Engaging with books 3


The things that help me to engage with non-fiction apply to 2 sub-genres:

  • non-fiction on history e.g. World War 2 or the Cuban revolution
  • non-fiction on topics e.g. compassion or Darwinism

In this blog post, we’re going to look at each of these 2 sub-genres in turn, including some examples.

What helps me to engage with non-fiction on history (‘historical non-fiction’)

  1. Personalisation of history. I think the key to history for me is being aware that personalising it makes it accessible for me. By ‘personalising’ I mean telling the story from the perspective of one or more individuals. Facts and figures are too dry and abstract for me. They don’t sink in, whereas pictures and stories about sentient beings do.
  2. Biography / autobiography also enable me to access historical non-fiction.
  3. Alternative formats, especially graphic novels and films, have opened up historical non-fiction for me. There are some original graphic novels that are excellent at making history accessible. I give some examples below. I also find children’s graphic novels useful because they explain the history so clearly and accessibly.

Examples of historical non-fiction that make history accessible for me

  • Graphic novels
  1. ‘Palestine’ by Joe Sacco
  2. ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman
  3. ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi; ‘Cuba: my revolution’ by Inverna Lockpez

For more graphic novels of historical non-fiction see here.

  • Dramatisation
  1. The film adaptation of ‘The Invisible Woman’, a print biography by Claire Tomalin
  2. ‘Barefoot Gen’ and ‘Barefoot Gen 2’, animé film adaptations of manga by Keiji Nakazawa
  • Print
  1. ‘Bridge Across my Sorrows’ and ‘Mama Tina’ by Christina Noble

What helps me to engage with non-fiction on topics (‘topical non-fiction’)


If I am using alternative formats but am still struggling to follow a work of non-fiction, I use strategies in addition. For example, using the following strategies helped me to follow ‘Twelve Steps to a compassionate life’ by Karen Armstrong:

  • I listened to it in audio before reading it in print to gain an overview
  • I used book group notes for comprehension
  • I wrote notes in the book and used highlighter pens. This helped me with navigation and comprehension
  • I read one chapter at a time, discussing it in detail in a book group every fortnight. This really helped me to take in and retain the content.

2. Contextualisation of topics

In my experience, the power of the graphic novel to make an abstract topic accessible is demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Logicomix’.   ‘Logicomix’ is a graphic novel biography of Bertrand Russell.  But it also explains his logic as an integral part of the book.  Setting the topical content (logic) in the context of the life of the person (Russell) who thought it up makes it accessible for me.  I found the same with a graphic novel biography of Charles Darwin that gives an excellent explanation of Darwinism¹.

3.  Very Short Introductions

How about you?

·        What helps you to engage with non-fiction?

·        Are there any books that have made history or topics accessible for you?

·        Have you tried ‘Very Short Introductions’? How do you find them?

If you have found this blog mini-series helpful…

You can find out here how narrative and dyslexia-features help me to engage with books.

¹ ‘On Charles Darwin: a graphic biography: the really exciting and dramatic story of a man who mostly stayed at home and wrote some books’ by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne

This series of three blogs was written by a member of Dyslexia Scotland 

Engaging with books 2

Alternative formats

It’s important to be able to read and to develop our skills in reading and comprehension. But in addition to traditional print, there are several other formats that books come in, called ‘alternative formats’:

  1. e-books;
  2. audio (audiobooks or live audio);
  3. graphic novels; and
  4. dramatization (audio or audio-visual).

In addition to formats, I find it helpful to think of books in two categories:

  • Original (i.e. the book as it was originally written); and
  • Adaptation (i.e. an adaptation of the original book).

1)     How formats and categories help me

There is overlap between categories and formats. For example, original books can be in print or alternative formats; and graphic novels can be originals or adaptations. This overlapping nature of formats and categories offers rich potential for dyslexics.  For example, ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’ by Agatha Christie is available in its original in e-book, audiobook and print formats; and also in adaptations in graphic novel and TV drama formats.  This means I can:

  •  Choose an alternative format in preference to print.  This lets me engage with the book, whereas I might not do so if print was the only option
  •   Use alternative formats to support my reading e.g.

a)    Watch the TV drama to get the ‘gist’ before reading the print book, or

b)    Use the graphic novel and print version together, so that I have visual back-up of the text

  •   Re-expose myself to the same book in different formats – ‘overlearning’ helps me to learn

2)     Using an alternative format in preference to traditional or electronic print

Most dyslexic people find reading difficult to one extent or another. But if we use alternative formats instead of print, not only is there little or no printed text; in its place is a format that works better for us.

Alternative formats are more dyslexia-friendly in the following ways:

  • The amount of text is either non-existent or minimal
  • In graphic novels, the text is backed up by images
  • They present content through pictures, spoken word and drama, which are more accessible for us than text.

3)     Aural comprehension

In the previous post, we looked at comprehension in the context of reading.  Comprehension can also be aural (i.e. listening).  Your aural comprehension might be much better than your reading comprehension.  So you might take in the content of a book much better and more easily if you listen to it than if you read it in print.

Top tip for audio

When you listen to books and audio dramatizations, try doing some mindless activity at the same time to keep your mind focussed e.g. housework, knitting, or squeezing a stress ball. For more information on engaging with books in audio format, see sections A – C of Accessing Books – A Guide for Dyslexic Adults.


We shouldn’t abandon print format, not least because some books are only available in print. But by using the range of formats available flexibly and strategically, we can enable ourselves to enjoy books.  So let’s:

  • Accept that we need to approach books differently from others;
  • Acknowledge that books are available in several different formats; and
  • Ensure we use alternative formats (as well as print)

How about you?

  • Have you tried all the alternative formats?
  • Which formats work / don’t work for you?
  • What would be your top tip for alternative formats?

In the next blog post:

We’ll be looking at what helps me to engage with non-fiction.

Engaging with books 1


This mini-series of 3 blog posts explores what helps me to engage with books. We’ll be focusing on the following 3 areas:

  1. Print books (post 1)
  2. Alternative formats (post 2)
  3. Non-Fiction (post 3)

By ‘engaging with books’ I mean accessing books in one or more format(s) e.g. print, audio and dramatization. Throughout this blog mini-series, I will be referencing various resources that I as a dyslexic individual find helpful. This does not equate to Dyslexia Scotland endorsing these resources.

In this blog post we’ll consider 3 things that help me to engage with print books:

1)    Understanding what reading and comprehension are;

2)    Self-help resources; and

3)    Addressing my visual conditions

1)    Understanding what reading and comprehension are

I used to think of reading and comprehension as one thing. That’s understandable, because most study skills resources don’t make the distinction.  They refer to ‘reading’ and don’t mention comprehension.  But then I came across an explanation of the term ‘comprehension’.  It was a moment of insight because it made me realise that reading and comprehension are different:

  • Reading is the physical / visual act of recognising / decoding individual words
  • Comprehension is taking in / following / absorbing what you read as a whole, so that you can tell it to someone else in your own words

Being aware of this difference makes engaging with a print book more manageable for me. It enables me to better understand my difficulties with print books. That helps me to identify any skills I lack, and to acquire them.

2)    Self-help resources  

The following resources, all aimed at adults, help me to engage with print books.

a) The reading and comprehension toolkits in the book ‘Making Dyslexia Work for You’ by Goodwin and Thomson

b) ‘Rapid Reading’ by Janis Grummitt

  • Print book
  • A detailed but succinct guide to reading and comprehension
  • Dyslexia-friendly
  • ISBN 0 85290 152 6

c) The Reading Skills part of the University of Sheffield’s ‘Study Skills for Students with Dyslexia’ website

  • A multi-sensory interactive guide to reading and comprehension
  • Intended for non-fiction but much of it is relevant for fiction too

d) Series of books for adults designed to be dyslexia-friendly

  • A list of series of books which are more accessible than mainstream books


e) Strategy flashcards for engaging with books

  • Over 60 strategies that might help dyslexics to engage with books
  • User-friendly: instructions included; each strategy is on a flashcard
  • Most of the strategies are for comprehension; a few help with reading

f) ‘Dyslexia and Learning Style’ by Tilly Mortimore

  • Print book
  • Details how dyslexics take in information and what can help us in this process
  • I recommend starting with chapter 11
  • ISBN 978-0470511688

 3) Addressing my visual conditions

After I was identified as dyslexic, I was assessed for visual conditions that are associated with dyslexia. As a result, when I read now, I use a coloured overlay or background and I track print. These two changes have improved my reading greatly, which has made print books achievable for me.

How about you?

  • Interested in finding out about visual conditions? Dyslexia Scotland’s leaflets ‘Dyslexia and Visual Issues’ and ‘Visual Issues FAQs’ provide information and guidance.
  • What changes to your approach to print books have helped you?
  • Are there any resources that help you to engage with print books?

The next blog post will be about alternative formats.