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Dyslexia Awareness Month: What Makes a Book Dyslexia Friendly?

It’s October which means that we are once again in the midst of Dyslexia Awareness Month. I do not have dyslexia myself, but as the parent to a child with dyslexia I am learning a lot and want to be an advocate for her and the 1 in 5 people that have dyslexia. You can find all of our dyselxia posts at the Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard. I also wanted to let you know that I recently had the honor of hosting a panel discussion on dyslexia and libraries as part of the upcoming School Library Journal Summit 2020 which will air on October 24th.

So a question I get asked frequently is this: What types of books should you look for to help a person with dyslexia? And the answer is complicated.

Why Accessibility Matters

We know that 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, but dyslexia is a spectrum learning disability. Not all people experience dyslexia in the same way. For some people, they may reverse letters. Or they may see letters kind of flicker on the page. Or lines may run together. Because dyslexia can look like more than one thing, libraries need to have a wide variety of options for the 1 in 5 people who have dyslexia so that they can find and choose the resource that is right for them. There is not one right answer to this question.

Formats to Consider in Creating a Dyslexia Friendly Library

Audiobooks are an important option that all libraries should make available. Ideally, you should have the book and audiobook available so that those who choose to can read on the page and listen to the book at the same time if they choose to.

Graphic novels are another important option that all libraries should make available. This means having a large enough graphic novel collection that readers can find all of their interests in the GN collection. And you need GNs for all ages and stages of life.

Large Print for all ages is also important. Former TLTer Heather Booth wrote this recent article about large print and equity for Booklist that everyone should check out. Large Print can help dyslexic readers of all ages as the larger font can help readers distinguish letters and they tend to have more white space on the page.

Hi/Lo readers are also a good choice. Hi/Lo readers, like books published by Orca, tend to have shorter paragraphs full of shorter sentences that make up shorter chapters in shorter books. All of this equals easier access for some of our dyslexic patrons.

What Makes a Book Dyslexia Friendly?

In terms of what to look for in a book, I recently attended a webinar in which Lorimer books announced that they had a line of dyslexia friendly books. Here’s a screenshot of the slide they shared highlighting what made their books dyslexic friendly:


The Lorimer Dyslexic Friendly books used Open Dyslexic font which many people with dyslexia find easier to read. It is designed specifically to weight letters in specific ways to help make them easier to read and decode.

Layout and Design

The Lorimer books also use several layout and design elements to help as well. For example, they don’t hyphenate words at the end of a line. The only time they use a hyphen is if it’s grammatically necessary for the word.

The print is left justified, which is another design element that is often recommended to be accessible for dyslexic readers.

They also use wide margins, more spacing and shorter lines and paragraphs.


The Lorimer books use cream colored paper, which can help prevent glare. They also use heavier paper so the pages below don’t bleed into the page being read.

Through research and feedback from readers with dyslexia, these elements have been found to help some readers. But again, there is nothing that works 100% of the time for 100% of the people who have dyslexia. Which is wide a wide variety of formats and options is important to keep our libraries accessible to the 1 in 5 people who have dyslexia.

What Does All of This Mean for Libraries Trying to Serve People with Dyslexia in Intentional Ways?

So what we want to be doing in our libraries, school and public, is have a wide variety of formats and types – including audio books, large print, graphic novels, and hi/lo books – available and easy to find and use for our patrons. We should have the same titles available across the formats so they can be mixed and matched in a way that works best for a particular reader. And keep in mind that although I am talking here specifically about serving our youth with dyslexia, this is true for patrons of all ages and for a large number of disabilities outside of just dyslexia. Making sure our libraries are accessible is an equity issue. We are not equitably serving our entire public if we are not thinking about the ways that we can better make information and books accessible to the 1 in 5 patrons that have dyslexia.

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Tips from an Educator on Helping Students with Dyslexia Succeed

Today for Dyslexia Awareness Month we have an educator and parent to a child with dyslexia who talks with us about adapting assignments to help our students with dyslexia be more successful in school.

I first met AJ at the end of her first grade year. Her mother and I had been dating for nearly three months, and I began coming over once or twice a week after school. Being an educator, I quickly adopted the role of in-house tutor. At the time, AJ had a remarkable teacher who had moved up with her from kindergarten, a teacher who had personally arranged for her mother, a retired teacher, to work one-on-one with AJ when she noticed that AJ was falling behind on reading. It didn’t take long to see several indicators that AJ might have dyslexia, which I shared with her mother. She mentioned that she had also wondered about the possibility that AJ was dyslexic, and that AJ’s father was dyslexic.

Fast forward to fourth grade. I had been trying, and failing, to have AJ’s teachers recommend dyslexia testing for two years. Despite my efforts, and my own experience in education, I was categorically dismissed on the basis that AJ was at or close to the reading level of her peers. Of course, AJ’s second grade teacher was out on maternity leave for more than half the year and hardly worked with AJ on her reading comprehension; AJ’s third grade teacher was so fixated on AJ’s maturity and enthusiasm for learning that she could not recognize AJ’s struggles. 

Finally, thankfully, AJ was assigned to Mrs. B’s fourth grade math class. Unlike previous teachers, Mrs. B had a dyslexic son. Though she was not AJ’s English teacher, she partnered with us to pursue testing, producing evidence of AJ’s struggles and advocating for services. After testing, the diagnostician determined that AJ was not only dyslexic, but that her dyslexia was an impediment to both reading and mathematics skills. We felt vindicated and relieved by the results, and legitimately believed that our daughter would finally get the support she needed to succeed in class.

We were wrong.

AJ’s fourth grade English teacher contacted us to celebrate her “tough-love” method, in which she effectively refused to help AJ because she believed that our daughter relied too heavily on assistance. Her fifth grade math teacher refused to tutor her because, to paraphrase the teacher, other students were doing worse than AJ was and she had to prioritize them ahead of state testing. A few weeks ago, we were forced to call a meeting with her sixth grade teachers, several of whom were again not providing the services afforded her. While the dyslexia specialist continuously acknowledged our suggestions as research-based and our frustrations as warranted, the teachers were dismissive.

Just a week later, AJ informed us that her English teacher had explicitly stated that she had a goal for AJ to leave dyslexia services and end her 504 plan by the end of the year. The teacher in question, Mrs. T, had not discussed this with us, and to date has yet to share with us that she is actively encouraging our daughter to remove a support system specifically put in place to ensure her success. Mrs. T believes that AJ simply needs to work harder and be more independent in order to succeed academically. In the meeting, she made a comment that we have heard often: AJ isn’t struggling in my class. She’s one of my hardest workers.

One of the most pervasive statements AJ’s teachers have made over the years is that AJ exhibits a work ethic that they wish all students had. And therein lies the problem. AJ does work hard, harder than any student I have encountered in my eleven years of teaching. Most nights, she spends three to four hours on homework. We review math problems together, go over presentations, move line by line through essays. Her teachers can’t see her tireless determination to understand. I can.

I can also see her frequent breakdowns. I see her crying when she is confused, see her anxiety rising until the slightest sounds are triggers. I see her asking to stay home when we go to the gym so that she can finish homework, begging not to go with us to the park or to get dinner. AJ is eleven years old and puts in nearly twelve hours of academic work per day. This is the definition of struggle.

Imagine a child who wants to succeed more than she wants to play with her siblings. More than she wants to swim at the gym. More than she wants to eat. Now imagine that she is being praised for this behavior, that she walks into classrooms with teachers who celebrate her diligence and encourage her not to use her resources. It’s heartbreaking.

When I heard that October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, I realized that, prior to AJ’s diagnosis, I had never had a conversation about dyslexia outside a school building. I have never heard of a support group for parents of children with dyslexia, and her doctors have never mentioned her dyslexia during appointments. More alarming is the relative dearth of literature aimed at parents of children with dyslexia. 

How do parents know how to support school-aged children with dyslexia? Where do they get the language? When do they learn about encoding and decoding? How would they recognize the signs of and advocate screenings for dyslexia?

Without my training as an educator, I would be woefully inept at helping AJ with her homework. If, together, we spend hours completing assignments each night, if she succumbs to weekly panic attacks, where would we be without my pedagogical understanding?

To that end, I want to share a few of the strategies that I have urged AJ’s teachers to implement. Hopefully, they better equip parent advocates and encourage educators to reflect on best practices.

Minimize text in assignment descriptions and directions.

One of the things AJ and I spend the most time with is deciphering the tasks she is given and the requirements for those tasks. Use short sentences or bullet points to convey instructions, and explicitly state what is expected of students.

Be targeted and intentional with independent tasks.

Recently, AJ was assigned a series of presentations in her social studies class. The teacher assigned the task through seven text-heavy slides. Students were given a research topic, then directed to several websites where they were to locate information to answer predetermined questions. By the end of the instructions, I had counted no less than seven steps requiring AJ to encode and/or decode information. When I approached the teacher, she informed me that the most important part of the assignment was putting answers to the questions on to preformatted slides. It was unnecessary for AJ to spend an hour reading assignment directions, much less to read and filter large blocks of information on various websites to answer her questions. If the task is rooted in application, AJ would have been best able to demonstrate mastery if she had been presented with a bulleted or reduced list of pertinent details. Instead, she got stuck making inferences about what she was reading, a task that the teacher had not even intended to assess or reinforce.

When differentiating, zero in on the specific skill that you want students to master and center that skill. Look for ways to reduce encoding and decoding tasks that are not being tested so that students can give their full attention to mastering only those skills which you are assessing.

Chunk lengthy assignments into clearly defined, measurable segments.

As my daughter gets older, her school projects become more and more involved. Instead of presentations that take one class period to prepare, AJ is now being assigned projects which require as much as three-to-four weeks of work and numerous elements, from research to graphic organizers to media presentations. These projects likely overwhelm even the most naturally studious children, but they can wreak havoc for kids with dyslexia. What often helps AJ is when we go through a task together, breaking the task down into concrete steps on separate lines. This reduces the clutter sometimes created by paragraphs or blocks of text, and it organizes her thoughts. She also has a clear reference tool to which she can refer from day to day, serving both as a reminder of what she has done and an indicator of her progress toward completing the full assignment. The problem, of course, is that this process can take an entire evening on its own. Teachers can better support dyslexic students by doing this ahead of time, providing students with a clear and manageable trajectory from the outset.

Provide sparsely worded rubrics and/or checklists with assignments.

For students with dyslexia, nothing is more disheartening than pouring effort into an assignment only to learn that they have done it incorrectly. With AJ, the fear of failure is so strong that she often shuts down before even starting assignments. I have learned that much of her anxiety and confusion stems from her not understanding how she is going to be graded, and which aspects of an assignment are most important for her to focus on. She, like many students, is self-critical and a natural over-achiever. Rubrics not only guide her; they help rein her in when she is working far beyond the expectations of the assignment.

Don’t mistake hard work and/or extra work as understanding.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but routinely celebrating students for working harder than their peers, or for exceeding the expectations of an assignment, actually perpetuates a dangerous level of diligence. Students like my daughter seek recognition, and they will push themselves well past exhaustion in an effort to impress the teachers who frequently praise their work. As hard as it has been for me to learn, it’s not a good thing when my students put in additional hours for my class on a regular basis. Public school already dominates the lives of adolescents, making it difficult to pursue healthy and meaningful outlets, sometimes forcing students to choose between livelihood and academic success.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Ronnie K. Stephens ( https://twitter.com/RonnieKStephens ) is a proud dad and lifetime educator. Novelist, essayist, and poet. Neurodivergent. Loudmouth advocate for human rights. ronniekstephens.com

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and I want to take a moment to talk to you about Dyslexia. I have been a librarian for 26 years and I have never heard us talk about dyslexia in libraries. We did not talk about dyslexia in any of my MLS classes, even the ones that focused on youth. We have never talked about it in youth services meetings or at conferences or at any of the places where people who talk about getting youth to read talk about, well, getting youth to read. I think that we – and here I’m using the greater we meaning the library community as a whole, your mileage may vary – have done our community a disservice by failing to talk about dyslexia, how it impacts our youth and how we as libraries are under-serving our communities by not paying enough attention to dyslexia and other learning disabilities. So let’s start working right now to change that.

About 1 in 5 children has dyslexia and mine is one of them. I talk about her here at TLT as Thing 2. There is a lot I wish I had known about trying to raise a reader who has dyslexia and the learning curve has been hard, for her and I both. I had no idea what it meant to be dyslexic, to raise a child with dyslexia, and what the long term impact on our lives would be. I did not know how hard I would have to fight for her. I did not know that everything I thought I knew about raising a reader would turn out to be entirely wrong. We are two years into our journey and this October I’m here to tell you that chances are if you work in a school or public library then you need to better understand dyslexia in order to properly serve the almost 20% of your patrons of all ages that have it, including kids just like mine.

It is only in the past year that my daughter has finally read a complete book and she will be 11 in November. She likes graphic novels (all things Raina Telgemeier), the Here’s Hank books by Henry Winkley and Lin Oliver (which are written specifically with dyslexic kids in mind), the Magic School bus chapter books, and the Black Lagoon series by Thaler. What these books have in common is that they have short sentences, short paragraphs, graphics to help her decipher the text and a lot of white space on the page. There are some specific things to look for in books that can help people with dyslexia read and that includes using a more legible font (sans serif fonts are recommended), providing more spacing between words and line height, having more white space on the page, and having shorter blocks of text. Visually what you want is to create a page that makes it harder for words and letters to run together. This article on 6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users is a really good resource.

Most people think of reversing letters when they think of dyslexia and this is definitely part of it. My child will do things like reverse her bs and ds, which is pretty common. However, dyslexia is about more than just reversing letters because it has more to do with how the brain receives and processes information. For example, when my child reads she has a tendency to skip sentences, which can be common for children with dyslexia. She usually has to use her finger or a ruler to help her read the entire text because everything just blends together. Dyslexia is about processing information and it effects more than just reading. There’s a really good article about that here: https://time.com/4608060/dyslexia-reading-disorder/.

In library land we often talk about “reluctant readers”. Sometimes these kids are reluctant to read because they have dyslexia, and it is important for us to understand that. When children with dyslexia are diagnosed and given proper intervention, they are often taught a unique system of decoding information that involves using a multi-sensory approach. Unfortunately, most schools don’t even begin to diagnose dyslexia until the second or third grade and by the time these children have failed so many times and fallen so far behind that their self-esteem, their interest in school, and their foundations are already damaged. It is vitally important that parents and schools are aware of dyslexia and what it looks like so that intervention can happen early.

We’ve all heard the importance of reading levels and third grade. This information has told us time and time again that children who can’t read on or at level by third grade are less likely to graduate and are more likely to end up in prison. And yet, we don’t even test until 3rd grade in a lot of states. This needs to change if we want to help get kids reading by 3rd grade.

Because the brains of children with dyslexia work differently, the task of reading can make them physically tired. It’s literally draining their energy and it’s important for people who work with kids to understand this. They will often read in short bursts in part because they have problems concentrating, but also in part because the process is just exhausting. Read that again: for many of our youth with dyslexia, reading is quite literally physically exhausting and unenjoyable. But we can help them.

Dyslexia can have such a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem. I have heard my child call herself stupid so many times. What’s worse is I have had to hold her as she cried because the kids at school have called her stupid. Watching your child struggle with dyslexia means watching your child struggle to love herself in a world that is designed to cater to only one type of brain and trying to find ways to help her love herself. It is a great source of stress and heartache for families. Nothing has made my heart ache more then watching my child struggle to be a reader.

When we talk about reluctant readers or kids not liking to read, I’ve learned that it is important to remember that reading isn’t the same for everyone and some of our children have real struggles regarding reading. But with some care and knowledge, we can help them. I am here to tell you that on the whole, school and public libraries have not done enough to educate staff about issues surrounding dyslexia and other learning disabilities. And we have not done enough to be actively engaged in making sure that we provide accessible signage and services to our patrons with dyslexia. I did a quick search and I did not find a lot of libraries who were actively providing and marketing services to patrons with dyslexia. Upper Arlington in Ohio engaged in services to children with dyslexia. IFLA has some great discussion about services to patrons with dyslexia as well.

Today, I am here to ask us all to learn more about dyslexia and to implement specific services to our patrons with dyslexia. During the month of October, I will be posting every week about the topic of dyslexia. I will be sharing book lists. I will be sharing an infographic I have created about how libraries can better serve youth with dyslexia. And I will be talking about specific formats that help youth with dyslexia and discussing why they can help our youth become better readers. Please join me and let’s make our libraries more accessible for our youth with dyslexia. Let’s do our part to help ALL the children in our communities learn to love reading, even the ones with dyslexia. And make no mistake, with the proper support and tools, all people with dyslexia can and do learn to read and many of them even grow to love it.

Additional Information

Here are some infographics that help explain Dyslexia. You’ll note in this link that some of the infographics are about ADHD and that’s because it’s very common for dyslexic kids to also have ADHD. Mine does.

Here are a couple of lists curated by dyslexic organizations of books that help parents understand their child’s dyslexia.

21 Helpful Books About Dyslexia for Parents and Educators

If you would like to read about my journey as a parent to a dyslexic child, I have some blog posts about there here:

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/11/sunday-reflections-being-a-librarian-did-not-prepare-me-for-parenting-a-child-with-dyslexia/

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/04/sunday-reflections-how-misuse-of-the-40-book-challenge-made-my-kid-hate-reading-and-why-how-i-pushed-back/

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/07/collecting-comics-middle-grade-novels-that-a-middle-grade-reader-really-loves/

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/09/sunday-reflections-so-you-want-to-raise-a-reader-i-have-some-tips-for-you/