Author-illustrator Hudson Talbott shares his personal experience of growing up with dyslexia in A Walk in the Words, a picture book that will help other “slow readers” feel seen and, refreshingly, celebrated.
In descriptive prose, Talbott takes us back to his childhood. An avid artist, he struggles with reading: “A whole page of text looked like a wall—keeping me out.” Long sentences are overwhelming, and he is the slowest reader in his class, which leaves him feeling ashamed.
Talbott’s bright watercolors playfully convey his early fear of books. On one spread, books (spines down and flapping like birds) chase him. In another, a book with all text and no pictures morphs into a purple monster with long claws. “ME EAT PICTURES! You read!” it growls.
As we see Talbott’s boyhood self “lost in a world of words,” his illustrations bring a forest metaphor to life. Young Talbott stands in a foreboding copse of trees while branches filled with long, complex words (“trepidation,” “impenetrable,” “undulating,” “ineffectual”) snake ominously around him.
But enough is enough. Talbott decides to “picture” his way out by looking for words in text that he knows and letting them “lead me into the story.” He also realizes that being a slow reader shouldn’t scare him and that many brilliant minds also found reading difficult. Here, Talbott imagines a “Slow Readers Hall of Fame” filled with the likes of Sojourner Truth, Babe Ruth and William Shakespeare.
Talbott does not mention dyslexia specifically until his author’s note at the end of the book. Whether a child is dyslexic or merely gaining reading fluency slower than their peers, they will appreciate all that Talbott does here to lift the stigma around those who don’t read quickly: “Slow readers savor the story!” he jubilantly exclaims as he depicts himself knocking down his literal “Wall of Shame,” a densely constructed barrier made of blocks of text.
A Walk in the Words is a welcome tale for readers everywhere who know that relishing a story at your own pace brings tremendous rewards.