I Don’t Like Reading – Lisabeth Emlyn Clark

First Published: 21st August, 2017
Genre: Children’s Contemporary Fiction / Picture Book
Available: Forthcoming

Harry doesn’t like reading, because he finds it difficult. It turns out he’s dyslexic.

I wanted to read this picture book as I’m dyslexic, so I was interested in how it presented that. This is the new edition of the book. The old one has a boy called Lloyd, so they’re easy to tell apart.

There were things that I related to in the book, like the worries about reading out loud, and the difficulty of trying to write things down. I also benefit from tinted backgrounds for reading (yellow/tan is my preference). But some issues meant it didn’t really feel like the story was for dyslexic children. The pacing is one of the issues. Someone struggling to read needs something to hook them very quickly, which doesn’t happen here. The build is slow and is likely to frustrate a child who finds reading difficult. Seeing multiple layers of teachers and specialists may be realistic, but it would have benefited the pacing to go straight to Harry meeting the final one.

The layout also reinforces my feel about the intended audience. Some pages are fine, but some have weird writing where all the fonts are mixed up. The words sometimes overlay pictures and appear in odd places on the page. It looks like an attempt to show non-dyslexic people what reading might be like for dyslexic people, which is not helpful for a dyslexic reader.

Some wording choices gave this the feel of something written by an educational specialist aimed at non-dyslexic parents of dyslexic children. One is referring to dyslexia as having a dyslexic profile, which sounds very clinical. Another was Harry’s comment that he was told “it just means I have to try harder”. It’s not unusual for non-dyslexic adults to tell dyslexic children that they’re lazy and aren’t trying hard enough. I cringed when I hit that part.

There’s a repeated statement about it being okay because dyslexic people can be clever and successful. Harry is said to be a very clever boy. This falls into the idea that disability is great as long as it’s offset by being exceptional. This is not a comfort for the dyslexic child who is not exceptional.

I also would have preferred an ending that showed things improving for Harry, but not looking like a complete solution where he can read with no problems. I was around fourteen before I finally got the hang of spelling. I was in my mid-twenties when I figured out organisation and study skills (a lesser discussed aspect of dyslexia, as it doesn’t impact young children). It was my late twenties before I reached the point of being able to write at a professional level. Today, I still need regular reading breaks and I still hit writing I just can’t process. There does need to be a balance between encouraging dyslexic children that they can learn things and minimising their problems. It’s a long road, and even when we’re great at reading and writing, it doesn’t mean we’re not dyslexic anymore.

This book tries very hard. It’s clear research went into things like how words could look to a dyslexic person and reading strategies. It shows finding things that work for Harry, rather than stating there is one method that works for everyone. But it feels too much like it’s a book aimed at adults who think it’ll be educational, rather than one for children. The layout choices are a dyslexic nightmare, but may also be a struggle for other children who are still learning to read.

[A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes]

2 thoughts on “I Don’t Like Reading – Lisabeth Emlyn Clark

  1. Interesting review. Incase you aren’t aware, the author of the book is also someone who has struggled with dyslexia her entire life and has used her personal experiences during childhood and adulthood as inspiration for the book, but yes she has been advised on the correct terms to use as this is an educational book after all.

    Not everybody is affected by dyslexia the same way, and not every symptom and struggle dyslexia brings can be mentioned in a short picture book for children as I’m sure you understand. In my opinion it is a great tool for educating adults in their childs potential learning difficulties, there is no harm in that. It hardly detracts away from what is essentially a story for children who can and cannot read, and if it helps a 6/7 year old to understand that reading doesn’t have to come easy then then book has done its job.

    An old lady once wept after reading this book as she had been trying to describe her emotions on how reading affected her all her life. Its a shame the book didn’t affect you in a similar way, but like i say dyslexia doesn’t affect everybody the same way. King regards.

    • My issues aren’t that Harry’s experiences are unrealistic, but how they’re presented. I review picture books as picture books, not as inspirational books for adults. As a child, I’d have given up after a couple of pages due to layout and story choices. This is actually a common problem with picture book manuscripts, as many people write them with adults in mind, even though they’re labelled as being for children. Most of those manuscripts never find a publisher for that reason. In this case, the publisher isn’t primarily a children’s fiction publisher, and it shows.

      The author being dyslexic doesn’t change my view on some of the messages in the book. It’s easy to internalise messages that have problems. The pressure to be exceptional and the implication that failure is down to lack of effort are common messages. I grew up believing them too, because they’re the standard messages given to children. It turns out that wasn’t so great.

      It’s not a shame that I didn’t cry. I’m non-neurotypical in other ways too, and strong emotional reactions aren’t my thing. I’m not the reviewer for you if you’re looking for that, but that doesn’t make it a shame that I’m me.

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