The Triumph of Columbus’ Dyslexic Authors

Young kids who struggled with reading are now publishing books, thanks to Mindful Literacy Columbus.

Joy Frank-Collins
Left to right, Evangeline Bennett, Zoe Kandel, Lindyn Izzie and Genevieve Bennett at work

Ten-year-old Lilly Weprin copped a major attitude when her mother introduced her to her new tutor, Jessica Bennett, in September 2020. For the first month, Lilly’s thrice-weekly sessions with the special education teacher had less to do with addressing her dyslexia and more with earning her trust. 

The problem, Lilly says, is she didn’t want to do more work than her peers. But her dyslexia, diagnosed when she was 6, requires teaching methods that are more systematic and explicit than what other kids her age receive. That means a lot of extra effort. 

Bennett, who serves about 30 students in the private tutoring practice she runs from her Bexley home, knew that locked within Lilly’s mind were fantastic stories waiting be told. Once Bennett found the key—an exercise that got her to open up—Lilly went from reluctant learner to writer in just three months. She’s now the first author published by BHive Press, the imprint of Mindful Literacy Columbus, the nonprofit Bennett created to provide support for kids who have reading disorders or are struggling. 

Illustration from “The Sneakers”

Lilly’s graphic novel, “The Sneakers,” tells the story of a girl who faces punishment from her mom after skipping a Zoom tutoring session to go to a Beyoncé concert with her friends. The graphics were created using a computer app called Pixton Comics, but the words are all Lilly’s. “It’s been a very empowering process for her,” says her mother, Devorah Lipkind. 

Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 people worldwide, says Bennett, who has a doctorate in special education. The disorder is a neurological learning difference that isn’t just seeing letters backward or in reverse order, but also affects speech and language processing. It’s like being forced to read a foreign language no one has taught you, Lipkind explains. “It doesn’t just impact reading; it impacts your life in every aspect of the day.” 

Zoe Kandel, 9, is another author with BHive Press. She wrote the graphic novel “A Fairy’s Tale” alongside three other fourth grade girls with Mindful Literacy Columbus. She was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 8, after her teachers saw a disparity between her test scores and her classroom performance. “She loves school, she’s incredibly engaged, so something wasn’t adding up,” says Zoe’s mom, Emily Kandel. 

Illustration from “A Fairy’s Tale”

Zoe remembers “gushing with happiness” when she learned her book would be published. It combines fiction, history and current events—“all that stuff I really enjoy.” 

Mindful Literacy Columbus started a scholarship program to pay for children in Central Ohio to receive tutoring, which can cost up to $1,500 a month. Three students are in the program, which Bennett hopes to fund partly through sales of BHive Press books online at mindfulliteracypractice.org. The ultimate goal is to establish a physical center where professionals teach adults how to foster children’s literacy while also working with kids with learning differences. 

Emily Kandel says students like her daughter are gaining something even more powerful than literacy: self-esteem. “Dr. Bennett just knows how to motivate these kids and energize them and make them feel really, really good about themselves.” 

That’s the goal, Bennett says. “Obviously I want to teach them how to read and spell and write and to love literacy, but really, my main goal is to build their confidence and empower them and shift their perspective on how they see themselves.”