...An empowering story about starting school with dyslexia that celebrates everyone's differences.
Illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown
Published by Oxford University Press
For ages 3+
Here in the UK this week it's Dyslexia Awareness Week. I'm delighted to have a such special guest to my blog today. My daughter was diagnosed formally with dyslexia when she was 8 years old, although every school she went to beforehand had tested her over and over again and it was always 'suspected' or 'borderline' or they'd just tell me she's just too young for us to be completely certain. It wasn't until a change of school after the pandemic that the SENCO there requested she have formal testing at a specialist centre urgently. What followed was a diagnosis, a daunting report from the practitioner, huge parental guilt for all those years we spent shouting at her, and then complete understanding and clarity for the way forward for both my daughter, her school, and us as a family. In the work I do now I sometimes am able to detect the children whom I have concerns about possible dyslexia and pass this onto the Head Teacher. Having awareness as a parent is one thing, but walking in the shoes of a young child undiagnosed? Well, this book means a lot to me and is invaluable in the work I do in schools. The publisher has very kindly given me a competition copy, so don't forget to enter to win - details below!
After pivoting from her 8-year career in the Children's publishing industry, her first published children's book was a collaboration with her husband James Jones, ‘The Perfect Fit’, published in 2021, and ‘Thunderboots’ is her 6th (check out my review)… and let me tell you - it’s been a hit. Why? Because the story is an #OwnVoices authentic story about dyslexia. The first page of the book features a letter to readers from the author herself about her own dyslexia journey; diagnosed at 21 years old whilst at university studying for an English degree this explained her poor spelling, awful sense of direction/time and poor memory. In spite of her dyslexia traits growing up, this never stopped her loving books, reading and becoming a successful children’s author. I hope you enjoy the interview. I really loved reading Naomi's responses and feel quite enlightened as a result, which is always a glorious feeling.
Nicci: Can you to tell us about your personal inspiration for Thunderboots?
Naomi: Thunderboots was my Grandpa’s nickname for me when I was little because I loved to move and tended to make a lot of noise doing it! I always wanted to write a book with a character in called Thunderboots but wasn’t sure what the story should be about for a long time. Then I realised that if the name meant so much to me - the story should too so I decided to write a book about dyslexia.
Trixie’s story in the book is not autobiographical, but it is inspired by how I felt before I got diagnosed. I felt so frustrated that I found some things a lot harder to do than other people, even though I was working just as hard as them. When I finally got diagnosed with dyslexia half-way through university aged 21, it was a really positive experience as it helped explain why and how I learn. My mum and sister are also dyslexic and we are pretty sure that my Grandpa was too.
I am really passionate about the importance of everyone being able to see themselves in fiction and I think it’s important that children who may find reading or writing harder than their peers see characters who experience the same difficulties too. We need to normalise the fact that not everyone thinks in the same way and to see that it can be a good thing.
I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with the illustrator Rebecca Ashdown when making this book. My publisher didn’t know this when they first approached her to see if she’d like to illustrate it, but her husband and daughter are both dyslexic so she completely understood the story I wanted to tell. Both Rebecca and I are really keen that the message of Thunderboots is that we’re all good at different things and all have our own superpowers.
Nicci: How do you think being dyslexic influences the stories you tell?
Naomi: I think being dyslexic helps me notice details others might overlook and make connections that other people might not see. I have always been interested in how people think and how they see the world, maybe because I’m aware that my own perspective isn’t the same as everyone else’s.
I also think that that dyslexia has helped me build resilience with my writing. At university it wasn’t unusual for me to have to rewrite an essay 6 or 7 times because I was trying to translate my ideas into a format that they would get marked for. My spelling also isn’t great so as I type this, it is littered with words underlined in red! Because of this I am not afraid to make mistakes and try new things, I am also not phased by multiple edits – all of which has definitely helped me as an author.
Nicci: Do you think you would still be a children's author if you weren't dyslexic?
Naomi: This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t know who I would be if I thought differently and wasn’t dyslexic! I do know that I am not sure I would be an author if my parents hadn’t fostered such a love of books and reading when I was little. Regular trips to my local library and a daily bedtime story meant that from a young age I was hooked on the power of stories. When I was little I loved making up imaginary games and making my own stories but I’d never met a children’s author and it took me a while to realise it was a job you could actually do!
Nicci: Do you have any top reading or writing tips for young people who are dyslexic?
Naomi: I think it’s important to celebrate what your strengths are. Everyone learns differently and in different ways and that’s ok. I realise it is easy for me to say but I also think it helps not to compare yourself to others. It isn’t a race. There are also lots of ways of making and listening to stories – you can listen to audio books, and create books using pictures as well as words. The most important thing is to let your imagination run wild and have lots of fun creating characters, worlds and plots.
Nicci: What would you say to your younger self to help them worry less about reading and writing?
Naomi: Dyslexia affects everyone differently – my dyslexia is mild and I didn’t have any problems learning to read or write. I actually read really fast but that’s because my eyes skip about and I don’t read all the words. This has its advantages and disadvantages! I have messy handwriting, poor spelling and I still don’t know my alphabet without singing the song all the way through (and I’m 39!)
Maybe because my Mum also finds all of the above tricky (she is dyslexic too although neither of us knew that was the reason when I was little), but I was never taught to feel like those things were a problem. So I never worried about them too much. I have always just enjoyed writing and getting my ideas down on paper, Once they’re there, I do have to spend a while tidying them all up, but that’s just part of the process for me and I think maybe I’ve just accepted it. So I would tell my younger self to keep being creative and keep not worrying about making mistakes!
Thanks for the super interview, Naomi! Thank you for enlightening me about so many things! Your creative spirit and never-give-up attitude shine through and even though you have had challenges compared to others without dyslexia, you've become a true inspiration for children as a result.
Win a SIGNED copy of 'Thunderboots'!!
More details + how to enter here
Closes: 7pm UK time Sunday 8th October 2023
Download FREE teaching resources and activities
Thanks to the team at Oxford Children's, Naomi Jones and Rebecca Ashdown for this fab activity sheet! Enjoy discovering your superhero!
About the creators
Naomi Jones (author)
Naomi Jones (née Cartwright) worked in children’s publishing for eight years before leaving to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. She is the acclaimed author of the picture book The Perfect Fit (OUP); its sequel One More Try, How to Catch a Rainbow (OUP), How to Make a Story (OUP), and The Odd Fish (Farshore). She lives in Cornwall near the sea. (Source: Oxford Children's)
Rebecca Ashdown (illustrator)
Rebecca Ashdown worked as a graphic designer, vector illustrator, and motion graphics artist, before becoming a full-time illustrator. Her books have have been shortlisted for national awards, including the Kate Greenaway CILIP medal, the Sheffield Book Awards, and the Portsmouth Book Award. (Source: Oxford Children's)
Learning to read
Grab a copy
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Publication date: 1 June 2023
Praise for 'Thunderboots'
"Thunderboots is a joy! The perfect read for any dyslexic child who might find school a challenge and for any parent or carer who wants to guide them through it." ― Jane Elson, Author of How To Fly with Broken Wings
"The visual energy and inclusivity of Thunderboots is just wonderful and the moment when Trixie goes quiet sensitively shows how a seemingly small thing can shift a child's feelings about something in a very BIG way. For me, Thunderboots demonstrates how the language that we use and the relationships we have are the magic keys to feeling confident about ourselves and our differences." ― Leigh Hodgkinson, Author of Martha Maps It Out
"We really love this picture book!" ― Inspire Education Library Service (ELS)
"I love the character designs and the brightly coloured pages. I really appreciate the nod towards dyslexia being genetic, the normalisation of talking to teachers about learning difficulties, and the celebration of learning plans. I think this is an excellent book to create awareness and as feel-good representation in classrooms or at home. Representation in media is so important, no matter the age of the reader." ― Toni, Bookseller at Waterstones Enfield Crown Road
Another notable Children's picture book featuring a dyslexic protagonists I recommend is:
*This interview and giveaway is in association with Liz Scott PR and OUP
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