Precise placement of text in an illustrated book requires knowing the specifics, like what font you are going to use. Early on, I knew I wanted to provide a version of my book that would allow more children to enjoy “Misho of the Mountain.” This includes children with dyslexia and parents with dyslexia who would be reading Misho aloud.

What is 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.

What is it like to have dyslexia?

The common perception of dyslexia is that of swapping letters in a word. It is actually much more complex than that. One of the common elements of dyslexia is the confusion of letters with extra “legs,” like, p, q, d, b, etc. People with dyslexia do report character reversals and swapping but also 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 anyone down.

The role of the brain in dyslexia

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 in synchrony. Consider the fact that the eye sends a reversed image to the brain, which then 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 when it comes to interpreting letters and words.

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

Reading should be fun, not something to cause anxiety. So I decided to look for a font to use for a version of “Misho of the Mountain” that makes it easier for kids with dyslexia.

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.

Moore dyslexia typeface

Moore Dyslexia font–a candidate font for Misho

Research to support special fonts for dyslexia is inconsistent. Nno one font has been proven to be consistently and profoundly easier to read than simple Sans-serif fonts. Nonetheless, there was enough for me to define a few necessary criteria for Misho’s font:

  1. Does the job: some plausible research needs to exist to support claims of easier comprehension for dyslexics
  2. Looks good: the font must meet our standards for whimsical and pleasing style to match Misho’s general aesthetic
  3. Won’t break the bank: As an indie publisher, 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 contracts!)

That’s 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 to justify the price point for my use.  (See the link at the end for an evaluation of the research.)

Open Dyslexic Sample

Open Dyslexic–another candidate font for Misho

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.

Dr. Rob Hillier

Dr. Rob Hillier, creator of Sylexiad

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.

I found a few other open source and paid fonts, but either the trail died out on them or the aesthetic was not right.

Misho and industry standards

“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), combining higher word count with more detailed graphical elements.  The physical parameters and the target audience require smaller fonts to meet industry standards.

Yet increased font size, line height, and character spacing all contribute to the reading speed and comfort of children (and adults) with dyslexia, whether or not a font was designed to counteract dyslexia.

So, I decided to scrap the idea of a dyslexia-specific font and use a dyslexia-friendly font, especially the main manuscript text.

Because I could not determine a magic font, I am 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 production progresses, I 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
Dyslexia Simulator
Typefaces for Dyslexics
4 Common Dyslexia Myths Debunked Using Neuroscience

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