A 10-year-old fifth-grader from Northborough is fundraising for a section of large print books for children and young adults at her local public library. Her goal is to take her efforts statewide – and possibly nationwide – to provide children like her – with and without visual impairments – access to reading materials in their libraries. local public.
NORTHBOROUGH – Pulling novel after novel out of her canvas bag, fifth-grader Madisyn Lathrop said she was almost done reading the entire Little House on the Prairie series.
“I have one book left to read,” said Madisyn, 10, an avid reader for as long as she can remember.
But when she started picking up chapter books in third grade, she started coming home from school everyday in tears.
“(I was saying to my mom), ‘I’m trying, I’m trying,’ but (my teachers) kept telling me to keep on (trying),” she said.
âIt was causing her a lot of anxiety as she wanted to keep pace with her peers,â said Madisyn’s mother, Tracy Lathrop. âShe wants to do well, but she would get very discouraged and come home every day crying, saying, ‘Mom, I just can’t read (the material). (Her teachers) thought it was more laziness and (Madisyn) would get so upset … she would always say, âThey don’t understand, Mom.â It was sad for me because when she was younger , she really liked (read).
Madiysn was diagnosed with visual impairments – alternating exotropia, convergence insufficiency and ptosis. She has another “invisible” disability called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue. who understands his eyes.
â(Her disabilities) aren’t tangible and you can’t see them, so it’s hard for people to understand by looking at her,â Lathrop said.
These impairments mean Madisyn cannot read standard size characters, usually in a 12 point font. Lathrop said reading was not a problem when Madisyn was younger, as most children’s books contain larger printed words.
âShe doesn’t have a problem with acuity, it’s her eyes just don’t pair well,â Lathrop said of her daughter, who reads well in 20 point font. âShe can see when she walks around, but when she tries to focus on something, especially something small, her vision gets blurry and doubled, and then she has migraines. She also had episodes where she lost her sight for periods of time, just because (her eyes) were submerged.
“Not all disabilities are visible”
There are approximately 568,202 children with visual impairments nationwide, according to the American Community Survey 2017 from the American Foundation for the Blind. According to his 2016 data, there are 9,525 children aged 0 to 17 who are visually impaired in Massachusetts.
While attending a local school without large print materials – which are usually printed in 18 point fonts – in her library, Madisyn often read in the corner of her classroom with a magnifying glass plugged into the wall while her classmates read. at their desk. But it was “very awkward,” her mother said, adding that reading on computer screens would also quickly strain her eyes.
After changing schools, they encountered the same thing, she said, with a principal who allegedly told Madisyn to “tell your mother to bring you glasses.”
Lathrop, who suffers from congenital heart disease, said she relates to the frustration of those who do not believe in an “invisible” disability because it is not visibly obvious.
But “not all disabilities are visible,” said Lathrop, who now teaches Madisyn at home.
Besides being hard to find, large print books are also “definitely more expensive,” she said. âYou can get a regular chapter book for maybe $ 6 or $ 7. (Large print books) probably range from $ 20 to $ 30. “
While the Northborough Free Library has about five rows of large print books for adults, it has none for children and young adults, Lathrop said. While visiting other surrounding libraries, they heard the same response.
“No, sorry, we don’t have that,” with the exception of the Milford City Library, which has about two small rows of large print books, she said.
Milford Youth Services Librarian Michelle D’Amato said her large print selection for children – up to grade five – runs to around two dozen books. She said it was “not too common” for her to hear young adults requesting large print books, but when they do, they order these materials through the Central and Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing network ( C / WMARS), of which the Nortborough Library is also a partner.
âI was shocked. I just didn’t get it,â Lathrop said. âMost people just think that when you get older your eyes need magnification to read, but people don’t think that children can also have this problem. â
As part of the C / WMARS network, there are around 500 large print titles for youth fiction titles, said Katrina Ireland, children’s librarian at the Northborough Free Library, and teens have around 150 additional large print titles. . The exact number of titles available in standard print, however, cannot be searched through the C / WMARS system, Ireland said, although the number is expected to be much higher than what is offered in large print.
If Madisyn orders a book from this system, it takes them about four days – sometimes longer – to get to her local library to pick it up, Lathrop said.
Sometimes she orders books through the Worcester Talking Book Library, which provides printed materials to people with visual or physical disabilities. On other occasions, they buy books from Amazon.com.
“(The Worcester Talking Book Library) is really great because otherwise she wouldn’t have access to these books, but it’s nice to be able to walk into a library and just pick a book off the shelf like anybody else. what another kid, âLathrop said. . “(Madisyn) was talking to (Ireland) and was really disheartened as she had probably gone through all the books in (the library) trying to find something she could read.”
In August, she finally ordered her first book from the library.
â(Madisyn) was beaming,â Lathrop said. “She was so happy – from that day forward she was inspired to help others like her.”
To give all children and young adults equal access to the reading material printed at the Northborough Free Library, Madisyn is raising funds to start a large print collection for those under 17, hoping to expand its efforts into statewide, and maybe even nationwide, his mother says.
After speaking at a meeting of the Northboro Junior Women’s Club in November, the club donated $ 250 to Madisyn’s fundraiser and began their collection by donating books from the “The Little House” series. in the meadow “and” Harry Potter “.
âI used to think I was the only one,â Madisyn said of feeling different at school. âBut once (Ireland and I) started researching, I realized that large print can be good for all kids, especially kids with dyslexia who already have trouble reading. I know a lot of other visually impaired children, and they can’t come to the library and take a book off the shelves like me, either.
Having a few dyslexic friends, Madisyn said “they read fine print books, but have a lot of trouble with that.”
“We’ve only had a handful of requests for large print in this library,” said Ireland, but said she wondered how many other children would come and pick up books if they knew the library had a decent collection for them.
âMany children can feel disenfranchised in the library knowing that we don’t have a huge in-house collection to browse,â said Ireland. “However, how much would (this) benefit? Everyone.”
A 2019 national study by Thorndike Press measuring the effect of large print books on students’ reading skills found that 43% of students reported reduced anxiety about reading, nearly 60% said they were concentrate better with fewer distractions, and four in five teachers said -The print benefited students with problems like eye tracking or who showed low confidence in reading. Ninety-five percent of teachers said they were more likely to use large print for the next school year.
âStudies show that children who are reluctant readers, who have visual impairments or dyslexia do much better with large print because it takes the fatigue out of their eyes,â Lathrop said. “When they strain to read and use all of their concentration to see the words, they don’t really understand the content.”
âWe believe it is our library’s mission to serve all members of our community – an important part of that is to ensure that every aspect of our libraries is accessible, including our collections,â said Ireland. “Gaps in our collection, whether intentional or unintentional, send an unfortunate message that the library is a place for ‘some’ instead of ‘all’.”
So far, by going door-to-door with flyers about her mission, Madisyn has raised $ 1,275.
After bringing a large print selection to her local library, Madisyn plans to raise funds for other libraries in the area. Currently, she is writing a letter to Governor Charlie Baker about her mission and why others like her should have equal access to reading materials in their local public libraries.
Donations can be made to the Large Print Book Fundraiser at the Northborough Free Library, Children’s Room, 34 Main Street, Northborough MA 01532. Cash is accepted.
Lauren Young writes on politics, social issues and covers the town of Franklin. Contact her at 315-766-6912 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @laurenatmilford.