Sunday, October 18, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Patricia Polacco

Continuing with my theme of honoring children's authors with dyslexia for Dyslexia Awareness Month, this week I'm excited to discuss author/illustrator Patricia Polacco. Thank You Mr. Falker is her picture book about a girl (the author) who struggles with reading.

See the Classroom Resource Guide for the book published by the International Literacy Association.

The author, Patricia Polacco, did a video interview with Reading Rockets where she discusses her reading challenges and the Teacher Who Changed Everything. Mr. Falker was the first one to realize she had dyslexia and he even paid for her reading therapy out of his own pocket. This short (under two minutes) video is definitely worth sharing with your students.

She created another video discussing her learning challenges and the terrible bullying she endured in school. Her book, Bully, is for children ages 7-10 (grades 2-5). For younger children, ages Prek-3rd grade, she has a brand new book out just this month entitled Sticks and Stones (Simon & Schuster).



Sticks and Stones is about a year in the life of Patricia when she and two friends were bullied in elementary school. It depicts how they found strength in their friendship and in discovering their special talents.

See the video on  Patricia Polacco and Bullying. She talks about her struggles at greater length, the devastating effects of being bullied, and the importance of kindness and acceptance. She states that children with learning disabilities are geniuses. I wondered about that comment at first. Certainly, we can't all be geniuses, but she clarifies this by saying, "We as humans are all gifted, but we don't open our gifts at the same time."

Temple Grandin, the famous animal science professor with autism puts it another way, "The world needs all kinds of minds." Perhaps we all have our own type of genius. 

With that in mind, I will leave you with this thought.

Perhaps our most important job as educators is to help young people discover their unique genius.

See my blog posts on other authors with dyslexia:

Friday, October 9, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Laurie Halse Anderson


I have always admired the work of Laurie Halse Anderson. I met her in person at the American Library Association conference a few years back and discovered that she was warm and personable as well as supremely talented. Her young adult novel, Speak, was groundbreaking in both its content and its style. Her teen novels cover tough topics like sexual assault and eating disorders (see Wintergirls).


In addition to her books for teens grades 7-12, Anderson has also written several well-researched historical books for younger students in grades 5-9 such as her Seeds of America trilogy.


For even younger children, grades 3-7, she created the Vet Volunteer series with a number of books about children saving animals from abuse. The series focuses on five kids who volunteer at a veterinary clinic. Anderson describes the series as Babysitters Club + Animal ER




Anderson actually began by writing picture books. Her first title was Ndito Runs. Her 2008 picture book, Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution involved so much research that in one interview that it took her nearly as long to write the picture book as it takes her to write a novel.



The scope and diversity of her books are impressive, but what is even more intriguing is that Anderson struggled to learn to read. This month on my blog I'm highlighting children's authors with dyslexia in celebration of Dyslexia Awareness Month, so I naturally wanted to include Anderson and her work. 

In a video for Reading Rockets, Anderson talks about receiving extra help early on for reading as well as for speech. In the interview, she tells how she cracked the reading code and became an avid reader but still struggled with grammar and spelling. Her first positive experience with writing was when her second-grade teacher introduced her to haiku. She could choose words for the short-form poem that she knew how to spell and after that experience, she was on a roll. 

I often use haiku with struggling writers. It is a simple, short form that his highly engaging and fun for kids of all ages. Watch for my fall haiku activity coming in November. In the meantime, watch Anderson's interview on Reading Rockets, explore her books, and check out last week's post about Henry Winkler and his Hank Zipzer series.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Henry Winkler

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and I'm raising awareness about children's authors with dyslexia. They are a tremendous inspiration to struggling young writers. My students love reading their stories and watching YouTube interviews with the authors talking about their learning challenges. This week I'm sharing two series by Henry Winkler co-written with Lin Oliver, Executive Director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. 


Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever, is a series of middle-grade novels based on Winkler's own experiences with dyslexia. Hank is smart, resourceful, funny, and creative, but he struggles with the many ways dyslexia can impact everyday life. The series is for grades 3-7, ages 8-12 with a reading Lexile of 610. The Here's Hank series is based on a younger version of the same boy in second grade and is written for ages 6-9 with a Lexile of 540-660. 

In a 2019 NPR Article, Henry Winkler talked about his experiences with dyslexia. The comedian/actor didn't find out that he had dyslexia until he was 31. Like many adults, he discovered that he had a learning disability when he took his son to be tested.

Winkler spent most of his youth being treated like he was stupid or lazy and he felt like an underachiever. He was grounded through much of high school because of his poor school performance. When he discovered that he had a talent for acting, he had difficulty reading scripts impromptu. He used memorization, improvisation, and humor to make it as an actor on the hit TV show Happy Days. One of the hardest challenges for him was the emotional impact of having a learning difference and facing what he described as feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment. He says that he had "no sense of self."

Reading Rockets has a video interview with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver on their website. They also have a video hosted by Henry Winkler called Reading and the Brain about the neuroscience of reading. 

Although Winkler reported feeling stupid for most of his early life and adulthood, he was actually quite intelligent. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University. 

His work reminds me of another author with dyslexia, DAV PILKEY, author of the Dog Man and Captain Underpants series. See my August POST about Dav and his books. Dav's stories are also filled with humor.

On a separate but related note, the International Dyslexia Association will be featuring a 24-hour virtual event on October 17, 2020, called Go Red (Reimagining Education for Dyslexia.) Go to their website for more information.