How to Select Books

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How to Select Books

How to Select Books for the Emergent Dyslexic Reader

Are you a teacher or parent frustrated because there simply aren’t enough good books for children with dyslexia who are just learning to read? Have you found that many High Interest/Low Readability books are often just the opposite – of low interest and high readability? Are you unsure of how to choose books for an emergent reader who is dyslexic and well past 2nd grade? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are not alone.

One woman who addressed the lack of literature for older emergent readers was Patience Thomson. The director of a school in England for students with dyslexia, Patience was frustrated for years with the lack of good, readable books for reluctant readers. So she ended her career as an educator to open a publishing company which she named Barrington Stoke (

When Patience presented at the 2005 SWIDA Conference, she titled her session “Who’s Got the Red Pencil Now?” This epitomized her message. She had realized that the only way to publish books for students with dyslexia was to have the students themselves do the editing of the manuscripts submitted by respected authors. As her company grew, her student editors developed the following lists of what works and what doesn’t (Bold text come from the presentation’s hand-outs; parenthetical notes by SWIDA)


  • Phonetic complexity (too many phonetic patterns that the student hasn’t mastered)
  • Number of syllables (too many words with three or more syllables)
  • Language structure is too complex
  • Beyond reader’s language experience
  • No contextual clues
  • No explanatory illustrations
  • Introduced before confidence is established
  • Too many hard words together
  • Figurative language
  • General knowledge related (student lacks background knowledge)


  • Colored paper for sensitive eyes
  • No right hand justification
  • Wider spaces between letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs
  • Print not too small nor TOO LARGE
  • Suitable font (with serifs that distinguish similar looking letters)


  • Book should not be too long
  • Plot should not be too involved; flashbacks should be handled with care
  • Characters should be well-differentiated and not too numerous
  • Plenty of conversation
  • Text should appeal to the visual senses
  • STORY MUST BE GRIPPING AND WELL WRITTEN BY A REAL AUTHOR (Someone who is a published author, well-respected for his/her craft – not someone hired to produce “simple” books for poor readers)

One teacher who ordered a number of Barrington Stoke titles, wrote the following:

The Barrington Stoke books provided the reading literature that my severely dyslexic students have needed for a long time. After receiving about 15 titles this year, I found that my students who had the basics (how to decode closed, open, r-controlled, silent e syllables, and a few double vowel syllables), could find a book of interest that they could read with minimal assistance. They enjoyed learning British English, they enjoyed being able to finish a book in a few days, and they enjoyed the stories. The novels for the 8-12 year range tend to be humorous or adventurous. Those for adolescents tend to deal with many of the real life issues facing teens on both sides of the Atlantic. The authors manage to always resolve conflicts in a healthy, positive way without sounding patronizing.

Most of Patience Thomson’s guidelines for selecting books apply equally well to non-fiction books.

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