Gruffalo Author Julia Donaldson on Children, Reading & Dyslexia

I’m lucky that although my son is dyslexic, he enjoys nothing more than a good bedtime story, and his enthusiasm for reading is inspiring. I love this short piece by The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson. Julia offers tips on how to encourage your child to read, and what not to do if they’re finding things a little difficult. 

‘I think when children struggle with reading, there’s not much point in parents putting the pressure on,’ says Julia Donaldson, bestselling author of The Gruffalo. ‘Carry on enjoying books together, read to them – don’t start forcing them or testing them in any way, because that can make them feel more stressed out. Visit a bookshop or a library, leave a few books around. Another good idea is to get a comic delivered – children love getting a comic through the door with their own name on it. And don’t forget about non-fiction, joke books, books of poems – reading doesn’t have to mean very dense prose.’

Julia really knows her stuff when it comes to promoting reading – highlighting opportunities for children to engage with the written word. The Snake who Came to Stay and Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door are published by specialist publishers Barrington Stoke and are edited and designed to be accessible to youngsters aged 5 – 8 with dyslexia.

As Julia explains, there’s a very real danger of reading becoming more a source of frustration than of pleasure for youngsters who are dyslexic or face other issues affecting their reading. Of course, negative perceptions of reading are not uncommon even among youngsters with no specific reading issue. The flip side of this situation is that there is now a whole industry geared towards ‘selling’ reading. Leading the charge are the many book festivals throughout the UK at which children have the opportunity to come face-to-face with even the most famous authors and be inspired by everything from Samurai sword demos to stand-up comedy. And of course there are armies of librarians across the country who can provide invaluable advice and support to families unsure of where to turn. For festivals in your area check out Literary Festivals and contact your council for info on library services.

Functional reading is important too and you can offer opportunities to practice by building it into other activities. Bake together using a recipe, check the football results on teletext or play a board game like Junior Cranium. Team adults up with children and you will find that children will quite naturally want to take their turn at reading out questions or checking steps in a recipe. Remember to include male relatives in book and reading-related activity to ensure that boys have role-models for reading. Shared passions like sports trivia, World Records and quiz games can be all be great ‘hooks’ to get dads, granddads and uncles involved.

When dyslexic youngsters are ready to start reading solo, look out for high/low books, in which the reading level of the text is matched to a struggling reader’s ability but the content is matched to their actual age. The Barrington Stoke range aims to offer a wide variety of styles and genre to suit a range of tastes. The three things the books all have in common is their dyslexia-friendly design, the calibre of their authors and their commitment to providing a brilliant story that will keep them hooked to the very last page!

By Barrington Stoke

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