Michael Northrop on National Dyslexia Awareness Month
By Guest Blogger on October 22nd, 2012
My literary career began in the corner of a small special ed class, where I read and reread the same few Dick and Jane books. It was my second year in second grade, and I had just been diagnosed as dyslexic. I didn’t say it was an auspicious beginning.
For me, the worst part about those books was that nothing much seemed to happen. I understand the utility of sentences like “See Dick run” but would have preferred “See Dick run from pirates” or maybe “Spot finds a femur.” I like to call the forced consumption of these uneventful stories the “Read, blast you!” approach to education, but it actually worked fairly well. After a full year of it, I was a much better reader. Not surprisingly, though, reading felt like a chore. It just didn’t seem like something that was meant for me, and I spent the next few years doing as little of it as possible.
My parents got divorced when I was eight. My mom, brother, and I moved around a bit after that. We lived in four or five different places in maybe a year and a half, and in all of that shuffling, I don’t think I packed or unpacked a single book.
That began to change once we returned to the same sleepy corner of Connecticut where we’d started. The change came in the form of a blue cardboard box containing a few thin booklets and some unusual dice. It was Basic Dungeons & Dragons, which soon gave way to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) and a level of nerdery I never before thought possible.
D&D manuals—Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, the occasional stolen glance at the Dungeon Master’s Guide—were the first books I read independently. Knowledge was power in that game, so even though I was a still a slow reader (I still am), it felt like it was worth the effort. The books seemed to offer the keys to secret worlds and special powers—or at least to a magic user of approximately the same level as my older brother’s.
The first novel I read for myself was The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, a sword and sorcery tale that was just a short step from D&D. My brother had named his top player, a ranger named Gwydion, after a character in the book, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Heck, I was surprised just to finish.
After that, I found other things that I enjoyed reading. Comic books played a big role. They were wildly imaginative (this was the golden age of Marvel), and the X-Men, Alpha Flight, and the rest introduced me to the idea that reading could be cool and social, something you talked about with your friends and looked forward to.
I was in the gifted class by then—thanks in large part, I think, to 20-sided dice, Wolverine, and, okay, Spot—and began to be assigned some interesting books there, too. The first one that made a major impression on me was Watership Down. Talking rabbits were easy to accept for a kid used to flying mutants. And the idea that those rabbits were a way for the author to surreptitiously write about humanity was obvious to someone who still spent much of his time as a paladin named Tyr.
And so there I was, a dyslexic kid not that many years out of special ed, reading for fun on my own and even enjoying the assigned stuff. I was hooked and on the path to becoming an avid reader, and eventually an author. My taste in books has changed over the years, but my appetite for them has only increased. See Mike read. Or, better yet: See Mike read, chased by pirates.
Michael Northrop’s first novel, Gentlemen, earned him a Publishers Weekly Flying Start citation for a notable debut, and his second, Trapped, was named an ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, an ALA/YALSA Readers’ Choice List selection, and an Indie Next List selection. His recent middle-grade novel, Plunked, was hailed as “pitch-perfect” by School Library Journal and “kid-smart” by USA Today.
No comments yet