Dyslexia and Heroes of Self-Reference

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Reading can be a daunting task for anyone, but when dyslexia is added to the mix, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge. One tool that can encourage struggling readers is to find books with a hero of self-reference. A hero of self-reference is a person or storybook character who has feelings and struggles like the reader does, making the character relatable to the child. When the child sees the character growing and discovering their strengths, it creates hope in the reader that they will be able to do so as well.

Thankfully, there are plenty of heroes out there, both fictional and in real life, who have struggled with reading and writing just like you or your child. Here are a few of our favorite books about dyslexia with heroes of self-reference that may inspire a young reader to remember they are not alone.

My Name is Brain Brian by Jeanne Betancourt tells the story of a boy who is about to enter sixth grade and is dreading it. After all, every year in school has felt like torture. But this year, he has a different experience! His teacher notices that he is dyslexic and learns differently. He isn’t stupid or lazy after all!

Thank You, Mr. Falker features a girl named Trisha who has dyslexia, and is convinced she will never catch up to her classmates. Author Patricia Polacco writes this autobiographical, endearing story of her experiences with dyslexia, low self-esteem, and bullying, and the teacher who encouraged her to believe in herself and discover her strengths.

Image of five Sir Kaye the Boy Knight books by Don M. Winn, which feature Reggie, a hero of self-reference with dyslexia. The books include The Knighting of Sir Kaye, The Lost Castle Treasure, Legend of the Forest Beast, The Eldridge Conspiracy, and Mystery of the White Knight.

In the Sir Kaye the Boy Knight series, Kaye’s best friend Reggie struggles with reading and writing. However, each book focuses on his process of finding his strengths to help him succeed. This character is a good reminder that everyone has their own gifts and talents that they might not know about until they begin to explore their full potential.

close up of an illustration from The Eldridge Conspiracy by Don M. Winn showing Reggie trying to write with difficulty while a bully throws smelly cheese at him

Other great examples of books that portray characters overcoming obstacles associated with learning issues include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Both these books feature young protagonists who struggle with reading but have the strength to persevere and find success in the end. By being exposed to literature that depicts strong characters who battle dyslexia, young readers can take heart in knowing that they are not alone in their struggle.

Real-life dyslexic learners can also serve as inspiration for young readers. Knowing about celebrities with dyslexia such as Tom Cruise, Jennifer Anniston, Keira Knightley, and many others may inspire dyslexic children to realize their abilities.

For example, young adults with dyslexia can experience unique struggles when trying to advance in the workplace. Knightley, the actress famous for her roles in The Pirates of the Caribbean and its sequels, Pride & Prejudice, and Atonement, once said in an interview that she was bullied throughout school because of her reading difficulties. Her subsequent inability to read large blocks of text made completing a law degree extremely difficult. She eventually dropped out of law school to pursue an acting career instead.

Knightley credits various screenplays for helping her overcome her dyslexia, saying “My film career has been my salvation . . . I have to read very small sections of a script at a time because my processing speed is so slow.” In an interview on PBS NewsHour, she even goes so far as to say that she chose the roles she has played because of the way they relate to her own experiences with dyslexia.

Knightley also credits her role in The Goonies—a 1985 film about a ragtag group of kids who band together to protect their homes from a group of greedy land developers—as a turning point in her career. According to Knightley, “I had to prove to myself that I could get through a book and then come back later and have to learn scripts. I had dyslexia, so I really had to work.” Ultimately, she was able to tap into her passion for acting and become one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood.

A boy reading at a table in a library surrounded by stacks of books. He has found a book that speaks to him, possibly because he has dyslexia and the book contains a hero of self-reference he can relate to.

It’s hard not to feel a little inadequate if you compare yourself to seemingly flawless people around you, but it’s important to remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. So the next time you or your child is having a hard day, think about your favorite character from a book or a movie or even real life, and how they overcame their own obstacles to become the best versions of themselves.

Thank you for reading about dyslexia and heroes of self-reference. For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require.

Cover of the book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn.

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cover of the book Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.

Further Information:

  1. Famous people with dyslexia (https://www.readandspell.com/us/famous-people-with-dyslexia)
  2. 20 Powerful and Inspirational Dyslexia Quotes and Sayings (https://greetingideas.com/positive-dyslexia-quotes-sayings/)
  3. 12 Famous People Who Struggled With Dyslexia Before Changing The World (https://journal.imse.com/12-famous-people-who-struggled-with-dyslexia-before-changing-the-world/)
  4. Celebrities with dyslexia, ADHD, and dyscalculia (https://www.understood.org/en/articles/success-stories-celebrities-with-dyslexia-adhd-and-dyscalculia)
  5. Famous People with Dyslexia [A List of 200+ Actors, Athletes, Musicians & Scientists] (https://blog.ongig.com/diversity-and-inclusion/famous-people-with-dyslexia/)