Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed Our World by Shannon Meyerkort
Illustrator: Amy Blackwell
Publisher: Affirm Press
Shannon Meyerkort talks to ‘Joy in Books’ at PaperbarkWords about the background to her important book Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed Our World.
My youngest daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia a few years ago, just before she started Year 2. So I did what many parents do and I went looking for a book: I wanted information and then I wanted inspiration. I knew there were many famous people like Richard Branson and Tom Cruise who were vocal about their dyslexia, and I assumed there would be a book that we could read together about other amazing people. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I thought, ‘I’m a writer, I will write it myself.’
At first, I just researched people and careers she was interested in at the time: Dav Pilkey the author of Captain Underpants, Pete Conrad the NASA astronaut, actors like Keira Knightley and Jace Norman from the TV show Henry Danger. I would research their stories online and write short profiles that focussed on their experiences growing up with dyslexia and then how those experiences influenced their successes as adults. I would read them to her at bedtime and then from my ever-growing list of names, ask her who she wanted me to write about next.
Soon I had a database of over 200 names and every job and occupation you could imagine: musicians and singers, athletes and dancers, entrepreneurs and inventors, designers and artists, actors and directors, doctors and scientists, even Princesses and Prime Ministers.
It’s important to note there was not a single occupation missing from that list, and I felt this was an important lesson to share with my daughter: that nothing is beyond the reach of someone with dyslexia. As I often told her, dyslexia might slow you down, but it won’t stop you.
There was a stage when she wanted me to stop telling her the stories. I had found people with dyslexia who had won Pulitzers and Oscars and the Nobel Prize. She was worried that by telling her about these incredible people, I was putting unrealistic expectations on her.
This became a valuable lesson for me, and something parents who buy Brilliant Minds should also keep in mind. I want the book to inspire and reassure, but I don’t want it to add to the stress on children who are already working so much harder than their peers. Not every child with dyslexia will go on to become Prime Minister or win an Academy Award – but neither will every child who doesn’t have dyslexia.
I want every child who opens Brilliant Minds to find a story that motivates them, but it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the school years are hard. Most children who read this book will be right in the thick of it, struggling with a system that sometimes isn’t designed for brains that learn and process differently.
But while each of the thirty stories starts the same – with a child facing an uphill battle – they also end the same, with an adult who found success in a world that is finally beginning to understand just how valuable dyslexic thinking is. It is the journeys between these two points that are varied and astonishing and I am thrilled to be able to share this book with other families.
Shannon Meyerkort (Affirm Press website)
Brilliant Minds at Affirm Press
Shannon Meyerkort (shannonmeyerkort.com – Multi-genre author)
Amy Blackwell illustrator