Seeing the World Differently

Published on: 11 October 2012 Author: Alex Strick

Alex Strick writes about an event hosted by BookTrust and Hot Key Books, with author Sally Gardner, to mark Dyslexia Awareness Week.

Maggot Moon

I was thrilled that BookTrust was able to mark Dyslexia Awareness Week by running an event linking up with Hot Key Books.

Seeing the World Differently: A Celebration of Reading and Dyslexia took place at the Free Word Centre and focused on Maggot Moon, a new novel by Sally Gardner.

Maggot Moon was a recent book of the month on our Bookmark site. A hard-hitting yet accessible read, it is set in a dystopian society which does not tolerate difference, and features a protagonist who has dyslexia.

At this special event, Sally Gardner joined Times children's book critic Amanda Craig and myself for a lively discussion about the book, Sally's experiences of dyslexia and how Hot Key Books are using technology to open up conversations about dyslexia.

As well as a reading from Maggot Moon, the audience was treated to a live demonstration of the accompanying multi-touch iBook. This innovative resource provides a highly interactive way of exploring both the book and dyslexia. It is a fascinating resource and one which recognizes that dyslexia manifests itself in many different ways meaning that people's experiences of the condition vary. On the giant screen behind her, Sally was able to bring to life exactly what she personally sees on a page of print – the words bumping into each other and refusing to stand still.

Sally was very open about her own experiences of struggling with reading at school, where she was branded as 'unteachable'. She ended up effectively having to teach herself to read, devouring her first full book (Wuthering Heights, before you ask) at the age of 14.

Given her own childhood experiences, it is unsurprising that Sally is such a fierce campaigner for change. Change both in terms of the way dyslexia is supported in schools, but also the way it is perceived by society as a whole.

Dyslexia is surrounded by some rather unhelpful myths, negative associations and common misconceptions. Children ally but rather the attitudes and assumptions of other people, trying to teach her to read in a way that quite simply didn't work.

Like many people with dyslexia, Sally is a visual learner. She described how she 'has a cinema' inside her head, and told us how very surprised she was to find out one day that not everybody experiences the world in that same very visual way. As she says in our BookTrust interview 'I paint with words, they are my colours.'

It struck me as particularly interesting that Sally didn't actually set out to 'make' Maggot Moon's Standish Treadwell dyslexic. It was rather a case of her first creating the character and then realising (following a prompt from her publisher) that it was pretty likely that he had dyslexia. The fact that Standish (like Sally) is able to see the world differently is a positive asset for him as he stands up to the horrors of the despotic regime of the Motherland.

Whilst Sally says she won't be setting out to feature more dyslexic or disabled heroes as these things cannot be forced or contrived, Amanda, Sally and I were in agreement that children need to be exposed to more positive role models like Standish.

They also need to see how many successful famous people (the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald, Steve Redgrave and Keira Knightley) have grown up with dyslexia.

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