Finding characters to relate to can help kids with dyslexia get excited about reading. They may also be drawn to books written by authors who, like them, struggle with reading. Here are 11 authors with dyslexia. Your child may want to pick up one of these books once she learns that she and the writer have dyslexia in common!
The well-loved author of the Captain Underpants and Dog Man series doesn’t shy away from talking about his learning and thinking differences. At school visits and book readings, Dav Pilkey is open about his own struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. He says that even when it was difficult for him, reading gave him superpowers.
“I got the power of laughter, I got to travel to crazy new worlds where anything could happen, and my imagination—which is the greatest superpower of all—grew by leaps and bounds,” he says. “But one of the superpowers I am most grateful for receiving is the power of inspiration. These comics and illustrated stories inspired me to make my own comics and stories.”
Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (coming in August 2018)
“Books terrified me,” Henry Winkler recalls of his entire school experience. “They made me nervous. Now I know you can travel to the bottom of the ocean or to outer space or anywhere in between without leaving your armchair and I'm so, so sorry I couldn't read when I was younger.”
Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 31, Winkler started off as a successful actor. He became famous for playing “The Fonz” on Happy Days. He then went on to write the smash-hit series about Hank Zipzer, a boy with dyslexia, with co-author Lin Oliver. To his readers—and to all kids with dyslexia—Winkler says, “Your grades do not define how brilliant you are. Good thinking and a good thought is why you are smart.”
You may be surprised to hear that Octavia Spencer, who’s better known for being an Oscar-winning actress, is an author, too. She also has dyslexia. She published the first of two books in a series for middle-schoolers a few years ago. The Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series is a set of mysteries. “I’m reading today because of Encyclopedia Brown,” Spencer says of the popular mystery books.
Spencer remembers how scared she was in the first or second grade when she had to read aloud in class. “I was paralyzed with fear because I kept inverting words and dropping words. I didn’t want to be made to feel that I was not as smart as the other kids—because I know that I am a smart person.”
For Ahmet Zappa, dyslexia made school isolating. “I felt like I was the only kid in the world who couldn’t do my own work. Reading was just an impossibility and reading out loud was the most embarrassing thing,” he says.
Ahmet left his school in eighth grade to be homeschooled by his parents (including his rock musician father, Frank Zappa). He discovered comic books, which inspired him to write and illustrate his own children’s novel and several additional books for kids and teens.
Carmen Agra Deedy
Carmen Agra Deedy fled Cuba as a child refugee in the 1960s and settled in a small town in Georgia with her family. As she learned to speak English, she struggled with reading and phonics. School soon became a painful experience. Growing up, she recalls, “I never wondered why I understood some people more clearly than others, why some words were more distinct—no more than I wondered what a revolution was.”
Born Sarah, Gardner struggled with the “h” in her name. “My mother had a friend who was an actress called Sally who said, ‘Look, darling, the best thing to do is Sally because the s is like a snake, you have a little a and two long lines and a y to catch it all.’ And I thought, I can do that.” She did, and now her name is well-known for her incredible novels and fairy tales.
It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that Jeanne Betancourt learned the name of the condition, dyslexia, that made spelling and reading so difficult for her as a child.
Betancourt says having dyslexia helped her to become the author of more than 75 children’s books. “When I read or write, I hear every word in my head and I see things three-dimensionally. Hopefully, when people read my work, they pick up the rhythm of my writing and find it appealing—especially dyslexics, since I particularly want to make a connection with them.”
Now the author of nine children’s books and counting, he encourages students to share their struggles with each other. “You should never be afraid to talk about being dyslexic,” McLaughlin says. “In fact, the more I talk about it, the more it feels like I’m getting to know myself a little bit more.”
Patricia Polacco is perhaps best known for her best-selling autobiographical children’s book, Thank You, Mr. Falker. It tells the story of a student with dyslexia who’s touched by the kindness of a special teacher.
The author and illustrator of dozens of stories (including Junkyard Wonders, a follow-up to Thank You, Mr. Falker), Polacco encourages kids with dyslexia to have faith in themselves. “What I’m advising children to do is to realize that they are gifted, that every single kid is, but the human dilemma is we don’t open our gifts at the same time,” she says. “Some of us take much longer to open the gifts, but they’re there—and I promise them the gifts are there.”
Stacey R. Campbell
“Having grown up with dyslexia, I had always been afraid to put my thoughts down on paper,” Stacey R. Campbell writes. “I can’t spell and my punctuation is atrocious, but when your heart tells you to do something you have to follow it.”
And Campbell did. She’s the author of several books for middle-schoolers and young adults, including the thriller-romance series Lakeview and Arrgh!, a pirate adventure.
An award-winning author and illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, Jerry Pinkney struggled with reading and writing as a child. However, he was shielded from much of the teasing that many kids with dyslexia may experience growing up. “There was always someone tucking me under their arm and making the world feel safe and positive,” he recalls.
Pinkney was creative from a young age. He was called the “class artist” and was even allowed to draw on the wall of his bottom bunk at home. That encouragement shaped both his career and his self-esteem. "I truly believe dyslexia made me the achiever I am in my art, and it made me who I am as a person," he says.
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About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Louise Baigelman, MEd is the executive director of Story Shares, which distributes high-quality stories for teen and adult beginning readers.