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Hank Zipzer Author Shares Dyslexia Insight

While you’re looking for ways to make learning fun for dyslexic children, consider the children’s book series Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever. The books are co-written by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, who target their writing toward learning-challenged children. Gemm Learning spot-lighted Hank Zipzer in Part 3 of our “Great Books for Dyslexic Children” series, and now we’re offering a look at our talk with the authors.

Winkler, best-known for his acting role as Fonzie on Happy Days, was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult. After meeting writer Lin Oliver, he chose to provide help for dyslexic children through a book series. Learn more about the authors and their series in our exclusive interview with Oliver and Winkler.

Gemm Learning: Mr. Winkler, you found out you were dyslexic at the age of 30 when your step-son was diagnosed in the third grade. What did you do after you found out in regards to seeking treatment?

Henry Winkler: I never sought treatment. I went through several stages, the first being anger about all of the punishment I endured for not getting good grades. Finally, I came to understand that maybe I wouldn’t be here right now answering these questions if I didn’t negotiate my struggle. For me, knowing that I had a real learning issue was ultimately releasing because I was no longer stupid; I was challenged.

GL: Can you tell me about some of the things you struggled with as a result of dyslexia besides reading?

HW: Reading was always difficult for me, but so were spelling, math, phone numbers, and following directions, to name a few. Eye-hand coordination when it comes to sports is a problem.

GL: Dyslexia must have presented challenges to your acting career, but did it also have any positive effects?

HW: The learning challenges helped me hone my comic timing because I used humor as a cover for my embarrassment. When reading a script cold was difficult, my sense of improvisation took over.

GL: When did you become an advocate for dyslexia awareness? Can you tell me a little about your campaigns to raise awareness for dyslexia?

HW: I never thought of myself as an advocate. In the beginning, all I did was tell my story, and it was amazing how many people in each audience would identify with what I was saying. So I just kept talking. And then, with Lin Oliver, we started writing the Hank Zipzer books, and it organically evolved into a campaign. In England, it’s known as the “My Way” campaign; each child has their own way of learning, and that must be acknowledged.

GL: I assume that the two of you grew up with different learning styles. How do your diverse educational backgrounds and experiences interact when you write together?

Lin Oliver: Specifically, we have worked out a writing process that maximizes our unique strengths. I sit at the computer while Henry paces the room. We each contribute ideas for plot and character and dialog. Those ideas are written down and we review them in our own styles; I work on the computer and Henry reads the characters out loud.

However, the most important thing we do is make each other laugh and insist on emotional truth. What we have found out through the process is that no matter how different we might be, we are very much the same in what moves us in response to our diverse experiences.

GL: The Hank Zipzer series is subtitled “The World’s Best Underachiever.” Do you think there’s a relationship between dyslexic children and “underachieving”? Is this an issue of self-image?

LO and HW: Learning challenges directly influence the child’s self-image and their ability to achieve in traditional ways in school. What is really important for children to know is that no matter how they learn, or how hard it is for them to learn, none of that has anything to do with how brilliant they are. Each person has greatness inside, and each person’s job is to dig that out and give it to the world.

GL: Why do you think school is such an important time when you have dyslexia?

LO and HW: Childhood is made up primarily of school. It’s important not to let children’s performance in school determine how they look at themselves or feel about themselves.

GL: What is your advice for children with reading disabilities?

HW: No matter how difficult it is to read, when you find a subject that excites you, reading is so much fun. There are lots of ways to get information and become educated. I learned through my ears. Find your best learning strategy and pursue knowledge.

GL: If asked to convince a child that reading is important, what would you say?

LO and HW: You can sit in your chair or lie on your bed or travel anywhere in the universe while reading a book.

GL: What are you working on next?

LO and HW: We are in the midst of writing a new series for kids. It’s called Ghost Buddy, and it is a comedy, like the Hank Zipzer books. It is the story of Billy Broccoli who discovers that his new house is haunted by an irresponsible but very cool ghost. It’s the story of friendship, resisting bullying, and being responsible for yourself and others. The first book, Zero to Hero, was released in January, and the second book in the series, Mind If I Read Your Mind? will be out in July. Many more will follow after that.


Oliver and Winkler know that reading can be an effective form of treatment for dyslexic children. Check out the Hank Zipzer and Ghost Buddy books to make education enjoyable and valuable for children with learning and reading difficulties.

Are you seeking more information about treatment for dyslexia? Gemm Learning offers K-12 children reading programs to help you. Contact us today to explore our dyslexia treatment options.