverland is fun and free, but it’s also dangerous and even scary at times. There are unfamiliar creatures lurking in the shadows and strange sounds coming from the waters. And then the mermaids start to go missing. . . .
15. Can You See Me? by Rebecca Westcott and Libby Scott (May 2, 2019)
Things Tally is dreading about sixth grade:
— Being in classes without her best friends
— New (scratchy) uniforms
— Hiding her autism
Tally isn’t ashamed of being autistic — even if it complicates life sometimes, it’s part of who she is. But this is her first year at Kingswood Academy, and her best friend, Layla, is the only one who knows. And while a lot of other people are uncomfortable around Tally, Layla has never been one of them . . . until now.
Something is different about sixth grade, and Tally now feels like she has to act “normal.” But as Tally hides her true self, she starts to wonder what “normal” means after all and whether fitting in is really what matters most.
Inspired by young coauthor Libby Scott’s own experiences with autism, this is an honest and moving middle-school story of friends, family, and finding one’s place.
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Alaina Leary (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.