"The Boy Who Grew Flowers" (also available in French as "Des fleurs pour Angelina"), written by Jen Wojtowicz and illustrated by Steve Adams, just might be the most beautiful of all the Barefoot Books. And I mean that in terms of the illustrations, and also the story. Ms. Wojtowicz has said she drew the inspiration for the tale from her brother, who has autism. Barefoot Books recommends "The Boy Who Grew Flowers" for ages 4-10. I think it takes a somewhat advanced four-year-old to listen to the whole book and grasp the metaphors, so I'd lean towards the higher range personally.
Rink Bowagon is a different type of child from a different type of family. Every full moon, flowers grow from his head. Because of this, and because of his family, his classmates shun him. And while the flowers may have been drawn from the idea of ASD (something different and yet beautiful), they can really be anything. Every child is different in some way, and all children will feel isolated and lonely at times. This is where empathy comes in.
Enter Angelina, a new girl. Everyone likes her, and she, in turn, likes Rink and engages with him. When Rink stays home during the full moon, she misses him.
The school announces a dance, and many boys ask Angelina to go with them, but she turns everyone down. Rink suspects this is because Angelina has one leg that is shorter than the other, which prevents her from dancing, even though she clearly longs to. And so Rink makes her an adaptive pair of shoes. While Rink is crafting the shoes, despite it not being a full moon, flowers sprout from his head, and grow strong and lovely, feeding off his emotions. I deeply I love this, because it can launch a discussion about wheel chairs, tracheotomies, Braille, orthotics, and all the adaptive tools and devices that help people with disabilities function in this world, and how very happy the children (and adults) who receive these tools and devices are. You can encourage your children to become scientists or engineers and get joy from creating truly useful things. (Or you can just read the book. I may be projecting a bit here.)
Angelina is absolutely overjoyed with her shoes, and immediately asks Rink to be her partner at the dance. Rink doesn't know how to dance, but Angelina is able to teach him despite never having danced herself because of all the time she has spend watching her parents.
When Rink shows up to bring her to the dance, flowers are growing from his head. He intends on giving one to Angelina, who habitually wears a flower behind her ear. Angelina, however, discloses that the flower actually grows fresh daily from her own head. And thus Rink--and children hearing this story--learn that sometimes our huge differences are actually present (if to a lesser degree) in others, and aren't so strange after all.
My own flower-growing Atticus, whom I miss with all my heart, loved the pictures in this book. I don't know how much he understood. But I understood, and I hope that we are all raising our own Rinks and Angelinas, who can find the beauty in each other and embrace people who are left out.