IBPA Member Spotlight: Robert Z. Hicks
Robert Z. Hicks’ Children’s Books Recognized as Reader-friendly for Kids With Dyslexia
Recently, the American Dyslexia Association deemed author and IBPA member Robert Z. Hicks’ children’s books reader-friendly for kids with dyslexia.
Robert went out of his way to seek this approval from the ADA, so it means a great deal to him. This process started when he read Are Authors Giving Up On 20% of Their Readers? by Dr. Theodore Cohen in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators winter bulletin. In the article, Dr. Cohen shares writing and publishing methods that help children with language-based learning disabilities.
That article inspired Robert to send an email to the American Dyslexia Association asking for suggestions that would make his books dyslexic-friendly. “A response from their Executive Director gave several suggestions and an offer to look at my books,” says Robert. “I was delighted to send my three books, and to subsequently learn that they had been tested on elementary children and were approved.”
Robert was elated because “it was evidence that my books could help early readers learn to read easier, and it also boosted the market potential for people looking for books to help their children who are having challenges with reading.”
This recognition perfectly coincides with Robert’s mission for writing children’s books in the first place. “My life purpose is to put books in the hands of children that will entertain, and teach a life lesson, and, hopefully, inspire kids to love and develop a life-long habit of reading. I was woefully ignorant about dyslexia, and after discovering how widespread it was, I thought making my books easier to read would help all children.”
Robert has authored three children’s book so far. He published Danny the Dragon through an independent publisher, and he published Tommie Turtle’s Secret and Mouse in the Manger on his own. He’s now working toward publishing his next book, The Ladybug Known as Lil, next year.
Three Questions with Author Robert Z. Hicks
IBPA: What are some helpful tips you can give other writers and publishers to make their books more reader-friendly for people with dyslexia?
Robert Hicks (RH): These are the basics for books aimed at the mass market:
Select a sans serif font, such as Arial
Chose a ragged edge rather than right justification.
Don’t put “breaks” or hyphenated words at the right margin.
Format with extra space between lines, and have enlarged letters.
Put text on a plain background to avoid “noise” and visual entanglement.
I would also suggest rhyming stories or rhyming poetry because rhyme helps [children with dyslexia] recognize the sound patterns of letters.
IBPA: What inspired you to write children’s books?
RH: Frankly, I had no intention of writing children’s books. I thought I was retired. Then I watched my wife chasing a little green tree toad, trying to catch it to put outside. That started me reminiscing about bugs and things on the farm. I was inspired to write a rhyming poem about times I would listen to the bugs when I hid in the grass under the apple tree.
A friend told me, “Mr. Bob, this is good, you should write more, and publish them.” There followed a flood of inspiration during which I wrote forty or more rhyming stories related to memories of critters and experiences I had as a youth on the farm. I published the best of those in an ebook, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm.
When I discovered that rhyming helped children with reading, I felt God had given me a new purpose, and the gift of rhyme to achieve it.
IBPA: You published two of your books on your own, so as an author publisher, can you give three key lessons that you’ve learned that will help other author publishers along their journey?
RH: First, put your ego aside. Take what you write, or want to write, to other author groups to help you discern or confirm what is publishable. Most libraries have author groups, or join an organization where you can get unbiased critiques.
Second, understand that marketing a book is the hard part. Even before publishing, build a “platform”, so you have an audience waiting.
Third, build a team; don’t be a ‘lone ranger.’ Going the distance to the goal is more attainable if you have encouragement and help from others.
IBPA: Thank you for sharing your story with us!