Actor and author Henry Winkler has a message for parents of kids with and other learning and thinking differences to pass along to their child.
That message is: “You are all powerful. Every one of you. Even though school might be difficult, school does not define us. You all have wonderful and smart thoughts, therefore you are all smart.”
Winkler is on the road again, promoting his newest book for kids. Fake Snakes and Weird Wizards features Hank Zipzer, a kid with dyslexia, as its hero, Winkler said in an interview with NBC’s Today show host, Matt Lauer. And it’s part of Winkler and co-author Lin Oliver’s mission to show kids how important reading is.
Winkler is best known to many as “The Fonz,” a role he made famous in the 1970s TV series Happy Days. But for more than a decade, he’s been an active advocate for people with dyslexia. And, with Oliver, he’s been writing kids’ books featuring the smart, funny Hank Zipzer.
There are 17 books in the original Hank Zipzer series. But the latest book is part of the follow-up Here’s Hank series of books for younger readers. These books take place before Hank was diagnosed. In the latest book, Hank is in second grade and much to his surprise, he realizes he wants to help his sister have a good birthday party.
Winkler’s new book is the first published in the U.S. to use the Dyslexie font, he said to Lauer. This special font is meant to be easier for people with dyslexia to read. (At present, though, there’s no clear scientific evidence that special fonts like Dyslexie do make reading easier.)
Winkler’s goal is to encourage all kids to read. But he knows the challenges of dyslexia firsthand. Winkler didn’t find out he had dyslexia until age 31. That was the point when his son, Jed, was diagnosed. During that process Winkler realized that he’d had similar learning challenges.
But Winkler says he did not get much support as a student. “I was only told I would never achieve,” he told Lauer. Winkler proved the naysayers wrong.
He finished high school, graduated from Emerson College and received his master of fine arts degree from the Yale School of Drama. He’s had a successful career as a comedian, actor, director and writer. And he’s been a big inspiration for kids with dyslexia.
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for