Dyslexia Awareness Month: Dyslexic—and Bilingual? a guest post by Laura Rueckert
Today for Dyslexia Awareness Month author Laura Rueckert is sharing her experiences raising children with dyslexia in a foreign country and why she wrote that into her upcoming YA fantasy novel.
When I first starting writing A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN, my YA Fantasy coming Fall 2020 from Flux, I knew I wanted the main character Jiara to be an immigrant. As an American living in Germany, I understood firsthand what it was like to deal with a new country, new customs, a new language.
And then my kids were diagnosed with dyslexia. They say 1 in 5 people has dyslexia, but you wouldn’t know it when reading YA books, where it rarely seems to come up, so I decided Jiara would have dyslexia, too. After the diagnosis, several well-meaning friends and family members suggested I stop speaking English with my kids, saying maybe they’d have less trouble if they only had to concentrate on one language.
I was honestly shocked. I’d been speaking English to my kids since they were born. It was only later, in fourth grade, that they received the diagnosis. How could stopping help? And besides that, every child in Germany has to learn English in school. Wouldn’t it be an advantage for them to keep hearing it at home? They had enough classroom disadvantages as it was.
Luckily, none of the experts agreed with the advice I’d received. I continued speaking and reading to them in English. I didn’t push them to read by themselves in either language, but it was important to me that their English comprehension was solid. And what did I find? Three+ years later, they still have spelling difficulties, but they’re still doing great in English class.
It was only later that I found research saying there is no certainty whether being bilingual helps or hinders someone with dyslexia. The only correlation I found was that bilingual children are diagnosed later, because it’s often assumed their difficulties stem from spending less time on the language used in school. Exactly that happened with us—teachers assumed my children were slower in learning to read and spell in German because they spent half their time hearing English.
I opened with the statistic that 1 in 5 people has dyslexia. But worldwide, more than half the population speaks two or more languages. And that includes people with dyslexia. A tip from me would be to trust your instincts. If your child is growing up with more than one language and you suspect they have dyslexia, do whatever you can to get them tested as early as possible, even if their teachers don’t feel it’s necessary yet. It was such a relief for all of us, including my kids, to know the reason behind their difficulties.
In the fantasy world of A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN, no one understands the concept of dyslexia, and Jiara’s been raised to think she’s just bad at languages and learning. When she ends up having to marry a young, foreign king for political reasons and move to his country, she’s terrified she’ll never learn the new language, and never be able to understand people there.
No spoilers, but given what I wrote about my kids, I think you can guess she’ll manage fine. And that’s the message I want kids with dyslexia, multilingual or not, to see. It’s important to me that my depiction of dyslexia is accurate, so since I don’t have it, I worked with authenticity readers who do.
But Jiara’s story isn’t only about having dyslexia. It’s a murder mystery. It’s about grief, friendship, and an LGBT-accepting society. And it’s about the wonder of getting to know another country and their customs, and especially about learning that we’re often more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
I hope people enjoy A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN when it comes out in Fall 2020. Until then, if you’re looking for books already in stores and libraries, remember to check Teen Librarian Toolbox’s post from earlier this month which includes a list of books featuring a main character with dyslexia.
And if you’d like more information on dyslexia and multilingualism, here are some resources I found helpful:
About A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN
YA Fantasy, Coming in Fall 2020 from Flux
When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the killer is brought to justice. The mourning period hasn’t even reached its end when Scilla’s betrothed, the king of a country far away, requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride.
Marrying the man meant for her sister would make her feel bad enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara believes her chances of learning a new language are slim. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land, where she’d be unable to communicate. Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin came from the king’s country. Marrying the king would allow Jiara to hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s spirit, whose thirst for blood mounts every day.
To save her family, Jiara must find Scilla’s killer . . . before he murders her too.
Meet Laura Rueckert
Laura Rueckert is a card-carrying bookworm who manages projects by day. At night, fueled by European chocolate, she transforms into a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura grew up in Michigan/USA, but a whirlwind romance after college brought her to Europe. Today, she lives in Germany with her husband, two kids, and one fluffy dog.
Filed under: Dyslexia
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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