Future Reflections Fall 1994, Vol. 13 No. 3

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IS IT A BOOK OR JUST PAPER?

by Bernadette Kobierecki

Speech given at the
Saturday, May 21, 1994,
Children's Braille Book Club 10th
Anniversary Celebration
National Braille Press, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

[PICTURE] Bernadette looks on as daughter Rachel has her book autographed at the Children’s Braille Book Club Anniversary Celebration

From the Editor: What happens when institutions providing services to the blind really listen and respond to the consumers they serve? A little over ten years ago Diane Croft, a representative of the National Braille Press, attended a National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. At that convention she heard blind adults and parents of blind children talking about Braille literacy and about the need for more Braille books for young blind children-especially affordable books parents could buy. Ms. Croft listened, the National Braille Press responded, and the Children's Braille Book Club was born.

On May 21, 1994, the National Braille Press celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Children's Braille Book Club. Parents of sighted children who have access to literally thousands of free or inexpensive books through schools, public libraries, book stores, toy stores, and even magazine and card shops, cannot fully appreciate the significance of this celebration. But a parent of a blind child can. Here is the delightful presentation that Bernadette Kobierecki, a parent of a blind child and an early subscriber to the Children's Braille Book Club, gave at that celebration:

In April 1993, my husband, daughter, and I enjoyed a family wedding in New York City. David and Ann, both teachers, love books. At the reception dinner we discovered a different paperback book had been placed by each name card. On Rachel's plate was the 1993 Winnie-the-Pooh Calendar in print/Braille from National Braille Press.

We were delighted. The young couple and all who were aware of this beautiful surprise beamed with joy at Rachel's reaction. But the most frequent comment made was "Do you have any idea how many phone calls to how many states it took to buy that book?"

Yes, we do know, and we feel it's a bit easier now than it was ten years ago, which is why we're all gathered here tonight to celebrate.

When Rachel was born sixteen weeks too early friends gave her a button which said, "Of course I believe in miracles. I am one." Our Rachel and the Children's Braille Book Club are actually twins, both "little miracles" in the waning months of 1983.

To us, reading and books are as necessary as air and water. If we needed print and she needed Braille, the simple solution should have been books for all of us, right? As Rachel says, "Not!"

Braille and print books are not available in the local bookstore. Except in elevators, Braille does not surround us in everyday life the way print does. Additionally, the average sighted person I've met has little if any knowledge of Braille-especially the Grade II Braille which appears in most books. For Rachel, a blind child with parents who are sighted, Braille did not just "happen."

Sighted children don't magically become ready to read and write. They begin by developing language and vocabulary based on life experiences. For years sighted children watch big people read and write and derive meaning from the marks on the paper. Sighted children read along when mom and dad read aloud; they play at reading pictures and end up wanting to read for themselves.

Children are children and, blind or not, much of the process is the same. Rachel's language and vocabulary needed to be built on her life experiences, too. But with some tangible differences. Yes, sun is warm and shade is cool. But how tall is that tree? And how wide is the sky? Dogs are easy, but a bird is more than a flying whistle.

Yes, pumpkins and carrots are orange, grass is green, and the sky is blue. But more, orange is a flavor and smell, green grass has texture, and blue water has a temperature.

We threw rocks into a local pond. I said, "The big rock made a big splash, and the little rock made a little splash." Rachel said, "No, the big rock made a low tone, and the little rock made a higher tone." Her idea was more meaningful. Our child has been a good and patient teacher.

We loved to read together-it was always cozy and fun-and story tapes were great, too. But without the Braille it wasn't really reading.

We didn't learn about the Children's Braille Book Club for sixteen months. We were busy reinventing the wheel. In the meantime, that first summer, from a defunct source, we bought two print-Braille books for $49.20!

In April of 1985, Rachel, in her grandma-powered stroller, and I attended our first National Federation of the Blind meeting and heard Diane Croft from National Braille Press speak. We returned home with a source of role models and a subscription to the Children's Braille Book Club. One hundred dollars a year provided Rachel with a new book each month and the joy of receiving her very own "mail for Rachel!"

When we read together, if it had Braille dots, she would feel it and say, "It's a book!" Without the Braille she would push it away and declare, "That's paper."

As book club members our awareness of and respect for publishers has grown. Covert Bailey lectured at the Yankee Dental conference in Boston in the mid- to late-1980's. My opinion of purchasing Fit or Fat and The Target Diet was sought. I urged "Buy Covert's books; he's published by Houghton Mifflin."

Anyone who listens learns how Rachel's book club depends on the generosity of book publishers. Donations of wonderful titles have included Too Much Noise and The Three Bears. Mere mention of these stories elicits groans of recognition from our weary family and friends who were commanded to read, read it again, READ IT AGAIN, PLEASE! And the sound effects had to be just right.

Walt Disney said, "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate loot on Treasure Island, and, best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life."

Rachel now has some eighty-five volumes of treasure on her bookshelf acquired through her membership in the CBBC. Not a huge library, but enough to select a story or lesson for the day.

Recently, she queried, "Mom, what is Curious George curious about, anyway?" "Well, Rachel, just like you, Curious George is curious about everything." And books contain stories and lessons to satisfy the Curious George in all of us, from the concrete to the abstract.

In 1988, Your First Garden Book by Marc Brown appeared. We planted Johnny's Selected Seeds, and our photos show Rachel with her herbs and vegetables against a lush sunflower-studded garden, eating vegetables many kids-and some former Presidents of the United States-wouldn't touch!

In Arthur's Nose we read, "There's a lot more to Arthur than his nose." The words sighted or blind tell us precious little about the whole person, be they child or adult. Shouldn't it be as plain as the nose on Arthur's face that the wrapping paper tells us nothing about the gift inside the package?

In Knots on a Counting Rope, we, too, are invited to race the darkness of fear and win. Grandfather's gift of courage, love, and understanding transcend race and culture. For all mankind throughout the eons-
Grandfathers have offered wisdom
And boys have offered hope.
"But there are many ways to see, Grandfather," the boy says. And I remember a summer evening on the Cape. The men went ocean fishing that day. We women, Rachel among us, toured town. Reunited over dinner, Rachel told her dad about the creaks and jangles of the drawbridge; the boat horns and the seagulls' cries; the scents of candles, leather, and books; the aroma of goodies baking; the herbs she tasted in her seafood lunch; and the sweet, chewy salt-water taffy.

One thoughtful man approached me to say that Rachel's account had humbled him into realizing how little of his other senses he used, and that he felt diminished by his reliance on his eyes and was shocked to discover that seeing and vision are not the same.

Yes, there are many ways of seeing and learning, of adapting and relating to the world around us.

Over the past ten years, we've tickled under a tree, followed Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings safely across busy streets, been sad and mad, made spaghetti with Dad, gone to school with Miss Nelson, crunched through snow hunting owls, ridden steam trains to the North Pole, learned to sleep overnight with Ira, and been so exhausted by it all that we've said, "I am not going to get up today"-but unlike the Little Red Hen, we didn't have to do it all by ourselves, because you were there.

We need all the little engines that could among you-working to improve the accessibility, cost, and selection of Braille materials; advocating for Braille literacy as being just as important as print literacy for our children; insisting that the child learning Braille and other adaptive skills may need a variety of services and programs; and helping the public to form more positive attitudes.

For tonight, our congratulations to the National Braille Press's Children's Braille Book Club and warmest thanks to all its extended family: the publishers, authors, directors, teachers, role models, trustees, officers, supporters, donors, and staff.

Happy 10th Birthday!

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