Happy Wednesday, Book Dragons!
This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week, I’m really excited to be a part of the blog tour for Storm Horse by Jane Elson! I love the sound of this one and will definitely be reading it asap. I have a guest post written by Jane to share with you today, I hope you enjoy it!
Read to the Animals for They Will Not Judge
Reading out loud in public creates volcanoes of emotion and rivers of bubbling fear in so many people, not just those with dyslexia.
We feel judged. We are worried what people will say or think of us.
Reading dogs in schools are a huge success. Being around dogs relaxes people for a start. The dog will not judge you if you read a word wrong, it just wants to hear your voice and loves to get the attention. My long-suffering guinea-pig Tinker and rabbit Flopsy put up with me performing my drama pieces to them for years when I was a child, when reading dogs were not a thing. I am so glad they are now.
But it’s not just dogs that like being read to. Before I was a published author, I fostered a blind ginger cat with wobbly legs from Cats Protection. Because of his disability, my speaking voice was his whole world and he would sit with me for hours as I read chapters from the manuscript of what became my debut novel A Room Full of Chocolate. It calmed him and it calmed me. I then adopted a retired alley cat with cauliflower ears and one eye from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust. His name was Larry and he would stakeout in his various dens around my home. However he had special steps up to the sofa because of his arthritis and wherever he was, the minute I opened the laptop on my knees, he would come out of his den, march up the steps and plonk himself in front of the screen and nuzzle his nose into my hand as I read chapters out loud. I think he felt it was his duty to assist me. I miss him so much.
There’s a chapter in Storm Horse where the Secret Horse Society (A.K.A. the Silver Reading Group – or ‘reluctant reading group’ – at Heath Academy) are practising for their reading challenge and break down one by one. Writing this chapter was very important to me. There is nothing in that chapter that I haven’t witnessed at some time in my career, teaching drama and mentoring young dyslexic people.
Miss Darwin’s wise words, ‘If you sound confident you will feel it’ land on deaf ears. The Silver reading group feel far from confident.
Akin twists and turns his body, shuffling from one foot to the other then stops reading altogether. Ste fires the enemy words like bullets out of his mouth, one at a time, but is not processing the meaning as he says them. Daniel totally freezes when the best reader in the school, Melody Jackson, walks into the library and watches him. And as for Molly-May, well she just bursts into tears.
Every dyslexic is different, for some words move, for others the spaces in between the words jump out as clearly as the letters, and the variations go on. Dyslexics think in pictures and they think much quicker than non-dyslexics yet society tells us that we are slow. The minute I say to my students that they actually need to slow their brains down to read, it’s like the world has been lifted from their shoulders. It’s such a relief for them because they’ve been made to feel that slow is bad. Now I’ve been told that I am an unusual dyslexic because I absolutely love reading out loud. If my imagination is captured by the writing I will see loads of pictures which helps me read, but sometimes I don’t see the words that don’t have a picture associated with them, for instance but and if and and. These are the words that I struggle with. As a child I read avidly but I didn’t always read what was actually there. I didn’t care because I was still having a good time. I remember reading about the Land of Handbags in Enid Blyton’s The Magic Far Away Tree and couldn’t understand why the children were eating them – it wasn’t until years later that I realised it was actually the Land of Humbugs! And for years I thought that Uncle Quentin in the Famous Five series was called Uncle Quarantine.
Because I love reading, I was able to instil my joy of reading to the young dyslexic people I work with.
But why – out of all animals – did I choose a horse for the children to read to in Storm Horse?
In my book Daniel has inherited some letters that his great great grandfather wrote to Seabiscuit the racehorse in the Great Depression. When I was doing my research, I read Laura Hillenbrand’s brilliant book Seabiscuit. It describes how Seabiscuit had a specially adapted train carriage and mostly slept on journeys but on one particular occasion he was agitated and was turning in circles so Tom Smith, his
trainer, dug up a copy of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang magazine and began reading out loud. Seabiscuit listened and he settled. This picture is of Red Pollard, his jockey, reading a newspaper and you can see how inquisitive Seabiscuit is.
Winston the horse (who is the inspiration for my Swimming to the Moon cover), loves to lie down on the ground and photographs of him doing this were inspiration to Keith Robinson when he drew the Storm Horse cover. When I visit Winston he makes me feel so calm and when I’m in the stable with him I chat and chat and chat and it is just the most calming thing for my well-being. All of this helped me realise that the children in my book needed a reading horse in their lives.
So in short read to animals for they will not judge.