Henry Winkler, forever beloved for his TV role as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli in “Happy Days,” has built an expansive second career as a best-selling author of more than 20 children’s books.
That’s especially impressive when you learn that Winkler is dyslexic. Writing from experience, his popular children’s book character Hank Zipzer is also dyslexic.
Winkler, co-writer Lin Oliver and illustrator Scott Garrett return to Hank in a new series, “Here’s Hank.” Following the youngster in second grade, there are funny adventures and challenges inspired by the difficulties Winkler faced as a child living in Manhattan.
amNewYork spoke with Winkler about the books and living with dyslexia.
How are the books geared toward dyslexic readers?
Here’s the thing. The books were never thought of as a self help. We wrote comedies about my journey trying to negotiate school. It turns out that kids write back and say, “How do you know me so well?” And other parents write back and go “Oh my god, my kid now understands he’s not alone.” … So really, honest to god, what we wrote are comedies about the trouble that I would get in and figure out how to get out of. And no matter where my dyslexia bumps up, and no matter what age, we put it into this book.
What was your experience like as a reader?
Reading was, and still is, difficult for me. … I read my first real novel when I was in my 30s — which was “The Clan of the Cave Bear.” When I finally found what I could read and enjoy, I realized how much I had missed. To reach out and help someone get a book in their hands maybe for the first time — to reach out and help somebody read without fear and realize that there is great joy [in reading] is pretty much an astounding thing.
Any tips for children
You have greatness in you and your job is to figure out what your gift is, dig it out and give it to the world … because the world needs what you’re great at.
And tips for parents of children with dyslexia?
For parents, my tip is this: your kid is not kidding around. Your child is not not doing well because they choose to. They can’t help it. And there are still parents and teachers who say, “You should know that at your age.” I will not understand geometry if I was 250, and those children don’t need any help in understanding that they’re not doing well. … Our job as adults is to buoy a child’s self image because self image is the beginning or end of living. And I’ll tell you something else, what I’ve found is the struggle is sometimes painful through school … sometimes it brought me to tears. It was confusing. But maybe without this struggle … I would not have this wonderful life.
The book’s font is specialized for dyslexic readers. What makes it unique?
Sometime when we dyslexics read, the words start floating. And what [the font does] is kind of weight them to the page so they don’t move as much.