Red Squirrels - dyslexia friendly picture books
Published on: 29 May 2014 Author: Mairi Kidd
What do a gang of nasty nits, a trickster pigeon, a school-shirking X-box lover and an escapee wolfman have in common with the late, great Bob Hoskins? They have all done their bit to help dyslexic and struggling adults master reading.
One in six adults in the UK struggle with reading.
When Hoskins died in May, the BBC remembered his contribution to the cause of adult literacy, as the star of 1970s series On the Move. Broadcasting has changed a lot since then, and the idea of an adult basic education show on the BBC at Sunday teatime seems pretty quaint now. More's the pity, because it's an issue which hasn't gone away; the Quick Reads initiative estimates that as many as one in six adults in the UK struggle with reading.
Many of these individuals are dyslexic but attended school before dyslexia was routinely identified. Others missed out on learning 'first time round' for a variety of reasons and have never quite managed to catch up. Some come from language backgrounds other than English and may have learned to read in neither language, or may read in their home language but not in English.
Helping unconfident readers read to their children
At dyslexia specialist publishing company Barrington Stoke, we developed our new Red Squirrel picture books after a conversation with one such adult - a new stepdad who was disappointed that his un-supported dyslexia made it tough for him to read to his kids. He felt the sting particularly keenly due to the perception that picture books in particular should be 'easy' for adults to read.
In fact, this is not always the case. In recent years picture book design has reached new heights of creativity - with attendant reading challenges. It's not uncommon for text to be hand-written, block capitalised or printed white-on-black, to switch style or point size in response to the events of the story, to be super-imposed on a busy background or to eschew standard punctuation and left-right, top-bottom orientation.
Only occasionally will this faze a confident reader - exceptionally busy backgrounds are perhaps the most likely to cause an issue - but individuals with dyslexia or visual perceptive disorders, shaky literacy skills or reading difficulties of any other type can be really thrown. A person who struggles with basic reading skills may feel ashamed and embarrassed and fear being exposed to mockery. This may be result in a professed lack of interest in reading; it can be easier to pretend to dislike an activity rather than admitting we can't do it. This, in turn, can create a cycle of reading reluctance and resistance in the family.
Red Squirrel picture books
The Red Squirrels can be read and enjoyed by any family but the special features will benefit less able readers in particular. The books use a dyslexia-friendly font, adapted line and character spacing and special editorial tweaks to make the text easier to read.
Most importantly of all, the books have fabulous stories for all the family to enjoy together, and brilliant artwork to explore and enjoy - but this is kept clear of the text for a smoother read. We've also steered clear of asking for any great intuitive leaps to be made to create meaning, as individuals with dyslexia or other processing issues can struggle with inference and prediction due to recall issues, and new readers can be unsure of what is required of them in these instances.
That's not to say, of course, that there's not a plethora of extra detail to discuss in the pictures, or extra layers of meaning in the texts for those who wish to explore these further. Quite the opposite is true - Michael Morpurgo's All I Said Was, for example, has a powerful message about books and the imagination.