Category Archives: Dyslexia

Re-Booting Rainbows

An interviewer once asked Roald Dahl: “How is it, when you’re writing for eight-year-olds, you can catch and hold their attention so completely?” Roald looked surprised at the question. “I am eight-years-old,” he explained.

Or whatever age was called for, apparently.

This ability to adjust so readily to a specific target-group is as handy for a children’s author as it is for a class teacher. After all, whatever our chosen destination, we’ll be arriving there alone if we don’t begin where the kids are.

Not that I envisaged any such problem with my story Rainbow Boots. I’d just been re-reading the Brer Rabbit stories of Joel Chandler Harris and was keen to write a ‘trickster’ story of my own. Already, in fact, an idea was forming in my mind. It would be about a kid called Denzil who’s so desperate to share in the latest craze for fancy, rainbow-coloured leisure boots that he’s prepared to lie, to cheat and even to con his best friend Nadeem to get hold of a pair. Clearly, a task for my long-ago top-junior persona if ever there was one!

What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. Because, for some reason, my long-ago top-junior persona kept slipping the name of Len Shackleton into my mind. Len who, do you ask? Exactly! I’d barely given Len a thought since my fledgling days as a football fan. I’d read at a sitting his autobiography The Crown Prince of Soccer– a great title for a book about a player who was as famous for his jokes, on and off the pitch, as he was for his football skills. It was Len who back-heeled a penalty kick into the corner of the net having sent the goalie the wrong way. It was Len who often used a corner flag to make a return pass to himself and leave an opponent bamboozled. It was Len who once brought a match to a complete stop by putting his foot on the ball while he pretended to check his watch and comb his hair before he casually took a shot at goal (he scored, of course).

Now there was a trickster to reckon with!

Not that Len’s antics impressed everyone. Despite his brilliance, he won only five international caps for his country because “England play at Wembley not The London Palladium” as one of the England selectors snorted.

All lovely stuff for a story, yes. Pity it wasn’t the story I was trying to write. This was about a fashion victim not a celebrity soccer player. Having got all my ducks in a row – the characters, the primary school setting, the pace and shape of the story-line – the last thing I needed was a show-off like Len Shackleton kicking my tale into touch.

Wait, though.

Suddenly, out of the blue, another of Len’s flicks-and-tricks popped into my head. It was a routine trick so eye-catching it became one of his trademarks. When he left the dressing room after a match, he often entertained the fans who were waiting for his autograph by dropping a coin onto his instep, flicking it from one foot to the other, keepsie-upsie style, and finished off by flipping it into the top pocket of his club blazer. What a climax that would make! And what a way to point up the difference between a pair of boots that were strictly for decoration and those that were made for playing.

Hmm…

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Which is how, with a bit of careful re-writing on my part, a Len Shackleton figure,  under a different name, makes a guest appearance in Rainbow Boots after all. For me, it’s a reminder of how mysterious and unpredictable the writing process is. We should never forget that forward planning is fine up to a point. But we must always allow for an enlivening change of direction – not least if it springs from our own childhood experience. Wily old Roald didn’t need a reminder about this. He seems to have known it deep in his bones!

 

Chris Powling’s has written more than sixty books for children, and his new book Rainbow Boots publishes on 7th February.

 

Just Be Yourself

I am a writer. I see the world differently and this causes me to document my experiences. But as a teen growing up in a Caribbean family in Birmingham, I wasn’t always so sure of my identity.

When I went to secondary school, being eager to learn was seen as “acting white”. I listened to Evanescence, Linkin Park and Nickelback. I enjoyed fish and chips and chilli con carne which weren’t exactly Caribbean food. On Saturdays my mum or even my Nan, who lived with us for a short time, would fill a pot with tropical vegetables and meat. They made “Saturday soup,” which was something I didn’t really enjoy and to this day still don’t. At school it was all about Nelly, Ashanti and of course Beyoncé. I was obsessed with Busted and was subsequently devastated when they broke up. My cousin introduced me to manga which I loved.

George, Misfit‘s main character, is mocked for liking different things and in some ways, so was I.

Growing up, I was aware that there were rules about being cool and fitting in that I didn’t understand or couldn’t be bothered to follow. While my family weren’t as harsh as George’s, I was aware of my difference. I was the eldest, but all my younger siblings knew what was “in” and knew how to “act”. I didn’t use many slang words like “rinsed,” “packed” and “blud”. George also finds himself straddling two different worlds. He is at grammar school but finds himself going to the local secondary school. He sees how difficult it is to present yourself in two different environments which is a challenge a lot of young people face.

My three reasons for writing Misfit are….

  • To encourage those “misfits” to be themselves. I questioned why I didn’t fit in for years, now I’m glad I stand out. More than anything, I’m hearing how cool it is to be a geek, or to indulge in alternative entertainment. Suddenly my pastimes are considered interesting. The message of the book is to explore your differences and learn to accept them.
  • To help others accept that different people have different likes and interests, especially when it deviates from your community. Whether the message is that we shouldn’t like reading or rock music because they aren’t part of our culture; we need to accept that our interests can vary.
  • To remind young people that bullying is never ok, regardless of the source. Bullying occurs within George’s family, and freedom came with acceptance. While there are many ways to deal with bullying, you may feel as though you don’t belong for a long time. Something I have found out for myself.

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The message of the book overall is: be yourself.

It isn’t about whether you act the same way as your peers, it’s about finding out who you are and accepting that. It’s about conquering your fears, standing out and being proud of how unique you are. We’re all different and while we might be encouraged to fit in, it strikes me that writing a book counts as standing out.

 

Misfit, Kimberly Redway‘s debut novel, is out now. Part of the Bloomsbury High/Low series, it is ideal for readers aged 11+ with a reading age of 9+.

What Kids are Reading and Why we Commissioned the High/Low Series by Hannah Rolls (Commissioning Editor for Fiction & Poetry at Bloomsbury Education)

I’m always interested to hear more about what books children are reading so I was excited to see the recent release of the 2017 ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report: perfect reading matter for a reading geek like me!

The report looks at the reading habits of over 800,000 primary and secondary school children over the last year and is fascinating to those of us who spend our days trying to figure out how to get children as addicted to books as we are.

One of the things in the report that makes me particularly sad is the list of the most read books by struggling readers. These are children who are reading well below the expected level for their age, but I can’t believe that 9-11 year old children are excited to be reading The Gruffalo (the second most read book by struggling readers in year 5 and the third most read by struggling readers in year 6).  Obviously Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s masterpiece is a modern classic but these are children whose classmates have moved on to Roald Dahl, David Walliams and the Wimpy Kid series.

One of the things I’ve been working on here at Bloomsbury education over the last 18 months or so is improving what we have available for struggling readers so that (I hope) children can find something age appropriate to read, with just the right level of challenge.

The books in our new Bloomsbury High Low series have a higher interest age than their reading age – making them perfect for struggling readers, those with dyslexia and those with English as an additional language. Both the reading age and the interest age are printed on the back next to the barcode to make it really easy to tell who a book is for.

We’ve used tinted paper and a font from a list suggested by the British Dyslexia Association to try and make things a bit easier for children with Irlen syndrome or dyslexia. And we’ve worked with literacy experts from the charity Catch Up to make sure the text is perfectly tailored to suit the needs of struggling readers.

Most importantly, we’ve worked with brilliant authors and illustrators to make these books as engaging as possible – I really hope all children will find something they can get excited about here.

For more information on the Bloomsbury High/Low series and the brilliant new titles please visit http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/education/series/high-low-fiction/

 

100 Ideas for Dyslexia

Shannon Green and Gavin Reid explore the thinking behind splitting the best-selling 100 Ideas on Dyslexia into two books for Primary and Secondary teachers: 

We have been involved in dyslexia and teaching for many years and between us we have experience across the full age range.  For us, it was natural that the popular 100 Ideas book on Dyslexia should be separated into 2 books: 100 Ideas for primary and 100 for secondary.  Both sectors offer significant challenges in meeting the social, emotional and educational needs of young people with dyslexia.  Although some of the strategies are generic across the age range, such as ‘mind maps’ and ‘mnemonics’ and paired and reciprocal reading, there are many other approaches and strategies that are specific to each of the sectors.  It was natural therefore to create this division.

We have introduced a new section in the Primary book on nursery and early years. There is no doubt this is a crucial area as getting it right at this stage can pave the way for more successful interventions later on and a happier outcome for all – children, parents and teachers.

There are specific challenges inherent in secondary school, which often have an achievement and examination focus.  The nature of secondary schools can be off putting for the young person with dyslexia and therefore we have included a section on self-esteem and motivation.  We have also focused on effective learning, which includes strategies that can be used across the whole curriculum. This includes becoming an independent learner and also ideas on study skills, note-taking and revision strategies as well as time management.

Having said that, we also appreciate that secondary schools are very much subject orientated and we have included strategies for English, History, Geography, Maths, Music, Drama and Art, General Science, Biology, Additional language learning, Physical Education and Food Technology and Textiles.    We hope that these ideas will provide insights into how to deal with dyslexia at secondary school while also acting as a springboard to both develop their own ideas and to disseminate information on dyslexia across the whole school.

We have endeavored to incorporate explanations and a rationale for the ideas in this book as we appreciate that the book will be used by experienced practitioners and subject teachers who may have less knowledge of dyslexia.

From our experience, a ‘dip in’ and accessible book is always welcomed by the busy teacher and we hope that will be the case with these two new 100 Ideas books.  We are extremely grateful for the positive feedback we have received in person and through emails from teachers who have found the previous editions of 100 Ideas extremely useful.

Ultimately this helps the teacher, the parents and of course the student him/herself and can make the sometimes challenging ‘educational track’ more accessible and more pleasurable for young people with dyslexia.

 

Progress in dyslexia awareness. Dr. Gavin Reid

portrait_gavin_reidAs it is Dyslexia Awareness Week it is good to reflect on the progress that has taken place in this area. Successive campaigning over a long number of years by groups such as the BDA, Dyslexia Action and the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre has resulted in dyslexia having a voice at all levels – in government, local education authorities and at school level. Some years ago dyslexia was seen very much as a specialism in the UK and therefore intervention was in the hands of a few highly trained and skilled professionals.

Since then there has been a widespread movement towards creating more awareness of dyslexia at all levels. As a result, a greater number of schools now acknowledge that dyslexia is a whole school issue and therefore it has an impact upon staff development.

From my own perspective as a trainer and an author I find that I am now frequently asked to do presentations on dyslexia to the whole staff in a school. Additionally, I find that the attendees at presentations that are organised by regional groups tend to be more diverse than before, demonstrating that clearly more and more professionals from different sectors of education are becoming more aware and more involved in dyslexia. The BDA are also accrediting increasing amounts of quality professional courses in dyslexia.

It is for that reason that books such as 100+ Ideas for Supporting Children with Dyslexia have been successful. Teachers now have a greater awareness of dyslexia, and a clearer understanding of the needs of children with dyslexia. The book provides them with strategies that they can slot into their every day teaching, and they now have the knowledge and understanding to appreciate the rationale behind the ideas.

We (Shannon Green and myself) have taken this further in the new editions of our book, which will be available in a primary version and a secondary version. We feel that these sectors do have different needs and in the secondary edition we have focused on specific approaches for different subjects, as well as general cross-curricular suggestions.
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These books have been very successful and the development of the awareness of dyslexia has certainly helped to pave the way for books such as ours which teachers can pick up, understand the rationale behind the ideas and implement straight away in the classroom. We are eagerly anticipating the publication of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Dyslexia and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Dyslexia next year.

Unravelling dyslexia. Pippa Sweeney

Pippa Sweeney author photoWords Get Knotted – my book about dyslexia was created when three stars became perfectly aligned. Firstly, I discovered that my eldest daughter had dyslexia just after she had completed her secondary education. Secondly, I was just about to start an MA in Authorial Illustration with the aim of writing a children’s book, and lastly (and probably because of the first little star), I had just begun to explore the creative possibility of using muddled wool and knitting as a visual metaphor to express word difficulties.

I soon realised that dyslexia often goes undetected for a number of reasons, for example, children are capable of developing very complex strategies to cover up difficulties and sometimes parents (myself included) unknowingly have dyslexia, and therefore often perceive difficulties as quite ‘normal’. It’s also not just about reading – there is a wide and complex range of difficulties associated with dyslexia.

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My aim was to create a book that would appeal to any and every child and to help word difficulties become detected and understood. I had previously always used black and white line to illustrate so I obviously had to find a fun and colourful medium for the book. I know it sounds corny but I had my ‘eureka moment’ when I discovered needle felting which uses needles to shape muddled, unspun wool and this fitted in beautifully with the wool imagery in the book. Words Get Knotted rapidly developed after this point, and my colourful characters and illustrations began telling their own story and giving advice!

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Words Get Knotted is a really positive book that not only aims to empower a child to understand and articulate his or her own word difficulties, but also offers hope and encouragement for them and their families. Dyslexia difficulties should only be a tiny part of a child’s life, whereas dyslexia strengths can have huge potential if nurtured correctly.

Find out more about Pippa at www.pippasweeney.info

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What is it like to have dyslexia? An interview.

This week it is Dyslexia Awareness Week and the theme this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’. I’m a commissioning editor in the education team here at Bloomsbury and part of my job is creating books for children who struggle with reading. I spend quite a lot of time talking and thinking about what children and teenagers with dyslexia or other reading difficulties might like, what might grab their attention, what makes reading hard for them and what could encourage them to keep trying even though they find it hard.

But I (and I suspect most people who work in publishing) wasn’t one of those children who struggle with reading so I thought that in Dyslexia Awareness Week it might be good to hear from one of those people (instead of me)!

My nephew, Sam, is a typical 10-year-old boy. He has been better than me at all sports since he was about 4, he’ll be taller than I am in a frighteningly short time, and he is one of the kindest people I know. He is also quite severely dyslexic so I asked him some questions about what that’s like for him.

What can you remember when you first found out you were dyslexic?
I struggled at school and so I had a test to see if I was dyslexic. I felt stressed and didn’t know what to think of myself.

What did it make you think or feel?
I was scared that people would notice that I was different, but I got used to it. People don’t worry about it, so neither do I.

Do you think there are some good things about being dyslexic?
It’s hard for me to tell what I get from dyslexia and what is just me. My dyslexia is part of who I am.

Are there things that you find particularly hard at school?
If I’m set a long piece of writing I struggle with my spellings and I struggle when I am under pressure.

What do you think you might like to do when you are a grown up?
When I grow up I would like to be an engineer because I like maths and science or I would also like to play sports professionally.

What are your favourite books and stories?
The Harry Potter series, Diana Wynne Jones’s series about Chrestomanci, and the Percy Jackson books. (Sam’s mum and dad would have read these to him – they are too long and hard for him to manage without support)

My sister (Sam’s mum) told me that it is impossible to tell which of Sam’s many excellent qualities are because of his dyslexia and I think that’s right. As Sam says, “My dyslexia is part of who I am.”

This Dyslexia Awareness Week it is important that we keep in mind the needs of people who have dyslexia. I hope that we can work together to make amazing stories accessible (in whatever form that may need to be) for children and teenagers with dyslexia, as well as making sure teachers have the right training and resources in place to support them. Ultimately, I hope that all young people with dyslexia can grow up to become engineers or sportsmen or whatever else they want to be!

Visit our website to see some of our High/Low fiction for struggling or reluctant readers.