Aiding Challenged Readers
A few months ago I was helping a woman find books for her nine-year-old son. She had a worried look in her eyes, and after several minutes she confessed, “He isn’t reading with his grade level and never wants to read.” I felt sorry for the mother but more so for the young boy; I knew just how he felt. I, too, was a child who read below his grade level, and my love of reading came to me later in life. Dyslexia made reading a chore—not an escape—growing up. But today there are many resources to help a parent coax a reluctant reader into becoming an avid one.
I often recommend what worked best for me when I was young: audiobooks. I received the unabridged Chronicles of Narnia on tape when I was in fourth grade, and I literally wore those tapes out listening to them over and over again. The fact that they were unabridged meant I could read along, and I recommend this option to parents for several reasons. Allowing a child to listen and read along to a book that would normally be too much of a challenge for them can help build confidence. To a young person who is intimidated by books, instilling confidence can be half the battle. This practice also allows kids to read books that are at or even above their reading level, which exposes them to higher-level vocabulary. Both of these things help lay the groundwork for a love of reading.
Too often dismissed as mindless comics, graphic novels can be valuable tools for creating an insatiable reader. Today, more than ever, graphic novels tell complex stories that can rival traditional novels. At their core, both media accomplish the same thing: storytelling. Graphic novels are a less intimidating medium for a challenged reader and will allow them to explore more ambitious narratives. Again, this will build confidence. Taking away their copies of Bones is not going to get them to pick up The Hardy Boys. It’s going to make them reach for a video game.
As with all things, technology is also helping dyslexic readers to not fall behind, and an exciting new development is a font called OpenDyslexic. OpenDyslexic’s characters have been given heavy-weighted bottoms to help prevent readers from inverting or moving letters around on the page. This font is available freely online, and has begun to show up in various apps and ereaders. It is a built-in font for Kobo ereaders, making any one of Kobo’s three million titles available in this font.
It’s almost as hard for a parent watching their son or daughter struggle with reading as it is for the frustrated child. Trying different approaches and being persistent can help the most challenged reader find the magic between the pages. As someone who was diagnosed with dyslexia at age eight and now owns his own bookstore, I promise it is possible. Let children have fun with reading, and reading will become fun for them.
Matthew Norcross and his wife, Jessilyn, have been co-owners of McLean & Eakin Booksellers, in Petoskey, Michigan, since 2010. Matt has served on the board of directors of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) since 2005 and currently serves on the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association.