A Book Review by Christine Faltz
Several years ago, Shirley Keller and Irma Goldberg of Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL) approached me with a pile of tactile illustrations and picture descriptions for a nursery rhymes book they were planning. Because I had expressed such delight with their other products, especially their tactually illustrated Braille alphabet and number cards, and their book Let’s Learn Shapes with Shapely-CAL–they wanted to know which pictures I thought were best and what they should consider changing or elaborating upon. They also asked me to share their ideas with my daughter, Samantha, who was at the time nearly three.
It’s been a long two years, waiting for Humpty Dumpty to come alive. Today, at long last, I have before me one of the first copies of Humpty Dumpty and Other Touching Rhymes published by National Braille Press. It’s even better than I anticipated. Anyone who’s seen Shapely-CAL already knows how easily discernible CAL’s illustrations are.
The individual nursery rhymes appear in large print and Braille on the left-hand side of the book. Facing the rhymes, on the right-hand side of the book, are the actual tactile drawings. A Braille reader who has learned all or most of her contractions can explore this book completely unassisted.
Humpty Dumpty comes equipped with a complementary booklet, tucked into a pocket at the back of the book, which gives a step-by-step tour of the multi-faceted illustrations. This booklet, like the nursery rhymes book itself, is in print and Braille.
Twice, the reader is coaxed to be sure to explore the whole page—not at all a redundant move, since it is easy to miss an interesting or fun detail. Even after sharing the book’s contents with my daughter several times, and looking at each illustration for several minutes, I am continually amazed at the elements I have missed.
The mouse’s tail is obvious and cute (if you do not mind mice) and the eggs in the nest in “Hickety, Pickety, My Black Hen” are easy to distinguish, but the reason one can only discern one eye, nostril, and ear on the sheep in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” only makes sense if you already understand a view in profile or if you read the description in the accompanying booklet.
In “Hey, Diddle, Diddle,” one can see what a flying cow looks like on a flat page. One is able to feel the flame on the candle in “Jack Be Nimble,” count the leaves and feel the rough bark of the oak in “A Wise Old Owl,” or feel the wool on the sheep in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”
Many blind children have no idea what a hen or a sheep or a cow looks like. I have yet to run across a “willing” owl and was shocked to learn that a horned owl does not have horns, but feathery tufts that resemble them. I’ve always assumed owls had long beaks; I know now that, at least in the case of a horned owl, it has a short, sharp beak.
Unlike Shapely-CAL, there is no added color on the illustrations, which potentially compromises its attraction for sighted children and those with some light perception. However, the pages can easily be decorated using markers or textured materials, which would add to the fun! Additionally, although its entire contents is age-appropriate for babies, it was not possible (for pesky economic reasons) to create a book of this nature that could withstand the mouthing and otherwise messy, rowdy exploratory methods of infants. Even younger toddlers should be supervised in the care of this wonderful book.
However, as with all CAL products, the attention to detail and care taken with respect to both the illustrations and their descriptions is first-rate. As for the latter issue, I will be doing whatever I can, by any gentle, loving, and legal means necessary, to introduce my 1-year-old son to this book sooner than later. (Besides, CAL’s washable, infant-friendly, round-cornered Shape, Number and Alphabet cards are already part of my arsenal for promoting early literacy, pre-Braille readiness, and development of compensatory tactual skills.)
Blind children’s options for illustrated books are practically nil and mediocre at best. There are many agencies and nonprofit organizations catering to the relatively tiny market of blind children. Because of this small demand, costs are high. There is a lot of overlapping of products and materials, but I assure you, there is only one place to get high-quality tactile pictures which are appropriate for the very young blind child—and indeed for any print-handicapped child. Humpty Dumpty and Other Touching Rhymes is absolutely, positively a worthwhile investment. It is available for $24 from:
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115-430X
(800) 548-7323 <www.nbp.org>
For information about CAL’s other fantastic products contact:
Creative Adaptations for
38 Beverly Road
Great Neck, NY 11021-1330
(516) 466-9143; <www.cals.org>
Christine Faltz, blind since birth, is the mother of two blind children: Samantha, who is four-and-a-half, and Braden, who just celebrated his first birthday. Christine is an attorney who currently handles pro-bono education, employment, human, and/or civil rights matters. She is Secretary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; President of the New York State Parents of Blind Children; First Vice President of the Long Island Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; Associate Consultant for Art Education for the Blind; and a Board Member of the International Children’s Anophthalmia/Microophthalmia Network.
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