Book review: Learning to fly in Once Upon A Time A Sparrow

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Have you ever looked up to see one little bird flying out of sync from the rest of her flock? Have you ever wondered why she is falling behind? And if she will find her way back?

Psychologist and author Mary Avery Kabrich explores a similar question in her novel Once Upon A Time A Sparrow, but as it relates to children with dyslexia. Kabrich wants to know, and more importantly, wants the world to know, “why some children learn to read effortlessly as a bird learns to fly, while others flap their wings until they almost break, and still end up in a nosedive.”

In Kabrich’s award-winning novel, the “sparrow” is a nine-year old girl named Maddie — a bright, dyslexic spark who is diagnosed as minimally brain damaged.

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It’s 1967, and Maddie is stuck in the “sparrow” group (for slow readers) at school. She is pulled out of her favourite class for special reading instruction, which is taught in a storage closet, no less. Her teacher, Mrs. Zinc, discourages her from pursuing her dreams: “if you can’t read, you can’t write.” She is publicly humiliated by her know-it-all classmate Paulette. Her loving parents worry over her, but don’t know how to help. But there is much good to balance the bad: she finds support from a special education teacher named Ms. Ellen and strength in family, spirituality and her own imagination.

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Notes from a dyslexic writer: How to let go of your fear of writing and become a tortured artist

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Many people seem surprised when I tell them I’m a writer. Yes, I actually make a pretty decent living as a writer, and have done so for the past twenty years. Before that, I did a lot of writing as a university student and before that as an angst ridden teen with a diary.

John Irving, Dav Pilkey, Linda La Plante, Jackie French — all writers with dyslexia. Writing is something many dyslexics excel at.

Does writing come easy to me? No!

Does it take me 10 times longer than a non-dyslexic person to writing something coherently? Yes!

Does it sometimes feel like torture trying to get the words out of my head? You bet!

But I believe this actually makes me a better writer.

The truth is: I write because of my dyslexia, not despite it.

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