Tag Archives: Dyslexia

Soul Mates and an Old Dog

That’s not the title of a book, btw. I was simply thinking how great it is that I have two Barrington Stoke books here; one for girls and one for boys. I know, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical, but in this instance it does seem to me that Lee Weatherly’s Soul Mates is pretty satisfyingly girly, while Bali Rai has written an inspirational story for teenage boys in Old Dog New Tricks. What’s more, it covers the ‘immigrant’ angle too, even though Harvey is no immigrant. He just happens to look like one.

Bali Rai, Old Dog New Tricks

Harvey and his family are sikhs, and when they move into the house next door to old Mick, they soon find out how unpleasant their new neighbour can be. But they are friendly and persistent people, so try really hard to make contact with the lonely old man.

The story provides a good mix of ordinary life for people in Britain, whether sikh or white or black. As Harvey says, if Mick were to close his eyes, he wouldn’t be able to hear that Harvey is a foreigner. Because he isn’t.

I learned something new, too, that if I’m hungry or lonely, I can pop round to my nearest gurdwara for food and company. That sounds most civilised, and I hope Bali hasn’t set an avalanche rolling by introducing this sikh tradition in his book.

L A Weatherly, Soul Mates

Lee’s Soul Mates is about precisely that. Two teenagers who for years have dreamed about each other, despite never having met. They just know the other is their soul mate.

And when Iris and Nate do meet, they realise they have come face to face with their dream person. But not just their soul mate, unfortunately. Their dreams have also had a certain scary aspect to them, and they immediately feel this evil danger closing in on them.

They have to work out who or what it is, and whether they and their love can survive this threat. As I said, very nicely girly and romantic.

Barrington Stoke are on the right track, commissioning stories like these. Everybody deserves to read good stuff.

Tilly’s Promise

Would that going to war as a soldier were as hard for someone with special needs as it is for them to read books about war. But we know from Private Peaceful that this was not the case, and here Linda Newbery gives us her version of WWI and those who should have been allowed not to be sent out at all.

Linda Newbery, Tilly's Promise

Linda has written this dyslexia friendly book for Barrington Stoke, the first one out this year of remembering 1914 and all that came after. Tilly’s Promise is very much a similar story to what Linda has already written about for able readers, and it’s good to see that this can now be made available for others as well.

Tilly and her sweetheart Harry promise to be true to each other as first he goes to war, and then she joins as a nurse. But what it is mainly about is Harry’s enforced promise to look out for Tilly’s ‘simple’ brother Georgie, once he is made to join up as well.

The inspiration for Georgie came from a Siegfred Sassoon poem, and like Linda’s other WWI novels, it’s losely based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

This is of necessity a short book, but all the suffering and the real history of war is in here. I don’t like the need for these remembrance books, but it’s there if you want to find out more. One of the things Tilly learned was that the Germans were the same as the British. No monsters.

(Beautifully embroidered cover by Stewart Easton.)

The Story Machine

It’s enough to make you weep, this book by Tom McLaughlin. The Story Machine is about a boy who isn’t good with letters.

Elliott was good at finding things, however, and one day he comes across a machine without an on/off button, and that doesn’t ‘bleep or buzz.’ (It’s a typewriter, but he doesn’t know that.)

Tom McLaughlin, The Story Machine

By accident he makes it ‘write’ and he realises it must be a machine to make stories with. He makes lots of stories, until one day the machine collapses under the strain. Elliott was very sad, because that’s the end of the story-making.

Until he finds some paint, and works out that the stories came from him, not the machine. And after that there is no stopping him, or his stories.

The book is based on Tom McLaughlin’s own experience as a dyslexic boy, and what children tell him on school visits. It’s important they find out they can make stories all by themselves.


I loved this book! Anthony McGowan has written the most perfect badger book imaginable, and it’s dyslexia friendly. It had been compared to Kes, which alarmed me somewhat, although I did realise it was meant as a compliment.

For a dyslexia friendly story, this is a long book. Sometimes I hesitate to recommend the rather short books to normal readers, simply because the book will be over almost as soon as you’ve begun. This being 130pages – and so very good – I think everyone might want to read it.

Knowing from the blurb that animals would be harmed, I calmed down as soon as I met the old badger in the first chapter. He knew things weren’t going to end well, but he had a job to do and he was courageous. It helped knowing him.

The book also has issues, which is another thing I’m not dead keen on, but this is handled so well that it just makes you happy and satisfied. Nicky (I’m not sure of his age. I’m guessing 13?) has to look out for his brother Kenny who is ‘simple,’ as their dad is in a bad state after their mum left.

Then there are the local teen thugs, with their dogs. And there are the badgers. You can imagine.

But good can come from bad, and it does. I almost cried.

The medalists

There is something special about the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals isn’t there? Being awarded a medal sounds so very right and proper. I often imagine past winners as walking around wearing them.

From now on Levi Pinfold can impress with some metal on his chest, and I’m really pleased for him. I have not read his wonderful looking picture book Black Dog (and why not??), but I will rectify it as speedily as is physically possible. So, no meaningless waffle from me on what I don’t know, but Black Dog certainly looks like a Kate Greenaway Medalist sort of creature.

Levi Pinfold, Black Dog

And – DRUMROLL – Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal for Maggot Moon! I’m particularly happy that she receives it for what I feel is her most outstanding novel, even for someone who specialises in outstanding books. Worth the wait, and all that.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

These Medals are also such decent prizes, since they actually benefit others. I hope Levi and Sally both still have a local library to which they can give their £500 worth of books.
Sally Gardner
And, in a way I don’t want to harp on about Sally’s dyslexia again, but I hope her win today will persuade those in power that they need to change how they think and act in regard to ‘hopeless’ children. I know it’s what Sally will want to talk about in her speech.

‘Sadly’ both winners will have to enjoy today’s ceremony without my ‘help’ but I should have some photos for you later…

Barrington Stoke is 15!

Reading is easy to take for granted. Even though there was a time when I couldn’t read, and even though I remember that my first ‘real’ book (Famous Five) took me a week at age seven, you soon unlearn what went before. So I read. I used to read very fast (at least I thought I did), and now I’m rather slower again, but I read.

And you know that delicious feeling you get when you discover that the book you’re starting on is one of those really special ones, that will – almost – change your life? I suppose I must have felt like that, all those years ago. Realising that my Treasure Island experience could just go on and on.

Rather stupidly, I hadn’t thought too much about what it might be like to be dyslexic and not read, and then to find something like the Barrington Stoke books and find that you can. You are actually reading! Or to be the parent of such a child. Hopefully it is a child. To become an adult and still have nothing you can read seems too sad.

Browsing the booklet about the books Barrington Stoke are planning to publish to celebrate their 15 years of making readers out of people, made even me excited. There is something so satisfying in finding that top authors are writing Barrington Stoke books. If I could, I’d read them all. As it is, I have read two of the January titles, which are both quite mature and quite scary and strangely both about dead people and consequences.

 Andy Stanton, Meg Rosoff, Pete Johnson, Lee Weatherly, Philip Ardagh, Catherine Johnson, Bali Rai, Karen McCombie, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nigel Hinton and Kaye Umansky

Keith Gray has written You Killed Me! which is a marvellous story. Imagine waking up and finding a man at the end of your bed. A man with a hole in his head, accusing you of killing him, and demanding you put things right.

Shivers by Bali Rai features the teen ‘geek’ who suddenly finds he has the hottest girl around for his girlfriend. But she is somewhat unusual, and soon his life turns around, and not for the better. I thought at first the girl might be a vampire, but she’s not…

I’d like for these two books to start someone’s shivers, either when they discover reading for the first time, or as two more great reads following many earlier ones.

(For the ‘normal’ reader the only thing wrong with them is they don’t last long enough. Although I suppose that means it’s easier to read more of them.)

Guthrie and MacBride

This is ‘the real sh*t,’ if you’ll pardon my language. Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride might have written novels suitable for dyslexic adults, but the books are no more simple or childish, let alone tamer, than their longer counterparts.

I had read one crime novel by Allan Guthrie before, which was depressing and gritty. Excellent, but too bleak for my comfort. Stuart MacBride is new to me, apart from playing the part of Sherlock Holmes during Bloody Scotland recently.

Allan Guthrie, Bye Bye Baby

And unlike their female colleagues whose books I reviewed the other day, I suspect Allan and Stuart simply don’t know the meaning of the word light-hearted. As for happy endings; don’t even go there.

Bye Bye Baby, by Allan Guthrie tells the sad and puzzling story about a missing child. We follow the detective whose job it is to find the boy, and how, due to the abnormal nature of the case, he encounters unforeseen difficulties.

I did get one clue correctly, but not the rest. You just know something isn’t right, but which something, and how not right? Trust me, it won’t make you feel good. (At least I trust it won ‘t.)

Stuart MacBride, Sawbones

Now, Sawbones by Stuart MacBride seemed much more streamlined, in a rough American style kind of way. Lots of foul language and lots of killings, but you sort of expected… Well, you shouldn’t.

As the title suggests, it is not for the fainthearted, and thirty years ago I would have stopped halfway. Sawbones is not your typical serial killer with a saw. Nor is one of his victims, the teenage daughter of a New York gangster, a typical victim.

But it won’t be the way you expect. Whatever you expected. There is a certain charm, hidden deep within the violence and gore. Which doesn’t stop me from feeling relief at the civilised length of these two novels. 100 pages of gruesome is about right.

I can truthfully say that dyslexic adults have some great stuff to look forward to. There should be far more books like these, and they should be much more widely known. Whether or not you find reading hard, you have the right to some good sh*t.

Maggot Moon

As a story-teller Sally Gardner is unsurpassed. Her new novel Maggot Moon is as they say ‘something else.’ I like books that look extremely promising for the first few pages, only to notch up the level of promise higher still as you read.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

Set in 1956 Maggot Moon feels as if it could have been written then as well. It fits right in with the classic books we used to read a few decades ago, except we thought they were all depicting a rather terrible future. In Maggot Moon we look back to what was, and it’s real.

Standish Treadwell ‘can’t read, can’t write and isn’t very bright.’ And still Standish is one of the most fantastic heroes I have ever come across. He is no fool, and once he’s found a friend in Hector he is completely fine. Except Hector disappears. The Motherland keeps tabs on what everyone does, and Hector saw something he shouldn’t have.

The Motherland is sending men to the moon, and somehow this seems so wrong that Standish knows he has to do something to stop them. And you don’t need to be able to read and write to do that. Standish has his grandfather and together they are strong and brave.

Maggot Moon is a relatively short book, consisting of many short and easy to read chapters. I am assuming it is meant to be dyslexia friendly, both in the way it is presented, and the way Standish is the perfect dyslexic hero. (The Motherland doesn’t tolerate those who are different.)

It is not in the slightest way childish or simple. Life in the Motherland is cruel and hard, and few people in opposition remain alive and well for any length of time. Standish understands the dangers, and he acts nobly and with tremendous courage.

There is so much love and friendship in this story, making you feel good despite the bleak outlook. Not for the fainthearted, but it’s also a book not to be missed.

I was both sad and furious when it ended.

Reading for all

We have a new decorator at Bookwitch Towers.  As we began talking books, I discovered that he’s dyslexic. I was wanting to offload some of my surplus onto the Junior Decorators, as it were. So I added a few dyslexia friendly books to the pile, just in case.

After the weekend he returned (we have a lot of windows here) and mentioned he had read one of them, and that it was the first book he’d sat down and read right through. That made me very happy, and I began wondering what dyslexic adults read. (The realistic answer will be ‘nothing,’ but I’d prefer it not to be.)

A quick search took me back to Barrington Stoke, who – naturally – also do books for adults. They were equally touched, and sent me some grown-up books to sample.

We hear a lot about children and dyslexia, but I found I couldn’t name a single adult I knew who’s dyslexic, apart from Sally Gardner. And the King of Sweden. And now Mr Decorator. So, once you’re out of school you are ‘free’ to ignore books and reading, and that is a shame.

Anne Perry, Heroes

Because it is Dyslexia Awareness Week, I bring you some great books for adults who don’t normally read.

Ladies first, which takes me to Anne Perry and her short novel Heroes. Set in WWI in the trenches, it’s something as unusual as a whodunnit, with the army chaplain as the detective. Very touching and surprisingly exciting for such a short book. Totally grown up, and excellent in every way.

Helen FitzGerald, Hot Flush

The second lady is Helen FitzGerald, and she’s still a bit scary, but not as much as she was a few weeks ago. Hot Flush tells the story of a middle aged woman with a dreadful husband, and a young Glasgow delinquent, with a fondness for stealing cars. It is both frustrating and fun, as the lives of these two converge in a most unexpected way.

So, two great, small novels that are fully adult. My fondness for short books means that I am a convert for my own sake, as well as on behalf of readers who need something this length to read at all.

Very serendipitous, this painting of windows. And right before Dyslexia Awareness Week, too.

You can read

Two things happened almost at once. I received a bundle of books from Barrington Stoke. And Nicola Morgan pointed out that she was going to have a bit of a dyslexia day today. It seemed as if it was meant.

These books are great! I can’t praise them highly enough! I just hope they will find their way to someone who needs them. That is always the problem, isn’t it? You might not know what your problem is, nor what can be done about it. And then there are people who know and can help. The two just need to meet.

Many parents have had a dyslexia moment. I know I have. You look at your child and think, ‘could he/she be dyslexic?’ And you’re not quite sure how to find out.

As Nicola tells us here, she has a long connection with dyslexia, and has done a lot of good and useful things to help dyslexic children and their parents. But she ran out of time, and had to give most of it up. She wouldn’t have returned to it either, had it not been for Jackie Stewart, whom she sat next to at a dinner recently. (I am very jealous.)

Today she has another blog post about dyslexia, and she will spend the day tweeting about it, and wants the rest of us to help by retweeting. Nicola will point people to an online assessment toolkit, developed by Dyslexia Scotland, but free for all to use. So tell a teacher about it, and hopefully they can help a child.

And then there are those books I mentioned. Barrington Stoke have reissued some older books in a new style, which is even more user friendly (can you say that about fiction?). There are useful, but almost invisible numbers on the back, telling adults what reading age and what interest age they are intended for. All very discreet. And the dyslexia sticker on the cover peels off, leaving no embarrassing clues.

A couple of the books I have here are for younger readers, which you might expect from Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman. Easy to read younger books are less ‘unlikely’ though. What I’m really impressed with are the older books, where the plots are pretty advanced and not in the slightest childish. They are simply easy to read novels for almost anyone.

Nigel Hinton, Until Proven Guilty

There are books by Kevin Brooks and Nigel Hinton, and they definitely look the business. They are books set on the rougher side of life, and apart from their length and layout, they look just like ‘normal’ books. Because they are. Another couple of books I already had are by Chris Wooding and Sam Enthoven, and I’m not sure that I’m not too scared for these kinds of topics.

I mean, how do you fancy a mobile phone that is evil and that you can’t escape from? It might almost make you wish you couldn’t read after all… No, I don’t believe it would. Readers will love these books!