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Picture Book Review – Brilliant Bea


Written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich

Illustrated by Fiona Lee

(Magination Press/APA; $16.99, Ages 4-8)



Note: dyslexia-friendly EasyReading font used in this book.



Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich with illustrations by Fiona Lee is an important read and truly an eye-opener for anyone not familiar with dyslexia. I once attended a workshop where participants were given various tasks to perform as seen through the lens of someone with this learning difference. By the end, I was frustrated, mentally exhausted, and had a splitting headache. I had new admiration and respect for my dyslexic friends and friends of my children.


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Interior spread from Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich and illustrated by Fiona Lee, Magination Press/APA © 2021.


The closeness and candor of the first-person narrative the authors have used in this story invite instant compassion for the main character, Bea. Early on we learn that Bea has a way with words, despite her difficulty putting them onto paper. Bea describes having to stay behind during recess to finish up her work. This was because of how hard reading and writing were and how “the words jump around the page and my eyes try to shoot laser beams to catch them.” That has to be exasperating for a child. Imagine how you’d feel if your pencil wouldn’t write what your brain was thinking. For Bea, every day in school this scenario plays out over and over again. Kids tease her and Bea feels awful and alone.

Fortunately for Bea, she has Ms. Bloom as a teacher. Ms. Bloom totally understands how Bea’s brain is wired and how the girl takes the brunt of her classmates’ bullying yet perseveres. Ms. Bloom encourages her student by saying her brain is brilliant. That’s the vote of confidence Bea needs. So, when Ms. Bloom gives Bea an old-fashioned cassette tape recorder to tape her stories, Bea’s confidence blossoms. No longer is she by herself at recess. Instead, she makes a friend who wants to illustrate her stories. Others just want to hear them. Bea is no longer stuck and the class seems to warm up to her as well.


Brilliant Bea int2
Interior spread from Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich and illustrated by Fiona Lee, Magination Press/APA © 2021.


With the right instruction and tools, Ms. Bloom has empowered Bea and given her the motivation she needs to cope with her dyslexia and grow. The helpful two-page back matter by Ellen B. Braaten, Phd, addresses the challenges children with dyslexia face and how accommodations, such as using the tape recorder can make a huge difference in written expression. It offers some thoughtful questions to jumpstart a conversation on the subject and discusses how to find out if a child has dyslexia, and what the treatments are.

The cheerful artwork by Lee takes readers inside and outside the classroom and adds to the enjoyment of Brilliant Bea. My big takeaway after reading this book is how, in addition to being well written and sweetly illustrated, it recognizes anyone dealing with dyslexia in a positive way and validates their experience making this an invaluable resource for schools, libraries, and families whose children want to see their own stories reflected on the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss


Read today’s review by Mary Natwick for a parent’s perspective.

The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben FossBen Foss’ book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan (Ballantine Books, Hardcover, $27), has been out only a month, and already it has changed someone’s life.


The subtitle of the book is “A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning.” Well, that part’s wrong. It renewed the parent’s confidence, and her love of learning. But mostly, the rest of the book is right on.

Ben Foss, a prominent dyslexic as well as a dyslexia activist and entrepreneur, has given dyslexic people and those who care about them a precise and powerful map for successfully navigating this print-heavy world. For the past 11 years, I’ve been researching everything I could find about dyslexia to help my severely dyslexic son who is now 15. I’ve trained as an academic language therapist to provide tutoring. I’ve been his eyes and his scribe. But nothing I’ve learned in thousands of hours of research has given me insight into how to get him to academic independence.

That’s why, if I ever meet Ben Foss, I will kiss his feet. I’m weary of seeing my son as disabled. He’s bright, curious, and the most emotionally intelligent person I know. After nine years of tutoring, he reads at the seventh-grade level, but fatigues so quickly that in a couple pages, he reads as many words incorrectly as correctly. He doesn’t consistently remember how to spell his own last name. What to do?

Foss says there’s a point at which learning “eye-reading”—moving your eyes across the printed word—has diminishing returns. A dyslexic person does not become un-dyslexic. Brain research shows that the structure of a dyslexic brain is different in several ways from that of a “normal” reader. So, while it’s beneficial to become functionally literate, someone with severe dyslexia will never read fluently enough to say, read a tort law, as quickly as a normal reader. Foss should know. He has a law degree as well as a master’s in business administration.

So, what to do? This is where the beauty of technology comes in, and where The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan explodes with practical information. Foss has trained himself to comprehend audio—he calls this “ear-reading”—ramped up to 400 wpm (words per minute). That’s faster than a normal reader can “eye read.”He explains how to use the text-to-speech option, and control its speed, on Macs, PCs, and even on iPhone/iPads. Using text-to-speech, a dyslexic person can “ear-read” virtually every bit of text a computer can display (only exception: words in images). Foss mentions specific document-scanning software and explains how to take notes for later studying.

Even more difficult than reading for dyslexics is converting their own thoughts into printed words. Believe me, speech-to-text software can be difficult enough to drive both a student and his tutor to tears. Foss has several tips to help make the speech recognition process easier. He also, bless his heart, shows his own first draft of this book’s introduction. It’s ugly, and that gives me hope. If Foss can take that mistake-strewn first draft and turn it into this beautiful, well-written, typo-free book, I can picture the possibilities blossom for my son.

Yes. Finally I can see a time when my son can independently access all the knowledge he’s interested in. I can see that someday it will be possible for him to write that novel that he insists is in his head just ready to explode.

Unless, of course, he changes his mind. Perhaps he’ll want to go to law school or get a master’s in business administration.

Read an excerpt from Foss’ book at The National Center for Learning Disabilities by clicking here.

Mary Natwick, writerMary is a writer, a former homeschool mom/tutor,
and has trained to be an academic language therapist.
Her severely dyslexic 15 year-old son loves to “ear-read”
audio books, and reviews them at

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Please watch this Youtube video of Ben Foss.

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