Six of Crows – Terrific Book Series Featuring Characters with ADHD and Dyslexia!

Children with ADHD and dyslexia need to see portraits of themselves in media that reflect reality. Luckily, even in the world of fantasy, there are engaging books depicting the true experience of students with learning differences. For starters, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and the excellent sequel Crooked Kingdom are the perfect book series for young adults with ADHD or dyslexia.

Bardugo weaves a gripping story about an unlikely team of thieves attempting to pull off the greatest heist of their lives, set in a fantasy world known as Ketterdam, roughly based on 1800s Amsterdam. The story revolves around Kaz Brekker, a criminal prodigy with his eye on a deadly prize that could make him richer than his wildest dreams. He assembles a team of six outcasts to take on an impossible challenge.

The books are tremendously written and feature tense action, tight plotting, and richly detailed characters. Readers with learning differences may find themselves especially relating to two of these characters, Wylan Van Eck and Jesper Fahey.  While it’s never explicitly stated, it is pretty clear that Wylan is dyslexic and Jesper has some form of ADHD. Wylan, the son of a successful merchant, is disinherited because he cannot read and therefore can’t take over his father’s business. Jesper is a student, but he struggles to sit and focus, instead finding himself lured into the criminal underbelly of Ketterdam. He can never resist a fight or a game of chance.

Students with learning differences will be all too familiar with these struggles; however, Bardugo highlights the strengths of her characters as well. Wylan is incredibly smart; he’s great at math and chemistry in addition to being an excellent musician. Jesper is able to channel his hyperfocus, becoming the best sharpshooter in the city and developing the skill to fabricate magical objects.

Bardugo breaks with many authors who depict learning differences in a condescending manner. So many characters that have learning issues seem to find easy solutions to their problems—I’m specifically thinking of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series where the main character’s challenges with dyslexia are discarded as a side effect of his demigod status. Though well meaning, this represents a misguided attempt that does not acknowledge the real challenges faced by students who struggle.

In the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, Wylan never learns to read fluently. Instead he learns something arguably more valuable. He learns strategies to cope with his inability to read. Wylan even uses memory strategies that are similar to some of the mnemonics we teach in SMARTS! This approach, adopting strategies that match our personal strengths and weaknesses, represents a real hope for many students weighed down by their learning differences.

crooked-kingdom-315The truth is that these books have something for everyone.  Wylan and Jesper are only two of our six crows after all. Also, on a technical level, the audiobook for this series is absolutely wonderful! It’s produced like a radio play, with six different actors sharing the narration. This makes it a particularly engaging choice for kids with learning differences who may enjoy the audio format.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager




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