TOP TEN READ-ALOUD BOOKS FOR STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS by Aimee Owens
Special needs students can be a tough crowd during read-aloud time. If the book doesn’t hold their interest, you can find yourself reading to…yourself. Sometimes you look up from the book you’re reading and see eyes on anything BUT what you are reading.
I think a lot of special education teachers abandon read-alouds because they feel that their students aren’t interested (and no one wants to read a book aloud with no one paying attention). We know that teacher read-alouds are important to model fluency and develop a love of reading for our general education students. I promise you it’s possible to achieve this with special needs students as well. There are only two things you need to do: pick engaging texts and don’t be afraid to get loud and silly when you read.
The following ten children’s books are tried and tested by me, special educator extraordinaire (not to mention my K-5 students with autism). I promise there will be smiles and laughter (or at the very least, their eyes will be on the book). These books are all fiction, but it is my current quest to find quality non-fiction that isn’t too wordy.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
I didn’t have high hopes for this book…I didn’t think my students would like it. THEY LOVED IT. It’s all in how you read it. Facial expression, gestures, and volume make this book so fun.
We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is magic. His simple drawings and sparse text elicit the most raucous laughter from my students. I have found beginning readers (even those with severe autism) picking up these books in the class library and reading them aloud.
The Mine-o-Saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and David Clark
A great story about how not sharing equals no friends. It may be hard to find, but it’s worth it. Plus, dinosaurs!
I Was So Mad by Mercer Mayer
This is good for shared reading. My students like to read along to the repetitive “I was just so mad!” It’s fun to make mad faces too.
I’m Dirty by Kate and Jim McMullan
A garbage truck tells it like it is and there is an A-Z list of the gross things he eats up during the work day. All of my students are boys and this is what I use as a gateway book to getting them interested in reading.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex
I bought this because Neil Gaiman. It was a pleasant surprise when I realized it’s a perfect read-aloud. Chu the panda goes “ah-choo” a lot, which is always a hit.
Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
This isn’t my favorite book, to be honest. But when the vet reaches deep, deep, deep, deep down in George the dog to find out why he’s not barking, children are loving it.
You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown
Lucille the Bear really wants a friend, but she freaks out all the animals she wants to befriend. I like this for social skills.
Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky
All of my students love alphabet themed books. ALL.OF.THEM. This one is particularly fun. I read the moose’s parts in a whiny voice because really, it isn’t fair that ‘M’ isn’t for moose.
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! By Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee
This one only works if you sing the words. There’s a book in this series for every season and holiday and they lend themselves so easily to props.
Aimee Owens has taught special education for seven years. She teaches children with autism and behavioral issues in a self-contained setting at Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, IA. A lifelong reader, Aimee is passionate about sharing her love for reading with her students. If she could do read-alouds all day long, she most definitely would.
THANK YOU for calling attention to the need for all students to have read-aloud time. One on one reading can often work well for students who do not enjoy a group reading experience. FWIW, my son loves seeing a fiction title paired with a non-fiction, related book, especially one illustrated by full color photographs. Since many of your titles feature animal protagonists, this would be a snap!
Aimee, just chiming in to say I am so grateful for people like you, who have the skills, patience, and energy to do important work in the world. I hope you’ll always get to refuel when you need to. You are appreciated!
Thank you for this topic. Read alouds are just as critical for middle school and high school students, especially when the texts are so far above their reading levels. I’ve worked with both groups as an SLP. Read alouds are important for the required texts in English as well as the young adult novels they are exposed to in reading class.
Thank so much! Another book that holds their attention is Beware of the Frog by William Bee.
Some very good books on the list of Read-Alouds. However, instead of calling these students “special needs” students, how about referring to them as “students WITH special needs”. They are students first.
Thank you for compiling a list for anyone who is need of social books for their children. Time to browse and shop are luxuries. I will pass it along. Autism month is fast approaching and quick resources are the best gifts for any parent who has a child with special needs.
I’ve read some of those books and they are really good! Great list! 😀
Enjoyed your post. You mentioned you’d like to find a great nonfiction book that’s not too wordy. Try Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.
Thanks so much – I’m a first year school librarian with no special ed experience, so all suggestions are welcome! I recently read ‘Bark George’ with a grade 2-3 special needs class, and it was definitely a hit – they all wanted to check it out afterward. My pre-K autistic students are the biggest challenge, but each week they’re doing better at listening. Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn has been one of the best choices I’ve found for them. Thanks again for this round-up!
Many teachers will connect with this: ” If the book doesn’t hold their interest, you can find yourself reading to…yourself.” Thanks for spreading the message that book selection and knowing your students’ interests is critical, especially for students with special needs!
Incredible Ned is another great read aloud for kids who do things differently.
Jim and I are so happy to be a part of your list! I think that the read-aloud book kids like is I STINK! not I’M DIRTY! The copy has it right.
I enjoyed and agreed with your post about the power of Read Alouds for Special Needs students. Modeling a love of reading is so important, as is the power of hearing a book read aloud with expression and meaning.
You wrote that “it is my current quest to find quality non-fiction that isn’t too wordy.” So I am writing to be sure that you know that your school, Findley Elementary in Des Moines IA, has access to our StarWalk Kids eBook collection through your Mackin VIA subscription —- and we have outstanding nonfiction that is read aloud by talented professional actors.
Here are suggestions for 15 beautifully illustrated, compelling nonfiction read alouds that I would suggest you try with your Special Needs students. A number of them have question and answer, “play along” formats that are particularly well-suited to reading aloud.
1. 64 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT DANGEROUS ANIMALS by Seymour Simon
2. HIGH IN THE TREES by Neecy Twinem
3. THIS BIG SKY by Pat Mora
4. DOWN, DOWN, DOWN IN THE OCEAN by Sandra Markle
5. A MOON FOR SEASONS by Ann Turner
6. SEYMOUR SIMON’S COLORS IN NATURE
7. SEA WATCH by Jane Yolen
8. WHEELS AROUND by Shelley Rotner
9. GREAT BIG GUINEA PIGS by Susan L. Roth
10. MALALA YOUSAFZAI: WARRIOR WITH WORDS by Karen Leggett Abouraya
11. A PINKY IS A BABY MOUSE by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Diane deGroat
12. MORE FUN FACTS ABOUT PETS by Seymour Simon
13. THE WONDROUS WHIRLIGIG: THE WRIGHT BROTHERS’ FIRST FLYING MACHINE by Andrew Glass
14. FREEDOM RIVER by Doreen Rappaport
15. ANIMAL FACT ANIMAL FABLE by Seymour Simon and Diane deGroat
If you have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, these eBooks are optimized for that format where everyone can see. Or, they will work on a desktop, laptop computer or tablet. You can choose the “Let Me Read” option if you want to read them yourself, or you can choose “Read to Me” if you would like to hear the professionally recorded narration.
I hope that your students enjoy these exciting and enjoyable nonfiction books! True stories are important, too… and often they are particularly attractive to struggling readers.
Just want to say “Thank you!!” for this list. I am an elementary school librarian, and I read to TK-3rd grade classes, in addition to autistic and students with special needs classes. I am making sure I have every book in your Top Ten list!
Hi Aimee! Thanks for this list! Any thoughts on books for high school students with special needs?
Thanks for this list!