Don Johnston's "Building Wings"
Don Johnston Communities
Dyslexia & Dysgraphia
Universal Design for Learning
Learning is For Life
by Mary Pembleton
Nothing is more powerful than awareness. When someone is fully aware of who they are, of their strengths and weaknesses, they can lean into their abilities and seek resources to help with their needs to become the best and most fulfilled version of themself.
Dyslexia is a disability, but along with its many challenges come some pretty spectacular abilities, and we’re grateful for the research and literature that aims to spread this knowledge.
In honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month, we asked our employees about their favorite books about dyslexia. As a company that produces assistive technology tools made for people who struggle with reading and writing, our team consists of a diverse background of folks: those with a background in education, parents of dyslexic children, and some, like founder Don Johnston, are here because we’re dyslexic too (and we use our own products!).
The list that follows includes a few in-depth educational nonfiction books, fantastic YA fiction, illustrated children’s books, and narrative nonfiction.
We really hope you like the list, find it useful, and use it to help you or somebody you care about understand more about themselves!
Suggested by Don Johnston, Founder of Don Johnston Incorporated
“This is the book that had the biggest impact on me. I grew up with the idea that my dyslexia was a big dark secret. As a learner, people would describe me as lazy, unmotivated, and a troublemaker. When you hear that kind of thing so often, you start to believe it. I didn’t tell anybody about my dyslexia for a long time, even when I started my company.
But then I read Overcoming Dyslexia, and it really resonated with me. It talked about how dyslexics use a different part of their brain to read. It’s a more strategic area, one not associated with rote memory and memorization. It made me realize that schools are designed for people without dyslexia, not for those who have dyslexia.
Overcoming Dyslexia allowed me to feel a lot better about having dyslexia. It made me see that, in a lot of ways, my dyslexia is an advantage that allowed me to pursue my business and my career.
If you’re dyslexic, this book is about understanding yourself: your strengths and your differences, and also your weaknesses, because clearly there are ongoing struggles. Because you’ll always be dyslexic, so you have to look for ways to compensate for that.”
“The Dyslexic Advantage is a really interesting book that brings the research up to date. It looks at the advantages of the dyslexic brain.”
According to the book’s description, areas of strength include mechanical reasoning, interconnected reasoning, as well as narrative and dynamic reasoning.
Suggested by Michele Christensen, Educational Support Specialist at Don Johnston Incorporated
Building Wings is the true story of how Don Johnston Incorporated’s founder, Don, initially really struggled in school because of his dyslexia, and how he ultimately grew to love learning. It’s written in a way that’s accessible to many age ranges and reading comprehension levels because Don wanted his story to reach as many people as possible, in the hope of encouraging others.
Michele says, “I have dyslexia and dysgraphia and a similar story to Don’s. Part of the reason I became a music teacher was so I could be a champion for all kids, and especially anyone struggling with behavior and or academics. Those kids can be rock stars in my music class. I have been a teacher now for over 34 years.”
Suggested by Stephanie Gilley, Educational Support Specialist at Don Johnston Incorporated
“This is the true story of the author’s experience growing up as a student with reading challenges. She was very gifted with creativity but soon found she was unable to see words and numbers as the other students saw them, which made reading next to impossible for her. After a move, she ended up in a class with Mr. Falker for a teacher. For the first time, a teacher took the time to slow down and help her see things differently and gave her the courage and confidence to keep trying. He stood up for her when students made fun of her and he gave her opportunities to be successful to build her self-worth. This book is her tribute to him.
Thank you, Mr. Falker is perfect for ANY child struggling with confidence and in need of extra encouragement but it will resonate especially with students who are struggling with reading. It will also help remind parents, teachers, and others how much a little extra support and encouragement can completely change a child’s trajectory in life.
As an educator, Mr. Falker inspires me to remember what matters most and just how much of a responsibility we have to our children to help bring out the best—making way for confidence and self-worth to develop.”
Suggested by Crystal Maleski, Social Media/Content Specialist
As a mom of two kids with dyslexia, my most fervent hope as they were learning to read was that they felt confident and felt good about themselves. Finding books like The Alphabet War helped show them that other students struggled with reading but that didn’t mean they weren’t smart or couldn’t succeed. Just like the main character Adam in Diane Burton Robb’s book, my kids were fortunate that they had excellent teachers who not only helped them get the interventions they needed but also helped them feel confident about their ability to learn.”
Suggested by Mary Pembleton, Marketing Writer
Fish in a Tree is the YA fictional story of Ally, a middle schooler who can’t read, and frequently acts out in class to cover up this fact. It isn’t until she’s under the tutelage of a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, who helps her identify and address her problem and focus on her strengths, that Ally is able to flip the narrative that she’s a “bad kid.” This is a book that a lot of struggling readers can relate to.
“My kids and I, one of whom is dyslexic himself (and prefers identify-first language), listened to the audiobook of Fish in a Tree this summer after a learner with dyslexia from Portland, suggested it. It was a fantastic book about leaning into differences, and other my son, who is a strong reader, also really enjoyed it.”
“Spelling Pen in Elf Land is an engaging decodable chapter book written in dyslexie font (which is more accessible to readers with dyslexia). A downloadable comprehension workbook is included with its purchase, available on the website linked in the book’s title above. It’s the first book in a series of Spelling Pen chapter books.
“My dyslexic son loves the magic of Harry Potter, but cannot decode the physical text like many of his classmates. He wanted his own ‘chapter book that he could actually read.’ He was also finding himself frustrated by the limitations of language and sometimes-lacking plots of the decodable books he’s been bringing home from school.
“This fit the bill beautifully. Written by a mother for her own dyslexic son, C. Knebel manages to craft an exciting and suspenseful story with easily decodable words. In fact, she’s written many decodable chapter books, and we’re looking forward to reading them all.”
“A book that’s sparse on text but big on illustrations, encouragement, and notable people with dyslexia who’ve done amazing things. We read this soon after my son’s dyslexia was identified, and he was thrilled to share it with others. He especially loved learning about people with dyslexia he was familiar with (‘The guy who made ET and Jurassic Park has dyslexia!’ he told his brother excitedly).
“Would definitely recommend this one for younger children.”
“These twelve chapter books follow the humorous & heartfelt everyday adventures of Hank, a second grader with dyslexia.
“Written with dyslexie font by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler (yes, THAT Henry Winkler) who ALSO has dyslexia, these books showcase the power of friendship and offer children with dyslexia a lovable protagonist who is a lot like them.”
“This incredible book includes contributions from over 100 children and young adults talking about their experience with dyslexia. This approach imparts invaluable perspective and a sense of community & pride to young people with dyslexia.”