Tag Archives: Dyslexia

Swan Song

I’m the kind of cynical reader who doesn’t automatically swoon because a book has animals and troubled children in it. When I was first told about Gill Lewis I was extremely cautious. Until I gave her a go.

If you haven’t already, please give her a go. She is one of our silent, but strong, authors for children. There are animals. In this case swans, as the title Swan Song hints at. As a vet, Gill knows about animals, and swans, and other birds, who also feature. It shows. There is a lot of knowledge without it being in your face. You kind of get to share that knowledge and feel clever as well.

There is also a troubled boy, Dylan, who has been expelled from his secondary school. He coped with Y7, but in Y8 things got too much and he punched his best friend. So off to Grandad in Wales he goes.

Grandad may not have a television, or internet, but he knows about swans. This being Wales, he also sings. Swans and singing are both good healers for troubled boys. Especially one who is so surprised to learn he can go on Grandad’s bike anywhere he wants. This boy who feels it’s ‘weird not being told what to do, when to do it and where to go’.

This, to my mind, is what’s wrong with today’s parent/teacher generation.

Give them a Grandad with swans any day!

Swan Song is another mature story in easy to read format from Barrington Stoke.

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Alex Wheatle knows how to write about black 12-year-old boys; especially the ones who are secretly in love with the prettiest girl in school, hoping that she will see past all their awkwardness and lack of experience.

Welton finally picks up the courage to ask Carmella out, only to find his day, possibly his whole life, collapsing into a pile of unfortunate mishaps, one after the other. And with a dead mobile phone, how can he contact her? (There’s obviously the actual speaking to her at school, but apart from that.)

It’s slapstick with realism; vomiting over a girl at school (no, not that girl), being threatened by the dangerous boy, running into a brick wall, wondering what to do when your mother’s new boyfriend looks so old he won’t last longer than 15 years.

This is all very general, proving that we are mostly the same on the inside. It’s a book that will show boys that everyone else isn’t necessarily that much better off in the social stakes. You just think that others have no problems. Although, not running into brick walls would obviously be a start.

But what is it with sowing the idea that dentists live in virtual palaces? Better off, yeah. But palaces, not so much.

Still, a great book for boys and girls, with and without dyslexia.

Kidd for kids

Seven Stories in Newcastle, that wonderful place for children’s books and reading, has a new boss. Mairi Kidd is their new CEO, and I can’t think of anyone better suited to the post.

To quote The Bookseller:  ‘Chris Pywell, chair of the Board of Trustees at Seven Stories, said: “In Mairi we have appointed the very best person to lead Seven Stories through a period of exciting sustainable growth. The wealth of her experience is vast and covers all of the main areas of our interest.”‘

I know Mairi mostly from when she was managing director of Barrington Stoke, being responsible for getting so many great authors write a whole lot of fantastic, dyslexia friendly books. And from there Mairi went to Creative Scotland, which meant I still came across her in Edinburgh at most literary events. It’s not everyone I recognise from the back, walking very fast away from me (which is quite understandable).

I hope we’ll still see her around, but if not, Edinburgh’s loss is Newcastle’s gain. Unless we’re all working from home for decades…

World Burn Down

Steve Cole continues telling his readers what the world is like. This time for Barrington Stoke we’re in Brazil, where Carlos lives with his mother, who works to keep the Amazon safe from all illegal developments.

And to stop her, bad people decide to kidnap Carlos, which is how he ends up alone and lost in the burning woods. The question is how he will find a way to safety, and how to stop the bad people from doing the bad things they do.

It turns into a sharp learning curve for Carlos, and he discovers a thing or two. Meanwhile I hope Steve’s young fans learn about the climate, and that what they find in this book – World Burn Down – will put them on the right road and guide their behaviour for the future. If we have a future, that is.

Daisy and the Unknown Warrior

I don’t know why I never thought of it before. Like so many other tourists, I have visited the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. But I took it at face value, not considering what it stands for or how it came to be there. And as someone from a country that wasn’t at war, it somehow didn’t strike me as quite as important.

I am sorry.

Tony Bradman’s short book for Barrington Stoke, Daisy and the Unknown Warrior, tells the story of 11-year-old Daisy, who in autumn 1920 hears about the plans for burying an anonymous soldier at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day. Her father never came back from the war, and the family don’t know where he’s buried. She immediately senses that the unknown warrior is her dad.

She vows to make her way there to see what happens to her father. And it seems that so did thousands of Londoners, to see their lost warrior.

After a while Daisy realises that not only does she feel better for having seen somebody’s coffin given this special treatment, but that this goes for everyone else there too. This Unknown Warrior really is the soldier these people have lost, every one of them.

After the War

The tears started falling right from the start of Tom Palmer’s new book, After the War. I missed The Windermere Children on television in January, so had been looking forward to Tom’s book. To say it’s an enjoyable book would be wrong. It’s very good, as always with Tom, and so important, especially now.

We meet three Jewish, teenage boys, who along with three hundred other children came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945, straight from the concentration camps.

The automatic reaction for the modern reader is how lucky these boys are, and how they must know that things will be OK from now on. But what you tend to overlook is what has been done to them during the war. Yes, we know about the camps and the loss of their families and the general awfulness of everything.

But here the boys are worrying whether they can really trust these people, whether they will really be all right now. Because being transported in large groups to somewhere new, where they are being promised better lives, food, and so on, has been done to them already. And we know what happened then.

When they arrive, the many buildings they see look a bit like the concentration camps. They have to remove their clothes, for obvious reasons, and they are told to wash, and they are deloused, etc. But this too rings a bell for the children. It has all happened before.

On the other hand, they have been given a piece of chocolate, for the first time since before the war. Maybe things will be OK?

To begin with they hoard the food they are given, in case they aren’t fed again. They even steal potato peelings, just in case.

But slowly, slowly, they learn to trust, they stop being hungry, they learn English. In fact, they are allowed lessons, which is something they’ve not been permitted for six years.

This is a beautiful book, telling us about something real. Until quite recently we would have taken this kind and decent behaviour by the British for granted. But whatever our future holds, I am so glad these children were given a future after all they went through in the war. And I hope there was much chocolate for them.

Survival in Space – The Apollo 13 Mission

I’d not realised quite how old I am. Or stopped to consider how young Barrington Stokes publicist Kirstin is. But there is nothing like a 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission to bring these facts home. To her, it’s a historical – and interesting – tale. To me, it’s something I lived through, found fascinating, wrote an essay about at school, and nerded like crazy about.

For me there was nothing boring about the third trip to the Moon, unlike – it seems – many people who felt we’d done the Moon now, so what was special about it? I didn’t even realise this was an optional setting; you just had to be interested in such an interesting thing.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 Barrington Stoke are publishing David Long’s Survival in Space – The Apollo 13 Mission, with lots of excellent illustrations by Stefano Tambellini. It is such a great thing to have a book like this in dyslexia friendly format, and it’s so attractive.

David starts by giving the reader a brief history of how man has always wanted to get off the ground, leading up to the lunar expeditions, starting with Apollo 11, and moving on to Apollo 13. And let me tell you this, his summary of what happened is much better than my essay, and it tells you exactly what you want to know. It’s almost as if he had been there.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a mishap – on April 13th, even, in some parts of the world – and the astronauts had to do heroic things, hoping to return safely to Earth.

Read the book!

Watch the film. I will. Again.

But as I said, read the book.

I mean, if anyone had made this up, as a script for a film, it would all have seemed a bit unreal, wouldn’t it?

Prime reading

It took me a while to work out why the Barrington Stoke edition of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was so thick. OK, around 250 pages isn’t much, except when it comes to dyslexia friendly books we have come to expect half of that. While I’d noticed there wasn’t another author credited with having ‘rewritten/adapted’ the novel, it wasn’t until I began to read that I saw the word ‘unabridged.’

And, well, I approve even more of that. If a novel isn’t too long, or made up of too many difficult words, then it could, and should, be made available in a format that means more people are able to read it.

I still think of my former decorator and his delight in being able to ‘read a whole book.’ While he might not be prime Jean Brodie material, I can see that many other dyslexic adults will be.

So there we have it. If you print it differently, using the right kind of paper, the right kind of colour of paper and print and a typeface that is designed to be easier to read, a book becomes accessible to – perhaps – almost all. Maybe there aren’t the funds to do this with all of literature, but we could have a go to make more friendly books, couldn’t we?

Especially with such gorgeous covers.

Jane Eyre

It was good to revisit Jane Eyre after all these years. Barrington Stoke have just published a dyslexia friendly, short, retelling of the famous Charlotte Brontë novel. Tanya Landman has written a more than creditable short version, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to make such a long novel into a short one; one that actually works. I’m certain it was neither quick nor easy, but the result is a perfect literary summary of an old classic.

Tanya’s version contains most of what I remembered, skipping over one or two sub-plots with just a few paragraphs (which is obviously how one does it) to get on with that which matters. The only major fact missing is Jane’s inheritance, but in the long run it’s not massively important.

She can still marry Mr Rochester and live happily ever after. (I hope this doesn’t count as a spoiler..?)

A classic has to be one of the hardest things to access if reading is difficult. I guess watching the film is the nearest, but won’t give so much flavour of the real deal. That’s what you get in something like this Jane Eyre.

I hope the book will be a happy discovery for many. Jane is still a most interesting heroine.

Very good in 2019

To be perfectly frank with you, I’ve not known what to do. So, yes, it’s the 19th today, and it’s 2019 and my task is to give you some idea of the books I liked the best.

I started the list a couple of weeks ago. But there are simply too many books on it. That’s obviously good, as it indicates there were many books to be enjoyed. And I did.

Many of my favourites are Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia friendly books. This is especially great, meaning there are now loads of grownup books short in length, full on story, and easy for anyone to tackle. So I pondered making 2019 a dyslexia year.

But that would leave others, equally worthy. Some of the best books were part of trilogies or series. That doesn’t make them more, or less, good. Less of a surprise, perhaps, if one already knows their siblings. Should I not mention them?

Perhaps just go for the normal standalones?

Or, you know, make it a long 2019 shortlist? Maybe pick 19 books?

I colour-coded really nicely. Got quite confused when some books seemed to be in more than one category. And – I can hear you say ‘get on with it, witch!’ – then I plumped for three. Three that tingled inside. Me, that is. I went for non-series, and as you can see, only one of the three is part of a series, so that counts more or less as a success.

Wein, McGowan, Gardner

Elizabeth Wein, Anthony McGowan and Sally Gardner. Very good in 2019.