10 Great Books to Help Your Dyslexic Child Navigate (and Enjoy!) the Choppy Waters of Reading
For some children, navigating books is like learning to swim in a calm, friendly pool. For others—like my nine-year-old—learning to read is more like being thrown off a boat into the stormy ocean. The sentences are choppy and treacherous: small words disappear, endings shift, and meanings change. Swimming through a single page can be exhausting.
What’s more, school reading culture has become fast and competitive. In past eras, it wasn’t strange for a child to put off reading until seven or eight. Now, children are expected to know their letters before kindergarten and to pull meaning from sentences soon after. Even math now requires reading fluency.
There are many resources for the reading-challenged child and their parents. Tutoring, games, special fonts, and apps are there to support dyslexic readers. But, whatever method you use, it’s important to keep in mind that books and knowledge are fun!
That feeling of success: Mercy Watson
One of the things that can frustrate a child is an inability to reach the end of a book. My nine-year-old has started hundreds of books at home and school, abandoning most after a chapter or two.
The first chapter book he read independently was from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. DiCamillo expertly manages easy books for kids who wouldn’t want to be seen reading picture books. This chapter-book series features a fun-loving, buttered-toast-gulping pig and her human companions. The books are warm and gently funny. Start with: Mercy Watson to the Rescue.
Funny is fantastic: Books by the Fonz
The next series my reading-challenged child read on his own was the Hank Zipzer books. It was co-authored by award-winning writer Lin Oliver and film star Henry Winkler (the “Fonz”), who, like the series’ lead character, has reading challenges. The books have short, satisfying chapters, and my son was delighted to find Hank also has a hard time reading.
Hank may not be top of his class in reading, but he has loads of humor and charm. Also: Some of the books are printed in a font optimized for dyslexic readers. Start with: Day of the Iguana.
Other dyslexic authors: Dog Zombies Rule (For Now)
Like Winkler, author Liz Pichon talks and writes about her struggles with dyslexia, saying her Tom Gates series is just what she’d needed as a child. They’re full of bright illustrations, different fonts, and funny stories—yes, including Dog Zombies Rule (For Now). Excellent Excuses is ripped from Tom’s homework diary. Start with Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff).
The joy of audio books
My older and younger children prefer the joys of printed text, but my reading-challenged son adores audio books. Although this doesn’t help him decode words, it certainly helps keep reading fun.
For me, the key is finding books a child and parent can enjoy together. We’ve both loved Louise Erdrich’s The Porcupine Year and Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy, translated by the multi-award-winning Anthea Bell. Start with: Inkheart audio CD.
Characters they can relate to: Kids with challenges
Rick Riordan's popular Percy Jackson books feature a D+ student who has trouble with reading and focus. These books are often on reading lists for dyslexic kids. But here, they come with a caveat: the books are long, so they may be difficult for children who are exhausted by extended stints of reading.
There are other ways to experience these books. One way is to get the Percy Jackson graphic novels. Another is to “read” them via audio book. Start with: The Complete Percy Jackson audio books.
Sometimes, what my son can’t do on his own, he can do with a little company. We went through the Harry Potter books, for instance, with him reading one page and me reading the next, or the next four, depending on his level of frustration.
For younger children, there is a wonderful series called You Read to Me, I'll Read to You. The first in the series is subtitled Very Short Mother Goose Tales, and they’re by Mary Ann Hoberman, with illustrations by Michael Emberley.
These books are filled with short-short stories arranged on the page like miniature plays, with the child taking one part and the parent another. Start with: You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Mother Goose Tales.
Nonfiction in small bites
Although it may not be to an adult’s taste, the nonfiction snippets in the National Geographic Kids Weird But True! and Guinness Book of World Records series can be fun for kids. They feature lots of fun (or disgusting) images and small bites of text. My kids recommend you start with: Ultimate Weird But True.
Biographies: To read and discuss
For a time, my nine-year-old was fascinated by Steve Jobs. With encouragement from his English teacher, he read the Who Was Steve Jobs biography until he could give a short speech about the Apple co-founder (who apparently really liked apples).
Penguin’s Who Was biographies are written in short chapters and make for good dinner-discussion material. Start with: Who Was Steve Jobs?
Comics, comics, comics!
My nine-year-old doesn’t read every word when he flips through comics, but he certainly does study the images. And while this might not seem to help with reading, learning to “read” and enjoy images is an important part of literacy. Also, as the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity notes, graphic novels offer the dyslexic reader many different cues that help them strengthen general reading skills.
Also, as Jay Stringer writes over at Book Riot, a good comic can shift a dyslexic reader’s appreciation of books.
There are many great graphic novels and comics to choose from: Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series are an excellent start. You can get more suggestions from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Start with: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.
What about Waldo?
Waldo—and the I Spy series—may not have much print or anything akin to a story. But they are printed and bound books, and encourage the tactile enjoyment of flipping through pages and finding wonderful joys within. In the case of my son, it also gives him a book to have in hand when his brothers or friends are reading. For the best value, start with: Where’s Waldo: The Totally Essential Travel Collection.
Two strong dyslexia resources in the UK are Dyslexia Action and Love Reading 4 Kids. In the US, there is dyslexia help through the University of Michigan, and, as mentioned above, the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
Last but not least, you can find more resources for parents here on Bookwitty in Abbey Smithee’s “Helping a Child with Dyslexia.”