5 Books for Understanding Reading Difficulties

If you’ve had your fill of beach reads, here are a handful of books—including two for kids—that can help you support struggling readers.

July 19, 2018

What a gift the early days of summer break are, when the buzz of the school year begins to recede and vacation days spread out before you with endless potential. At the start of the summer, beach novels or other light reading seems in order. But if you’re anything like me, halfway through the summer you find yourself trading the light reads for books about education once again. When you hit this inevitable moment, what should be on your list?

According to the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 37 percent of fourth-grade students in the U.S. are reading proficiently. Students struggle with reading difficulties in nearly every classroom across the nation, so supporting such students is a topic that should be at the top of our summer book lists.

The books below will help teachers better understand the emotional impact of students’ reading struggles, the linguistic complexities behind their reading difficulties, and evidence-based approaches to remediate and accommodate their learning differences.

Summer Reading on Reading Difficulties

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco: A picture book? Yes. This heartwarming story, inspired by the author’s own struggle with dyslexia as a child, features an isolated student picked on by peers for her inability to read and a teacher who comes to her aid. Read Thank You, Mr. Falker to get a sense of the emotional hardships reading difficulties impose on younger students. Support your struggling students during the school year by using the book in a future empathy-building lesson about learning differences. (For kids ages 5–8)

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: This young-adult chapter book takes us on a journey through the social and emotional life of an adolescent with undiagnosed dyslexia. As we follow Ally through her daily life in a text-heavy society, we experience the continuous micro-traumas that she confronts every day, each one taking a toll on her self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth. In the end, she is helped by a teacher who takes the time to understand that her behavior is tied to her shame at not being able to read and helps rewrite her school experience.

For teachers who work with students in later years, Fish in a Tree is a great reminder of how learning struggles tend to migrate inward and have a major impact on the social and emotional well-being of students. (For kids ages 10 and up)

Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties by David Kilpatrick: This informational text by an associate professor of psychology is widely recognized as one of the leading books in the field for educators seeking to better understand reading difficulties and how to support students who have them. Written with the goal of bridging the gap between research and practice, Essentials reviews the most current research on the topic of reading difficulties and discusses the findings to help teachers better assess their students and select the right evidence-based methods to intervene on their behalf. This book is a must-read to better understand current research and best practices in reading instruction.

The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning by Ben Foss: Academic supports are top of mind when it comes to supporting students with dyslexia in schools, but social and emotional supports can be just as important for students who struggle with reading difficulties. Ben Foss, a graduate of Stanford and successful inventor, describes his own struggle with dyslexia and the social and emotional effects of it. The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan discusses how to integrate dyslexia and other learning differences into one’s identity without shame, how to use accommodations to gain access to curriculum, and how teachers can focus on students’ strengths (and not just their weaknesses).

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf: Though this award-winning book by Tufts professor and world-renowned reading researcher Maryanne Wolf is over a decade old, it’s as relevant as ever. Proust and the Squid delves into the reading brain to explain how we acquire reading, how we process text, and why some people continue to struggle with literacy in our society. The book provides a clear sense of the intricacies of language, the complexities of reading, and the feat of reading acquisition.

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