Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Books for kids with special needs: what's encouraging Max to read

Choosing books for children with special needs can be tricky. I've found it hard to know what the right level of book is for Max—it can't be too wordy, but board books are too baby-ish. Lately he's into Thomas the Tank Engine, the reading of which makes me feel like banging my head against the wall. Supermarket sales circulars are more fascinating.

On occasion, I've been able to engage Max with Dr. Seuss books like Hop On Pop, because he's into rhymes. Then he started bringing home these 6-inch books from school. They're Sunshine Books, which come from Australia and are sold to schools across the world. The author, Joy Cowley, started writing in the mid-'60s, when one of her sons had difficulty learning to read. She has since written more than 600 titles. Whoa.

At bedtime, Max wanted Thomas the Tank, but I pulled out Up in a Tree and insisted. Max stared at the cover. "Up," he said, clearly. I pointed to the next word: "In," he said. And the next letter: "A" said Max. And the last word: "[Garbled something]," said Max. I made him repeat it; he has a heck of a time saying hard consonants like "t" and "c." But, indeed, he was saying "Tree."

Max had just read the title of the book. I was so ecstatic, I could have levitated off the bed. I gave him a big high five and boomed, "Great job reading, Max!" and he had the most gigantic grin on his face.

We read the book. The sentences are short, the words are in large type, repetitious and rhyming: "Up in a tree, what do I see? I see a bird, and it sees me. Up in a tree, what do I see? I see a dog, and it sees me. Up in a tree, what do I see? I see Mother...and she sees me." That's the entire book, quite the thriller.

Max identified the words "do," "see," "me" and "dog." Whoa.

I tell you this not just because I am ecstatic (which I am) or because I'm so proud of Max (well, yeah). I'm telling it to you because it's a lesson learned: Years ago, this was one of those things I wasn't sure would ever happen. Max? Reading?

YES, he is reading. YES, my boy will be a reader.

And once again I am pleased to say, to hell with you, doomsaying doctors who told me the worst and who made me doubt my child's capabilities. Max just keeps proving you wrong.

I'm writing the book on that one: Doctors Definitely Don't Know Everything About Your Child...And That's A GOOD Thing

I'm sure you know what I mean.

Which books interest your child lately?  


  1. My son loves to be read too but would whine and moan when asked to read for himself. I have recently started finding books on humor, which he sort of liked, and then he checked out Calvin & Hobbes from the school library and has been reading for 30 minutes at a time!

    It is a truly amazing thing to see him turned on to reading finally. Glad to see that Max is coming along as well. :)

  2. Will look for these titles. T has really good sight reading and some decoding skills, but my worry is that his comprehension lags way behind and that he has no sense of narrative.

    He's revisiting his old favorites and also loves his picture dictionaries now.

  3. I think you should write the book "Doctors Definitely Don't Know Everything About Your Child" and it should be handed out upon NICU discharge. It's amazing what these kids can do! Go Max!

  4. Congratulations! I am so, so happy for you!

    We did quite well with the Dr. Suess books too, because of the rhythms. Some of the simpler ones have very few words per book. Also, there are a few volumes of Dr. Suess books on CD. He would listen to them in the car, and look at the books, which helped.

  5. GOOOOO MAX!!!! Reading! Thats a huge skill.
    Thanks for sharing also, Im going to try to find that book, Ryans a long way from reading but we are in the same quandry with books, board books too babyish and next step up is too wordy and he looses interest.

  6. Way to go Max! So exciting! We are still in the board book stage since my daughter is only 3. She loves to look at books and is always fascinated with the words (sometimes moreso than the pictures). I take that as a good sign that she will be interested in reading as she gets older. : )

  7. Luke is beyond picture books. At school he will sit intently for 20-minutes when his gen ed or sped teacher is reading a chapter book. By the end of the day he has no patience for me to read to him or I just don't pick the right books. We don't know if he can read or not (I think he can) -- but they are using the ALL program at school to teach him :-)

    Tumble Books is a good on-line resource. My 10-year-old typical has enjoyed this since 1st grade.

  8. Way to go, Max! Glad to hear that you're becoming a reader. Books are awesome! I don't think it matters what kids/adults read as long as they're reading. Some of the best things I've read in my adult life were young adult novels! And I don't care what people say - they're great books!

    Maybe I can write some rhyming stuff for you sometime. It would be fun! Plus, I have a friend who writes rhyming poems and is inspired by Dr. Seuss.

  9. Trish: Calvin + Hobbes? Love it! Your son has excellent taste in reading material.

    Afloat: Books on CD are a great idea!

    Vickie and Marie Clare: These books are usually sold to schools, but copies exist online...often at inflated prices (some jerk was selling this for 80 on Amazon). I found a copy for 8 via, a site that does price comparisons for you. I wonder if libraries ever get these?

    Sabrina (you know I love that name): rhyme away!

    Janet #1: I will check out Tumble Books.

    And Janet #2, we can ALL write that book!

  10. WAY TO GO, MAX!!! It is so wonderful that he is reading. Reading opens up a whole new world. Phooey on the docs who said he wouldn't read! What a wonderful moment for you too, Ellen.
    Sarah O.
    Mom to Abby, Caitlin and Mimi

  11. Very exciting for you - congratulations. Lately, my son Eliot has really been enjoying When You Are Happy - great pics and a lovely cadence to the language. He really loves it.

  12. Thanks for the book suggestions Ellen! I am always looking for books for the boys as well! My boys love, love the Sandra Boynton books - especially The Barnyard Dance (mostly because I do all the actions and I am sure look a little ridiculous doing them) and also The Belly Button Book.

    I also wanted to say that doctors definitely do NOT know everything about our kids. According to the doctors my one son was supposed to be in a wheelchair and non-verbal. He turned 2 today and is walking and has over 100 words. Take that Dr. Doomsday!

  13. I am soooo proud of Max! That's fantastic that he is reading. Try the BOB Books series. It comes in a box and you can get it at Barnes and Nobles, etc. They are great for early readers but they are probably even less fascinating than Thomas the Train! I think Max would like it, though, bc he will recognize some of the words and start to sound out the others. Make sure you start with Box #1. GOOD LUCK! GO MAX!!!!

  14. Can anyone give tips on what to put into an IEP for a boy who will be going into high school and is behind in reading and spelling is a big problem. PT and OT once again want to cut all services and they claim they cant teach him anymore? Any help, resources, or people that would advocate would be greatly appreciated!

  15. Better late than never, Ellen. A link to your great book find for kids learning to read just went up at

    As a former teacher, I totally agree with your assessment of Cowley's books. There's lots of teacher jargon (like creating a scaffolding, supporting the reader, giving the reader a hook) to explain why her books work so well for emerging readers. Thanks for sharing your aha moment with other parents.



Thanks for sharing!

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