K Kelly Tills

The Quest for Dyslexia-Friendly Books

Oct 21, 2021

I grew up watching my dyslexic brother struggle with reading. Engraved in my brain forever is the day my mother told me he was dyslexic. She informed me that he had difficulty reading because his brain flipped the letters all around, but that he didn’t have a learning disability, and they knew this because he had a high IQ (It was the eighties, so please be kind when judging that explanation).

Looking back now as a mother myself, I know that she was trying to protect her son from getting teased by his older sister. I suppose it worked, because my take-away from that conversation was that my brother was a unique sort of genius who saw the world backwards.

That image of him had never left me. Even after years of watching him rub his temples from the headaches reading gave him, struggle to get into, and eventually drop out of, college, then later as an adult to work himself to exhaustion preparing for the police academy – not only is he still that kid genius in my mind, but he’s a straight up superhero.

It’s no surprise then, when I recently stumbled across dyslexia-friendly typefaces, I was instantly sold. Using a specific style of text seemed like an obvious choice. But no sooner did I download these fonts did I run into “the controversy.”

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Controversy

Look, for the bulk of my career I worked as a designer, and for designers “font controversy” is an actual thing. For 15 years I managed to steer clear of that drama, and I’m not about to get sucked into it now as a children’s book author.

Indeed, there are several studies that say dyslexic-friendly typefaces offer no benefits over ordinary ones, and other studies that say they do. All of these studies focus on whether the fonts improve error rate, or increase reading speed.

That’s great but correctness and efficiency aren’t everything. What about comfort? Being uncomfortable feels awful. Think about when you walk through the door after a day of wearing ill-fitting shoes. The first thing you do is kick them off and toss them aside, maybe even swearing to never wear them again.

For people with dyslexia, the equivalent is tossing aside their ill-fitting books, and wishing they never had to pick them up again. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened to my brother. Think of all the story time cuddles he missed out on with his son because reading hurts. It’s a downright tragedy.

Different Bodies & Different Brains

I started the Awesome Animals series to gently introduce our little ones to body diversity. Each book features an animal which is missing something that we’re used to having. And not only do they thrive despite that absence, they thrive because of it.

With dyslexic kids, we often focus on the challenges – difficulty reading. But the dyslexic brain has a flip side too. In The Dyslexic Advantage, the authors point out that people with dyslexia are often creative, intuitive and highly successful. It explores the significant advantages of this particular brain configuration – excellent 3D reasoning, an uncanny ability to see the big picture and the natural propensity to spot connections in apparently disparate concepts. All of this is made possible by the same neurological configuration which causes the side effect of making reading tough.

In other words, those creative, intuitive and highly successful individuals aren’t thriving despite their dyslexic brain, they are thriving because of it.

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