Happy Cheetah Reading

The Adventures of Font-Finding

Notice that nice, single-stroke lower-case y

Recently, I found myself on a website, comparing over three dozen different handwriting fonts, used to teach children. I knew there were hundreds and thousands of printed fonts — from the typewriter Courier New to the eye-pleasing Helvetica to the (debatably) good for dyslexics Comic Sans.

But I had no idea there were so many different ideas behind teaching children how to print. It seems so basic, right?

It was a fascinating exercise! First, because the fonts themselves were all over the map. Some had a sophisticated tilt, almost a pre-cursive look. Some were pleasingly round. Some looked like they were being smooshed from the sides, with oval O’s. Maybe 60% had W and M where the middle went all the way up or down; the other 40% had the middle stop at the mid-line. Or what about those Q lines? Some were straight, some were squiggling.

Who knew?

Then I looked at how many lines the fonts had to guide beginning writers. I grew up in an era where we started with three lines: the top line was the start of capital letters, the bottom line was the bottom, and the middle was the start of most lower-case letters.

By the time I had children, though, the market had started to switch to a two-line system. There’s no top line, just a middle and a bottom. This helps, apparently, prevent visual confusion.

So some fonts had two lines, and some had three.

There was also the matter of guide dots. You know how lower-case e starts in a unique place, in between the two lines? Some fonts offer a guide dot to help students remember. Not many do, but there were a few.

Then there was the variation in how to form letters. This was the most surprising to me! The arrows designed to explain the steps were not at all similar. For example, E usually had arrows to demonstrate: 1) Straight line down. 2) Horizontal at the top. 3) Horizontal at the middle. 4) Horizontal on the bottom.

But one font might only have that first line down, leaving the student to remember (or guess) whether to work bottom to top or top to bottom.

And then there were the numbers, too! Does the top part of the 6 curve? Or is it more straight?

This was a fascinating exercise overall.

And the amazing thing?

In the end, not a single one of those fonts — not one of more than three dozen! — was what we needed for the Happy Cheetah Reading System.

So we had a designer modify a font that was close, to create our own, unique Happy Cheetah font!

That’s pretty cool!

And, for the curious: the Happy Cheetah font has two lines (not three), no guide dots (we weren’t opposed to them, but they weren’t part of the font), round letters (so pretty!), and a special single-stroke lower-case y (which prevents writing backwards y’s — which has been a problem for one or two of my sons).

Adventures in production!

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