Laguna Beach author serves up empathy and escapades in new children’s book

Gea Meijering, author of Hacking the Code: The Ziggety-Zaggety Road of a D-Kid about Kees, a dyslexic boy who has adventures, makes friends, and learns that everyone has different strengths. It will be available at Laguna Beach Books on April 15. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Author Gea Meijering has created a boy named Kees, whom she will introduce to the world next week.

Kees is the protagonist of Meijering’s new children’s book, Hacking the Code: The Ziggety Zaggety Road of a D-Kid, geared toward third- through sixth-graders. Its primary theme has not to do with coding but with dyslexia.

In the book, fifth-grader Kees has dyslexia, makes friends, enjoys being silly, and sometimes gets into trouble at school, then must face the consequences.

Hacking the Code is a lighthearted, friendship-centered story that helps young readers understand that every brain works differently. The book’s key take-aways are empathy and acknowledging, in a non-stigmatizing way, the learning challenges some students face.

Meijering’s now-grown son, who is dyslexic, struggled to read in elementary school but went undiagnosed throughout first grade.

“I researched dyslexia more thoroughly than an FBI agent and witnessed up close and personal the dyslexia struggle and the gift it can be,” she said.

As a volunteer parent mentor for Laguna Beach Unified School District’s special education department, she saw many children and their parents questioning why school wasn’t going well. Dyslexia remains unidentified in 80 percent of schoolchildren and presents in as many as one in five people. A genetic condition, it can run in families.

One friend from Meijering’s online dyslexic parent support group noted, “The book’s high point is the hero’s beautiful essay at the end. It could have been written by my son, it so well echoes his situation. And I wish for more teachers like the principal, who awarded Kees for his feedback, because when the system doesn’t work for all kids, it is time to adapt the system.”

Her book, Meijering hopes, will present answers and awareness for young readers who may recognize themselves in Kees.

Third-grade Top of the World Elementary teacher Nadia Hart shared Meijering’s book with her cohorts in-person class. “When class time would transition and I’d tell them we are going to read Hacking the Code, my students would literally cheer.”

Tustin educator Jennifer Rincon wrote in an early review, “Kees and an appealing cast of characters show readers the learning differences between ‘Apple and Android’ brains in an engaging story of fifth-grade challenges and fun pranks. It’s an eye-opening tale of the struggles with dyslexia that promotes insight and compassion.”

The book was designed using a dyslexic-friendly font and more than 80 illustrations.

Meijering discovered her illustrator, Mads Johan Øgaard, on Instagram. The Norwegian artist, animator, and special education teacher focuses on learning differences and mental health.

A native of the Netherlands, the author moved to Laguna Beach in 2001 with her family just before giving birth to the younger of her two sons. She has also published a translation and adaptation of a Dutch new-mom and newborn care manual titled The First 8 Days of Being a Mom. Both of her books were published through her company, iCarePress. Signed copies of Hacking the Code will be available on April 22 at Laguna Beach Books and on Amazon on April 15.

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