________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007


Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters.

Deborah Hodge. Illustrated by France Brassard.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2007.
32 pp., cloth, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-757-9.

Subject Heading:
Dyslexia-Juvenile fiction.

Grades1-2 / Ages 6-7.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4

Reviewed from prepublication copy.



It's time for reading. Lily takes her book out of her desk. She likes the pictures but the words don't make any sense. When she tries to sound them out, the letters dance and blur in front of her eyes. Her head pounds. She tries and tries, but she just can't read the words.


Lily used to love school. When school was about dressing up, playing games, acting out stories, singing songs and painting bright pictures, school was a delight. Now that Lily is in grade two, however, school is no longer any fun. As her classmates move ahead with their reading, Lily's school world becomes a torment. When it is her turn to read aloud, "her face grows hot and her hands get shaky." Lily starts to make up excuses to avoid reading, and she feigns illnesses to keep her away from school. When the teacher announces a Parent Day the following week, Lily dreads the fact that all of the students will be expected to read aloud before the group. "Her lip starts to quiver. Her eyes fill with tears." Fortunately for Lily, she has supportive, understanding allies in her teacher, her mother and her good friend, Grace. With their help, and with lots of effort on Lily's part, Lily is able to struggle through and enjoy success.

     In Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters, Deborah Hodge writes with a sensitivity reflective of her understanding of the difficulties faced by children struggling with reading. Hodge is a former elementary school teacher, and one assumes that she has had first-hand experience working with striving readers. France Brassard's watercolour illustrations combine perfectly with Hodge's text to put a realistic face to Hodge's protagonist, thus adding to the authenticity of the struggle Lily faces. The illustrations are a real strength of the book.

internal art      No doubt, this book has the potential to encourage some struggling readers and to give them the boost in confidence that they need. My hesitation, however, is that the implication suggested by the text is that merely working "harder and longer on her page than anyone else" was the magic key that opened for Lily the door to successful reading. Whilst this may be true for some students, one must not assume that a willingness to "practice way more than the other kids" will automatically guarantee success. I can see some well-meaning parents or grandparents sharing this book with a struggling young reader, stressing the straightforward, simple formula for success—harder work! But what of the child who is already working harder than anyone else, yet is still not making progress? In such a case, I fear this book might prove discouraging, rather than encouraging. The fact is that there is very little in the text to suggest work on the skills and strategies most likely to be of more assistance than mere hard work. I concede that there is one page where we learn that Lily's mother shows Lily "tricks for remembering the words." I understand the message, but I would have preferred a different word to "tricks" because I think this again suggests something other than a carefully constructed plan of attack incorporating the various cueing systems that readers use to construct meaning from the printed word.

      Generally speaking, this is a good book with potential to be of use for some readers. Hodge demonstrates a strong understanding of the insecurities, isolation and low self-esteem that striving readers can experience. This understanding, combined with Brassard's exquisite illustrations, is worthy of recommendation. My reservations remain, however, for those hard-working students who need more assistance that mere encouragement to keep trying.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. One of the courses he teaches is Diagnosis and Remediation of Reading Difficulties.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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