YA books, Ear-reading, and Dyslexia

A lonely college freshman, the perfect book boyfriend, and a magical night when they read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders; every YA aficionado who has read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell will get heart-flutters remembering that chapter. Cath pulls an all-nighter reading to Levi, who has a reading disability.

The International Dylexia Association says that “as many as 15-20% of the population as a whole–have some of the symptoms of dyslexia,” and yet dyslexic characters are hard to find on bookshelves. Thankfully, that seems to be changing.

     

In The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Ethan is a smart, intelligent high school boy who also happens to have trouble decoding words. In Compulsion by Martina Boone, heart-throb “Eight” is clever, brave, and a struggling reader. In The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Percy and the other demigods have dyslexia.

A growing neuro-diversity in YA literature is excellent, but how do we help all readers access books? How do we help guys like Levi who don’t have Cath as their personal reader?

The answer is technology. Tablets … Kindles … Nooks … Chromebooks … Phones … Computers … These days there are more ways than ever to ear-read books. Ear-reading is every bit as valid as eye-reading and many teenagers with dyslexia have Assisted Technology written into their Individual Education Plans for school.

Text-to-speech options are the most rudimentary form of ear-reading. Some people find the robotic voice of text-to-speech difficult to enjoy, but at least it allows access to books.

2015-10-27 10.20.01Live human voices are the next step up. There is a wonderful charity called Learning Ally that has brought audio books to people with dyslexia or visual impairment since 1948. With an official diagnosis, readers can purchase an inexpensive subscription to Learning Ally that allows them to download an unlimited number of audio books from their collection of 80,000 titles recorded by volunteers. Many of the books are in VOICEtext format which means the words highlight on a tablet as the story is being read.

True YA fans will find this ironic. Learning Ally has Fangirl and The Outsiders in its collection. Meaning, if Levi had a Learning Ally subscription, he wouldn’t need Cath to read to him in the first place, and that magical night together would never happen.

12189938_1722478367982444_1002144321205635669_nThe most thrilling form of ear-reading comes from audio books recorded by professional voice actors. Anyone who has listened to an audio book driving home from school or work has probably experienced a time when they wished the drive was longer so they could hear one more chapter. Jim Dale’s performance of Harry Potter for example, is magic.

A downside to audio books is cost. The holds-list for audio books at public libraries can seem endless. Audible however, offers membership plans that lets readers purchase credits in bulk. The more credits bought at one time, the cheaper the cost per book.

So what would Levi’s life be like now, two years after Fangirl was published? Maybe he drives around in his truck listening to Cath’s latest piece of fan fiction read by text-to-speech. Perhaps Cath gave him an Audible credit for Christmas. Hopefully somebody finally told him about Learning Ally.

Definitely Levi is living a successful life. He is smart, resourceful, practical, and kind. Levi has strengths that other people will never master. A lot of those talents are a direct result of how he learns differently.

The next time you are at the bookstore look around at the other readers you see and remember that up to one in five people have dyslexia, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love books. There is more than one way to be a bibliophile. The fangirl next to you with earbuds plugged into her phone might be ear-reading her favorite book.

Jennifer Bardsley’s novel GENESIS GIRLS debuts from Month9Books on September 27, 2016. She is founder of Sixteen To Read and lives in Edmonds, WA where she writes a newspaper column for The Everett Daily Herald. You can find Jennifer on Facebook as “The YA Gal.”

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