The adage ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ was never truer than it is in the life of Dolores Hiskes. The unwritten part of that adage, however, is that the “necessity” often involves a rather challenging experience, while the “invention” develops slowly, often while the inventor isn’t fully aware of his or her discovery.
It was the difficulty experienced by one of Hiskes’ two children (now both in their mid-40’s) that launched her publishing company’s successful phonics, reading, and spelling books.
“When my daughter was in the first grade, she hadn’t learned anything by Easter. She couldn’t read. She would get headaches and tummy aches, and didn’t want to go to school,” Hiskes explains. After repeated attempts to get her daughter back on track had failed, she says, “I realized something was wrong.”
In her research, Hiskes came across a book, Reading With Phonics, and decided to have her daughter work with the book.
“She became the best reader in her class,” Hiskes notes.
As she began to share the secrets to her daughter’s success, other parents came to Hiskes, asking if she would work with their children. “I would only get the students no one else could teach,” she explains, often when the family had run out of more traditional options.
Meanwhile, Hiskes was also traveling extensively with her husband, who made regular business trips throughout the world. On these trips, the personal struggle was soon put into a broader, global context. “I don’t know how to explain our processes, but this has just stayed with me,” she notes.
Taking an interest in the phonics and reading texts of other English-speaking countries, Hiskes soon discovered that many of the texts she found (and admired) were fading away.
“I saw good texts going out of print and bought them,” she says. “In England, in Ireland, in Australia, I kept running into good books going away. I kept thinking, ‘Someone should really bring this all together’.”
It didn’t take Hiskes long to realize that that “someone” was her. Today, her line of books is used across the country, in schools, tutoring centers, and speech pathology centers, as well as in many private homes. The books have become successful as many parents, educators, and others turn to the texts as a way to help children read, changing struggling students into stellar ones.
While students, parents, and teachers were taking notice, so, too was the publishing industry.
“I swore I would never sell out,” Hiskes says. And she hasn’t – although the book is undergoing a change in publisher.
Jossey-Bass, a respected academic publisher, has recently created a Teaching Division, and was looking for quality texts for its new venture. Hiskes’ Phonics Pathways books quickly caught their eye. While she was uncertain at first, she finally agreed to have Jossey-Bass publish the series, which they will do beginning in April, 2005.
“They convinced me because they can reach more people. But I have total control over the book’s contents,” she says, noting the importance of the book’s integrity to her, even under a new publisher.
After all, within Dolores Hiskes, publisher, remains the poignant memories of 40 years ago, when she was Dolores Hiskes, frustrated parent. And Jossey-Bass understood. “I told the publisher, ‘This is my baby. I’ve nutured it for 20 years,'” she explains. “And the publisher replied, ”Don’t worry. You’re not giving your baby away, you’re sending it to Stanford.'”