Teri Rider, illustrator and book designer, has been working on the preliminary layout for “Misho of the Mountain.” Weaving the manuscript with sketches early is essential with a manuscript of 2000+ words and takes some skill. You have to know where all the words will be before you can plan your illustrations, right? Precise placement requires knowing the specifics, like what font you are going to use, especially with full, two-page illustrations.
Teri had heard about these great fonts to make reading easier for kids with Dyslexia. I enthusiastically agreed that we should make sure our book was inclusive of these readers. So we started researching.
What is it like to have dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. It’s neurobiological in origin with an apparent genetic component. So it’s built-in and can be inherited.
Conservative estimates say that between 5 and 10 per cent of the population have it, so it’s not rare. Some estimates for countries with high rates of literacy say it may be as high as 17%. No correlation has been found between the incidence of dyslexia and nationality, income, ethnicity, race, or IQ, and experts are even beginning to question whether it is more common among boys than girls. One of the common elements of dyslexia is the confusion of letters with extra “legs,” like, p, q, d, b, etc. People with dyslexia report character reversals and swapping and letters jumping around on the page. (Check out the Huffington Post article linked at the end that may disagree with some of this.) A friend with dyslexia and a masters degree in education used to describe how difficult it was to get through her college years because the letters in her text books jittered and jumped on the page. I never truly understood until I found this video that simulates some of the manifestations of dyslexia:
Click the Play arrow to see the jittery effect. If this embedded video doesn’t work in your browser, try it on GitHub.
Ouch! That would slow ME down.
The existence of dyslexia is not really a big surprise when you consider all the different areas of the brain that participate in decoding and interpreting written characters. There are a lot of moving parts, so to speak, that have to work just so. Consider that the eye sends a reversed image to the brain, which has to swap it back around. Biology and inheritance is extremely variable, so you’ve got a recipe for some folks being wired a little differently.
As you would expect, having this condition can affect grades, socialization, anxiety, adapting to a new language for immigrants, and more. In areas where schools don’t have appropriate programs to help deal with dyslexia, kids with dyslexia may be home schooled. This can have a profound effect on the lives of children and parents.
Searching for the Perfect Font for Dyslexia
So we decided to look for a font for “Misho of the Mountain” that makes it easier for kids with dyslexia. Reading should be fun, not something to cause anxiety.
There are a number of fonts that make claims that they are easier to read. They use a combination of strategies to help readers differentiate letters: differently shaped letter bodies, reducing symmetry, longer descenders or embellishments to differentiate descenders and ascenders (I like to think of them as tails and flagpoles), thicker sections to “anchor” the letters at the baseline.
We decided our criteria for choosing a font would have to balance the following factors:
- Does the job: some plausible research needs to exist to support claims of easier comprehension for dyslexics
- Looks good: the font must meet our standards for whimsical and pleasing style to match Misho’s general aesthetic
- Won’t break the bank: I am willing to pay for a professional font within reason
The font with highest marks and the most recommendations on various sites was Dyslexie . Developed in the Netherlands by Christian Boer, this font has a seemingly great pedigree and a professional Web site plus pricing plans for publishers (it’s free for personal use). Unfortunately, their business model was too expensive. The font required an ongoing subscription or a royalty contract to keep using it over time. The price was based on how many books we sell, and we would have to submit our financial records to a third party accounting firm to prove our numbers. (Yes, I read the fine print in the contract!)
I’m not trying to hide anything, but that’s just too much complexity for a self-publisher. Their support staff were very friendly and helpful, but the bottom line was that the price was too high. And although they have more research than most to back them, it was still too slim. The study sizes were just too small to be conclusive. (See the link at the end for an evaluation of the research.)
Our next choice was Sylexiad, which was created by Dr. Robert Hillier, a Senior Lecturer at Norwich University College of Arts in Great Britain. The font had been developed as part of his research. We were pretty excited that the font seemed to be available. But to our dismay, all the Buy Now links led to File Not Found pages.
I corresponded with Dr. Hillier, from whom I discovered that the company with the rights to the font went out of business. No further information was forthcoming about when Dr. Hillier might be able to recover the rights so that he could sell his font on his own.
We found a few other open source and paid fonts, but either the trail died out on them or we didn’t think the aesthetic was right.
In the end, we decided to scrap the idea of a dyslexia-specific font. The actual research out there seems to indicate that no one font has been proven to be easier to read compared to simple Sans-type fonts. However, increased font size, line height, and character spacing all contribute to the reading speed and comfort of children (and adults) with dyslexia, so we plan to incorporate these principles as much as possible.
“Misho of the Mountain” is a hybrid: an Illustrated Early Chapter book–not a Picture Book. It bridges the gap between Chapter and Picture books (more on this choice in another post) through increased word and paged count (2000 and 64) while retaining full images throughout. Both physical parameters and target audience makes us lean toward smaller fonts. Yet we still want to consider the need for larger fonts because this helps dyslexics read more comfortably. (And grandparents reading aloud, too!) To offset these limitations, we are considering free downloads of an audio file for those who have purchased the printed or e-book as a way to accommodate readers with different abilities.
As our search continues for the perfect font, we will definitely keep in mind the features that will make “MIsho of the Mountain” an enjoyable experience for all readers.
Fonts That Have Been Proposed for Dyslexia
Typography & Dyslexia
International Dyslexia Association
What It’s Like to Have Dyslexia
This Website Attempts to Simulate Dyslexia
Typefaces for Dyslexics
4 Common Dyslexia Myths Debunked Using Neuroscience