Books for Dyslexic Child Reader: Why the British Do It Better
The other day I was talking to someone about what my library could do to meet the needs of those kids that find it difficult to engage with books, for a variety of reasons. At first we talked about the usual things like large print titles, audiobooks, Playaways, ebooks where you can adjust the background or the font size, etc. But the person I spoke with surprised me entirely when they said, in an off-handed way, “You know, there’s actually a British publisher out there that specializes in publishing books for kids with dyslexia.”
In that moment, gentle reader, I felt a little bubble of my ignorance pop once more. Books for dyslexic readers. I’m an average librarian, but I don’t live in a hole or under a rock. So why is it that I’ve never even thought about how we can make our books more appealing to children that struggle with reading in this way? According to LD Online (a national educational service of WETA-TV, the PBS station in Washington, D.C.) 5 to 15 percent of Americans—that’s 14.5 to 43.5 million children and adults—have dyslexia. That would be a significant chunk of readers. So what can be done to produce books that appeal to them specifically?
The British publisher my colleague alluded to was Barrington Stoke (winner of the Most British Name of a Publisher Ever, in my book). Located in Scotland, they’ve been around for twenty years and have created books that appeal, in large part, due to their physical appearance. They say their books, “use a shapely font that promotes character recognition, and we use a tinted paper that is easier on the eyes.” They also publish original books for kids, creating titles that are, “Expertly edited to ensure unnecessary words don’t hinder comprehension while the text will still challenge the reader.” Interestingly, a lot of the authors they work with are big names. Folks like Siobhan Dowd, Meg Rosoff, Anne Fine, Alexander McCall Smith, Mal Peet, Eoin Colfer, and others. And for those of you wondering how they meet ebook needs, in 2015 they launched Tints, a “dyslexia-friendly reading app that allowed its specially-designed books to be accessed via tablets.”
Are they available in the States? Most of them don’t seem to be. The plot thickens when you learn that in 2011 an announcement was made that Lerner Books would be publishing twelve titles from the Barrington Stoke list. I did some digging but found that the Stoke Books imprint must have died off somewhere around 2013. I could find no books still in print here in the States. More to the point, I was following Lerner pretty closely eight years ago and I don’t recall them ever mentioning this plan. However, I was able to find that the adult graphic novel Alpha: Abidjan to Gard du Nord by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, definitely crossed over, albeit with a different American publisher. I know this because I recently purchased it for my adult graphic novel collection in my library.
All well and good, but let’s address the elephant in the room here. If the British were able to create a publisher that specifically creates high quality books from major authors that are designed for reluctant and dyslexic readers, surely someone here in the States would have done the same. Remember, we’re talking about millions of people that could benefit. Where can they go if they need books? Interestingly, if you search for “books for dyslexic kids” on Google, many of the links that come up will either lead you back to Barrington-Stroke or to other British websites.
What’s even stranger is that while it is not uncommon for some publishers to create books for reluctant readers (in the YA field they’re called Hi–Lo books, sometimes) no publisher that I can find takes the time to make the font or the paper different in any way so that certain readers can process the text with greater ease. This would seem to me to be an obvious publishing choice. Instead, anyone hoping to provide books that are specifically aimed at helping dyslexic young readers will have to order their titles from Scotland.
Folks sometimes ask me if I can name for them some gaps in the marketplace. Usually they’re looking for subject areas (and, nine times out of ten, I’ll say “nonfiction Mexican wrestler books” which have yet to exist for American kids, as far as I can tell) but if ever someone wants to start a new publishing company, take a page out of Barrington Stoke’s book. Or, for that matter, let’s have Barrington Stoke create an American outpost over here. Could be brilliant. Certainly necessary. Worth considering, at the very least.
- Read more about Barrington Stokes in the Guardian article ‘Don’t ask what’s wrong with the reader. What’s wrong with the books?’: writing for readers with dyslexia.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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