The UE Book Club – Learning and Social Difficulties


For January, Upper Elementary students are reading books with first person narratives from the perspectives of children with learning and social difficulties for the UE Book Club. The books address issues of disability, accessibility, alienation and inclusion. Colleen Deibel, UE Special Assistant describes common themes in this month’s selections as “embracing our differences, recognizing our strengths and having compassion for each other.” The students chose from the list of novels below, each of them a great option for exploring empathy and redefining “normal.” For more books the address these issues, check out the list at the end of this post.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass is a coming-of-age novel about 13-year-old Mia, a girl with synesthesia, an intermingling of the senses. Mia sees numbers, letters and sounds as colors and she’s been keeping it a secret since she was teased about it in third grade. When her condition causes her to struggle in middle school, she tells her parents and they take her to a specialist. With a  proper diagnosis, Mia is able to research synesthesia and connect with other people who have it. As she learns more about her condition, her life also begins to unfold in other ways. She loses her grandfather, is betrayed by her best friend, finds a new, unexpected friend in a classmate and her beloved cat, Mango, dies. In the end, Mia learns to turn to the people who support her and to accept herself.

In Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, we meet Rose, an 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome who finds comfort in homonyms and prime numbers. Rose lives with her father, who has little patience for her, and her dog, Rain (Reign). With the exception of Rain and sometimes her uncle, no one at school or home seems to understand Rose, or even to want to understand her. She finds comfort in Rain, who provides much-needed routine, as well as unconditional love. When Rain is lost in a hurricane and ultimately rescued by an animal shelter, Rose’s life takes a turn. Her choices and the choices of her uncle and father change her life forever and, ultimately, lead to a fresh start for Rose.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt tells the story of sixth-grader Ally, who is artistically and mathematically talented and who struggles with reading and writing. She has trouble in school, struggles socially and avoids reading and writing at all costs. While Ally’s family loves her, they often have to relocate and are not equipped to support her learning difficulties. When Ally lands in a school with a teacher who senses she might have dyslexia, Ally’s life changes. She thrives with her teacher’s confidence in her, finds friends who face their own social challenges, learns to believe in herself and even inspires her older brother to face his own struggles with reading.

Mason Buttle is a kind, sincere and optimistic 12-year-old boy who is also bullied for being unusually large with a sweat-gland disorder, who has dyslexia and who has lost many of the most important people in his life, including his best friend, Benny, whose body was found in Mason’s family’s orchard. Mason grieves for his friend while also being suspected of having something to do with his death. Mason and his new friend Calvin are relentlessly, cruelly bullied but they stick together. Then, Calvin goes missing. Mason is again a suspect but, armed with honesty, he works to solve the mystery of Calvin’s disappearance and Benny’s death. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle is, in the end, a story about the triumph of loyalty, sincerity and kindness.

More book recommendations:

A Boy Named Bat by Elana K. Arnold

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Rules by Cynthia Lord

13 Books Featuring Characters with Learning Disabilities

Books with Characters Who Have Learning and Attention Issues