As many of you know, it is not unusual for people with ADHD to struggle with reading skill development.
In fact, of people who are diagnosed with ADHD, 30-40% will struggle with dyslexia. While many children seem to pick up reading with little effort, most of these children need more guidance and practice to become confident readers. And some children need a highly structured approach to help them learn the sounds associated with letters and letter groups and then translate those into reading words and sentences.
My daughter Carly is a Special Educator for elementary-aged students. She is also a Wilson Certified Dyslexia Practitioner and Orton Gillingham certified. As she works supporting struggling readers, one of her challenges is finding engaging and grade-appropriate books while still at the student’s decodable skill level.
This summer, I met two co-authors who have written such books.
Elspeth Rae and Rowena Rae are sisters and coauthors of a book series with a twist to help all learning readers, especially those who need a structured literacy approach. Here they answer a few questions about their Meg and Greg series of books, each with four short chapter stories for learning readers aged 6 to 10 years old. The stories feature Meg and Greg, besties who live on the same street and have adventures together in their neighborhood, at summer camp, and while visiting each other’s families. The adventures often include animals and sometimes other friends.
What is the twist with your books?
We wanted to write stories for children learning to read at an older-than-typical age, so the stories needed to capture their interest but be at a beginner reading level to meet the learner’s emergent skills. Our solution was to write stories with shared reading so that a buddy reads part of the story and the learner reads the other part. Each part of the story—the buddy’s and the learner’s—is at a different reading level. The buddy reader’s text is at a higher level and boosts the pace of the story, while the text for the learner is highly controlled and decodable.
Why did you team up to write these stories?
Elspeth: The idea to write these books came from my experience as a literacy teacher working with children ages 7, 8, 9, and even ten years old who were learning how to read. Many of these children struggled to learn to read because of dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. I couldn’t give them age-appropriate books because the reading level was too advanced. The alternative was to use books written and illustrated for 5- or 6-year-old beginning readers but imagine the frustration and humiliation for a child of average or above-average intelligence when I gave them a book for a child three or four years younger than them. Even so-called phonics readers often included words that were beyond their reading level.
Initially, with frustration and then with growing excitement, I decided I could only meet my students’ needs by writing stories myself, but I didn’t know where to start. This is where Rowena came in. She was already in the publishing industry as an editor and writer of nonfiction children’s books. So I brought the knowledge of how to teach reading and spelling to children with dyslexia, and she brought her knowledge of writing, editing, and book publishing. Together, we started writing the Meg and Greg stories with language and design features specifically for older-than-typical beginning readers.
Will children with ADHD benefit from these stories similarly to children with dyslexia?
Yes! Both ADHD and dyslexia make learning to read more difficult, in different ways. ADHD isn’t a learning disability in the way dyslexia is, so it doesn’t affect a child’s ability to learn a skill like reading or writing. But a child with ADHD may struggle with reading because they have difficulty concentrating and get easily distracted. A child with ADHD can often read words that stump a child with dyslexia, but they’re more likely to skip over words or even miss a whole line of text. And as Cindy mentioned, there’s also a fairly high co-occurrence of ADHD and dyslexia (up to 40% of people with ADHD also have dyslexia), so these children may struggle with both the focus and the language aspects. The way our books are set up with a highly readable font, large line spacing, and other features will help all children learn to read, regardless of their situation.
What features do these stories have that help a child who is learning to read?
We already mentioned the shared reading and highly controlled text for the child learning to read. As well as these, each story has short chapters, so the learner can feel successful even when reading a few pages at a time and can gain confidence in reading a chapter book. The pages for learners have comic-style illustrations to engage them and add more interest to the stories. We even chose the size of the book carefully so that it looks like the graphic novels and chapter books other children may be reading at ages 7–10.
With each story, we introduce a new letter-sound combination or spelling pattern so that, over time, the learner is building on the range of words they can read and spell. So, for example, in the first book, A Duck in a Sock, four stories introduce the following spellings one at a time: ck (duck, sock), sh (shop, fish), th (them, sloth), and ch (ranch, chest).
How many books are there, and is it important to read them in order?
We have three books out right now, and the fourth will be published in February 2023. Over the next few years, we’ll be adding four more books to the series. For a child who is in the early stages of learning to read and needs a highly structured approach, the books and the four stories within each book should be read in order. For a child who is already comfortable with some letter-sound combinations but needs extra practice with others, it would be fine to read out of order because each storyline is stand-alone.
I am happy to report that Carly is now using these books with her students. She said, “My students are absolutely loving the Meg and Greg books! Some of my most impacted students have been excited about them and reading quickly through each book. They find them both accessible and funny. One student asked me regularly when I’ll have book four for him to read! I’ve recommended them to other parents and have heard positives from them as well.”
Here are the four books out currently:
Meg and Greg: A Duck in a Sock (ck, sh, ch, th)
Meg and Greg: Frank and the Skunk (nk, ng, tch, dge)
Meg and Greg: The Bake Sale (a-e, i-e, o-e, u-e)
Meg and Greg: Scarlet and the Ring (ar, or, er, air)
You may purchase them at the links above. They are also available online and directly from their publisher, Orca Book Publishers, which offers a discount for educators.
They also have a dedicated website with more information about the books, www.orcatworead.com. On that site is a mailing list signup if you’d like to hear about when new books are out.
Elspeth and Rowena are sisters who believe in a world where all children learn to read with confidence and have the chance to discover the pleasure of being lost in a good book. Elspeth is a teacher certified in using the Orton Gillingham approach to teach literacy skills to all children, especially those with language-based learning difficulties. She lives with her family in Vancouver, B.C. Rowena works as a freelance editor and writing coach with West Coast Editorial Associates and writes nonfiction books for children. She lives with her family in Victoria, B.C. You can get in touch with Elspeth and Rowena at [email protected].