Engaging with Books: Narrative and Dyslexia-Friendly Features

Category: Reading
Tagged: dyslexia, ASN, reading

Do you find it difficult to follow a book? Do you forget who the characters are and what’s happened?

In this blog post, Aurora Betany shares how narrative (storytelling) and certain features help her- as a dyslexic adult - to follow a book and that good practice for dyslexics can be good practice for everyone else too. Here are some things that might help you, whether or not you are dyslexic.


1) Narrative

Many dyslexics think and talk in stories, so narrative is a powerful way for them to learn. If my emotions are engaged when I am exposed to new information, I am more likely to take it in. Therefore, books that tell a story about sentient beings are more accessible for me. And the better the story is told, the more accessible the book is for me. This might seem obvious. But it’s easy to blame yourself if you’re struggling with a book, especially if that’s normal for you. So it’s helpful to be aware that narrative can help or hinder you, depending on its quality.

Many dyslexics think and talk in stories, so narrative is a powerful way for them to learn

Example of good narrative - novels by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s novels are a supreme example of stories well told. Dickens was an actor as well as an author. He read his novels aloud to packed theatres. He tells his stories in a very vivid, dramatic way. Listening to Dickens’s novels is a good way for me to access them. There are some excellent recordings available, e.g. the award-winning Naxos ones narrated by Anton Lesser.


2) Identifying what makes a mainstream book accessible for me

By ‘mainstream’, I mean books that are aimed at anyone, rather than a specific group such as reluctant readers. Some mainstream books have features that make them dyslexia-friendly.

For example:

  • Chapter headings that give the ‘gist’ of each chapter
  • A map of the area in which the book is set
  • Repeated reinforcements of content such as summaries and reminders. A book that does this brilliantly is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

It’s features like these that enable me to engage with mainstream books. So being aware of what they are means I can look for them elsewhere if they aren’t an intrinsic part of the book.

For example:

If dyslexia-friendly features are not intrinsic in a book, and I can’t find any elsewhere, I create my own if I need to. For example, if I’m finding the plot difficult to remember, I summarise each chapter in a spider diagram. For details see flashcard 16 in Strategy flashcards for engaging with books.

The following free resource gives a framework for identifying dyslexia-friendly features in a mainstream book: Mainstream books – what constitutes a good choice for you.


How about you?

  • Which authors have you found to be outstanding storytellers?
  • Can you recommend any specific books that tell their story particularly well?
  • Which features of mainstream books make them accessible for you?

For more information about approaching reading as a dyslexic adult have a look at Accessing Books - A Guide For Dyslexic Adults

Image credit: Books by Nilufer Gadgieva

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