I’ve taught middle grade students with ADHD and I’m working on a book whose protagonist has it, so of course I am reading all the fiction and nonfiction I can get my hands on that pertain to this subject.  At the bottom of this post I have listed a few books that deal with ADHD and/or Dyslexia, but my hands-down favorite character is Joey Pigza, depicted in four outstanding books by award-winning author, Jack Gantos.

In his first book on the subject, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Gantos creates a painfully realistic, if not slightly exaggerated, pre-pubescent boy in the out-of-control grip of ADHD.  Gantos doesn’t miss a beat portraying the multi-layered factors that are known to set such students up for failure. Joey’s grandmother appears to have passed the ailment on to her son who fled the scene early in Joey’s life and purportedly spends his time self-medicating with alcohol.  Joey’s mother returns after a similar absence in his life and is forced to face her own battle with alcohol when Joey parrots what he is learning in school about moms who drink during pregnancy.

At school Joey is left to fend for himself.  As he put it, “they say I’m wired bad, or wired mad, or wired sad, or wired glad, depending on my mood and what teacher has ended up with me.  But there is no doubt about it, I’m wired.” The mounting list of infractions that Joey incurs at school is indeed painful.  Countless time-outs in the hall, an attempt to sharpen his fingernail in the pencil sharpener, swallowing his key not once, but a second time after it has passed through with the help of cod liver oil, earn Joey numerous visits to the “special-ed” classroom downstairs.  But as the list grows, Gantos makes sure we see the redeeming qualities of compassion and empathy that make Joey likable even to the most frazzled teachers who shudder to hear his signature response, “Can I get back to you on that?” one more time.

Gantos nailed two traits that children with ADHD usually have.  They know when their meds have timed out and they have a genuine desire to please others.  That’s what was happening on Joey’s worst day, when a series of events led to an accident in which he tripped with a pair of sharp scissors and seriously injured the face of a fellow student.  It resulted in suspension and a mandatory six-week stay at a special school where, as luck would have it, Joey finally got proper testing, a meds patch that worked, and a life-changing second chance.

Gantos has created one of the most poignant and realistic depictions of a young person dealing with ADHD that I have read.  You can check his web site in the link above to pick up Joey’s story in the other three books in this series.

Following is a random listing of some of the other great books for kids in which the main character struggles with some form of learning disability (ADHD and/or Dyslexia):

I Wish I Could Fly Like a Bird! by Katherine Denison

Eddie Enough! by Debbie Zimmett

We Can Do It!  by Laura Dwight

Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco

The Hank Zipzer Collection (14 book series)  by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler

Eleven by Patricia Riley Giff

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

The Lightning Thief and others is the series by Rick Riordan

Trapped by Judy Spurr

Author by Helen Lester

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester

The Alphabet War: A Story About Dyslexia by Diane Burton Robb and Gail Piazza

My Name is Brain by Jeanne Betancourt

Two-Minute Drill:  Mike Lupica’s Comeback Kids by Mike Lupica


















  1. You mean I read LIghtening Thief and never realized he was ADHD? And TACKY? Who knew my favorite penguin suffered from a learning disability? I just loved the books…never stopped to think deeply about these characters. I obviously have a bit to learn…

  2. Carol, I think some authors have “announced” it louder than others. Always something to learn. And Jean, I hope you find your “Gotta Read” list. If it’s as long as mine, it shouldn’t be to hard to find!

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