Future Reflections Summer 2000, Vol. 19 No. 2

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Children’s Books: Reviews and Comments

 

Reviews and Comments by:
Rachel Becker

Barbara Cheadle

Peggy Chong

Kenneth Jernigan

Emily Ann Mitchell

Jordan Powell

 

 

Books Reviewed:

The Night Search

Mandy Sue Day

The Doll on the Top Shelf

T.J.’s Story

The Seeing Summer

 

 

From the Editor: In my local newspaper there is a small column about children’s literature. In that column is a section where children comment about what they like—or do not like—about particular children’s books. As much as I appreciate the adult reviews, I am always fascinated by what the children have to say. It seemed to me that it might be both fun and instructive to ask children—some blind, some sighted—to make comments about a few children’s books for Future Reflections. Of course, these are not just any books. Each of these books features a blind character.

Mrs. Peggy Chong also reviews two of the books, The Night Search and The Doll on the Top Shelf. Both of these books are in print and Braille, and so can be read independently by either a print reader or a Braille reader. Her reviews are followed by comments from fourth grader, Rachel Becker (who is blind), and her sighted friend and neighbor, Emily Ann Mitchell. And, as Editor, I’ve taken the liberty of adding my two-cents-worth here and there.

The next two books, Mandy Sue Day and T.J.’s Story, are reviewed by sighted third grader, Jordan Powell. I also made some observations about the book T.J.’s Story. Readers may remember that Mandy Sue Day received a very favorable review from Peggy Chong in the last issue of Future Reflections. Mandy Sue Day is available on tape through your regional library for the blind and will soon be available in Braille, too. T.J.’s Story was recorded and Brailled by the Washington Library for the Blind. Your regional library for the blind can get you a  copy  through interlibrary loan.

Finally, the last review is about a book for slightly older children, The Seeing Summer, by Jeannette Eyerly (the books described above are all picture books for young children). Dr. Kenneth Jernigan wrote this review when the book first came out in the mid-eighties. Since the regular print book is once again available for purchase (thanks to the National Federation of the Blind) it seems appropriate to reprint the review for our current readers. The Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped recorded the book shortly after it was originally published. Check with your regional library for the blind for the recorded copy. Here are the comments and reviews:

 

THE NIGHT SEARCH

by Kate Chamberlin

Illustrated by Dot Yoder

©1997, Jason and Nordic Publishers

Review by Peggy Chong

 

Heather is a blind girl who is going on a family camping vacation with her new pet, Crackers, a puppy. Heather does not want to take her cane on the trip. She thinks it is stupid. But Mom brings the cane along, anyway.

Heather’s mother tries to convince Heather to use her cane, reminding Heather that Crackers is just the family puppy, not a trained guide dog. But Heather, who has been to the camp many times, believes that she can find her way around the camp just fine without her cane.

The first night, after everyone is in bed, Heather has to take the new puppy out into the rain. Heather decides, since she has to go out anyway, to go up the path to the bathrooms. She does not take her “stupid” cane. While Heather is in the bathroom, Crackers runs away. Heather sets out to search for him. She remembers he loved going to the pond earlier that day, so she heads down the path toward the pond.

Heather tries to use all the other alternative travel techniques she has learned from her travel teacher. She listens for the sounds of her puppy, and finds the path to the pond by the smell of the pine trees. But she has a difficult time finding her way and is soon frustrated. First, she steps in a mud puddle, then she trips over a hump of grass, and then she falls over a rock and hurts her hands. Heather begins to wish for her cane back at camp.

She finally reaches the pond and steps in at the edge. She calls again for Crackers. She hears Crackers, but he will not come. When Heather finally finds him, she discovers that Crackers’s leash has gotten tangled with a log. Heather frees her puppy, and they both turn to walk back. But Heather trips again and falls to her knees. Under her fingers, she finds a long stick. Heather happily picks up the long stick and makes her way quickly and safely back to the cabin.

This delightful little story for young children has print and Braille text with color illustrations. It is not only a wonderful story for kids, but I also think it might be a great story for many blind adults who are struggling with the idea of carrying a cane. Orientation and mobility instructors should find the book useful as a way to introduce discussions about the cane to their students.

 

The Night Search

Rschel Becker
Rachel Becker

Comments by:
Rachel Becker, blind student,Fourth Grade,
Frederick, Maryland

I really enjoyed this thrilling adventure. I liked the way Heather realized that her cane is helpful even in places where she’s been before. The story is realistic. It tells how real blind people feel, and what happens when they don’t take their canes with them. It also has a happy ending. You should read this book. You’ll enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Search

Emily Ann Mitchell
Emily Ann Mitchell

Comments by:Emily Ann Mitchell,
sighted student,
Fourth Grade,
Frederick, Maryland

I like The Night Search because it shows that blind people can do anything. Heather, the girl in the story, went out to find her dog without her cane and found him. I liked that book a lot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandy Sue Day

by Roberta Karim

Illustrated by Karen Ritz

© 1994, Houghton Mifflin Company

Review by Jordan Powell

 

This book was about Mandy Sue and her day (a day that is hers). Mandy Sue is a blind girl even though the book doesn’t say she is blind until toward the end of the story. The book tells us that she is blind by describing the four senses she uses. It also shows us she is blind by using pictures that make us think she might be. Also she tells little Jeremy she can’t see toward the end of the book. When I read the book with my dad, he asked, “Are you sure she is blind?” because the story doesn’t make a big deal out of her blindness. This is good because blind people are just like other kids.

Mandy Sue lives on a farm. It would be cool to meet her because she knows the whole way around the farm and would be able to show you around even though she is blind. She could also teach you how to ride Ben, her horse. I think it is very interesting that Mandy Sue can do all this stuff even though she can’t see. She probably got good at this by practicing and because her parents probably helped her. I also think it’s interesting because, since Mandy Sue can do all these things, little Jeremy forgot that she is blind. Mandy Sue would be cool to meet.

I liked this book for a lot of reasons. First, I thought the length was good for my age group. The illustrations were cool because they looked like 3-D. I liked that Mandy Sue could do so many of the things she did. I would recommend this book to my friends. It is a good book.

THE DOLL ON THE TOP SHELF

by Ruth Turk

Illustrated by Per Volquartz

© 1998, Owl’s House Press

Review by Peggy Chong

 

The Doll on the Top Shelf is a story set in a toyshop at Christmas time. This oversized children’s book for young readers, published by Owl’s House Press, is novel because the Grade Two Braille text is embossed on regular Braille paper which has been glued to the regular page. Therefore, the Braille, the print, and the illustrations are all on the same page.

Annie Mae is an old doll with a faded dress. She is plain of face and dusty from sitting on the shelves of the toyshop far too long. On Christmas Eve, a grandmother comes into the shop to buy a doll for her blind granddaughter. They are told that the only doll left is Annie Mae. Because the little girl is blind, she can fall in love with the plain doll with the faded dress and plain face. The grandmother buys the doll, and they all live happily ever after.

The last page is an explanation and history of Braille. A diagram of the Braille alphabet and some of the Braille contractions is also included. Readers are encouraged to use their fingers, after studying the Braille code, and try to find certain words in the book. This part of the book is well done.

Hopefully, this section of the book leaves the last impression on the reader, and not the simple, sweet story line that seems to imply that the blind child does not need or want the new toys, or has a special, mystical ability to see beneath surface appearances with her heart. I would read The Doll on the Top Shelf to young children, but I would be careful in how I interpreted the story for them.

 

The Doll On The Top Shelf really made me feel a special feeling—something that’s indescribable. It is a really heart-touching book about a girl named Natalie who would buy the last doll in the toy store—a plain doll with woolly hair and a pink polka-dot dress. Natalie thought she felt nice and bought her. The Doll On the Top Shelf is a wonderful book. You should read it. You’ll enjoy it.

Rachel Becker (blind student)

Fourth Grade

Frederick, Maryland

 

I like the book, The Doll on the Top Shelf, because I love dolls. I have a friend who is blind, and she plays dolls with me. The book shows that blind people learn to love the doll even if it looks ugly.

Emily Ann Mitchell

(sighted student)

Fourth Grade

Frederick, Maryland

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: I thought it interesting that Rachel picked up on the fact that Natalie, the blind child, liked the feel of the doll on the top shelf. This raises a question about the difference between visual and tactual attractiveness. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan addressed that very issue in his Kernel book article, “The Barrier of the Visible Difference.”

“A thing that looks beautiful to the eye,” he wrote, “can feel ugly and dirty to the touch.” He goes on to write, “If a thing looks better to the eye and feels worse to the touch, that doesn’t make it better or worse. It simply means a different point of view, a visible difference. I thoroughly understand that we live in a world that is structured for the sighted, so if a blind person intends to get along and compete in society, he or she must learn how the sighted feel and what they think is beautiful and attractive. But this has nothing to do with innate loveliness or quality. It is simply a visible difference.”

I wonder what would happen if Rachel and Emily Ann, with a little parental guidance, were to discuss whether the doll is pretty because she feels nice, or ugly because she looks faded, old, and plain. Maybe such a discussion would help everyone (including parents) come a little closer to understanding, and overcoming, the “barrier of the visible difference.”

 

T.J.’s Story

Jordan Powell
Jordan Powell

 Review by: Jordan Powell, sighted student, Third Grade, Catonsville, Maryland

Text and photographs by Arlene Schulman

© 1998, Lerner Publications Company

 

This story was about T.J. Olsen. He is blind. In the book he talked about being blind. He talked about his life and what it’s like to be blind. He talked about school, friends, family and what he likes to do. T.J. sounds like a regular kid.

After reading this book, I decided I would like to meet T.J. Olsen. This book helped me understand that blind people are not all that different from sighted people.  For example, he likes a lot of the same things I like (swimming, school, playing with friends, and playing the piano). At the science museum, he likes to touch animals and so do I! I think T.J. would be nice to meet.

I like this book for various reasons. First, I thought that the length of the book was good for my age group (3rd grade). Second, I liked the pictures because they were real photos. Finally, I liked that he is narrating the book. That makes it seem like he’s right there talking to me. I would recommend this book to other kids. It’s a good book.

 

Editor’s Comments: Jordan gives a good description of the story line part of the book, which is obviously meant to be read by children. However, there is another section at the end of the book which, while still readable by children, seems to be mostly targeted at adults. This section includes a narrative called “Information about Blindness,” a glossary of terms, a resources list, and a list of books for further reading. The inclusion of these sections leads me to believe that the author intended the book to be used as a resource by elementary teachers doing a unit on disability, blindness, or the eye.

My reaction to this book was mostly positive, but with some reservations. I was glad to see that a typical sighted child had such a wonderfully positive reaction to it. Jordan gave an excellent summary of all the best qualities and strengths of this book. Clearly, the book succeeds in conveying the message that blind kids are more like other kids than they are different. However, the book is less successful when T.J. stops speaking and the author takes over. For example, in the “Information about Blindness” section there are a couple of factual inaccuracies (more on this later).

There are also a few descriptions—or depictions—of educational practices which well-informed blind adults, teachers of the visually impaired, and parents of blind children may find troublesome. For example, T.J. is often let out early so he doesn’t “get trampled” (p. 18), and the only time he is shown using a cane is during his mobility lesson. By contrast, Rachel Becker, the blind 4th grader who reviewed a couple of books at the beginning of this article, uses her cane at all times when outside her classroom and is seldom excused early on any occasion. Her mobility lessons include techniques for keeping up and managing in a crowded hallway. I hope T.J.’s teachers are planning goals like this for him, soon, too. He clearly has the capacity to achieve this level of independence.

In regard to factual errors, in the last paragraph of the section on “Information about Blindness” the author says, “There is no cure for blindness. But technology is always improving. One day someone may invent an electronic eye that will give T.J. and others sight.”

This statement is simply not true. There are many causes of blindness, and therefore many different treatments. Excellent treatments exist which can prevent, delay, or restore vision loss caused by such conditions as senile cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachments, and diabetic retinopathy. Corneal transplants continue to restore vision for a selective group of people with a certain type of eye condition.

On the other hand, the concept of the “electronic eye”—which the author speculates might someday restore sight to T.J.—is so complex that any practical applications for significant vision restoration is still far, far down the road. Furthermore, since the causes of vision loss are so varied, the likelihood that one miracle invention will cure all causes is nil. I understand that the author needed to simplify and condense material, but I believe she stepped over the line between simplification and misinformation.

Another minor inaccuracy was the reference to all guide dogs as Seeing Eye Dogs (p. 34). The commonly accepted generic term is guide dogs. Seeing Eye Dogs are dogs that have been trained at Seeing Eye, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey. Calling all guide dogs Seeing Eye Dogs is as incorrect as calling all copy machines Xerox machines, or all facial tissues Kleenex®.

   My recommendation to parents and teachers is by all means to use the story about T.J. with your child or students, but please, skip the last sections or use them with caution and check the facts. The National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (see address on the contents page) will be glad to help you with these.

 

The Seeing Summer

 by Jeannette EyerlyIllustrations by Maki Ishiwata
Review by Kenneth Jernigan

 

Editor’s Note: The following review is reprinted from an early issue of Future Reflections. Print copies of The Seeing Summer are available for $10 from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Call (410) 659-9314 and ask for the Materials Center  for more information. Tape copies should be available through your regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.Here is Dr. Jernigan’s review:

Mrs. Eyerly is a woman of diversified interests and numerous accomplishments. Among other things, she is a widely published author of children’s books. Now, she has written a story about blindness—and it is first-rate! It is not sensational, not melodramatic, not drippy or sentimental—none of these. It is simply factual and interesting and down to earth. But this takes nothing away from its effectiveness. It is entitled The Seeing Summer, and it deals with the experiences of a young blind girl moving into a new neighborhood.

In a very real sense The Seeing Summer by Jeannette Eyerly is a professional book dealing with blindness, for it provides knowledge and information which every professional in the field (rehabilitation counselor, rehabilitation teacher, librarian, teacher of blind children, and administrator) should have.  It is also a textbook on psychology, for it contains insights into human behavior and motivation which are unique and instructive.

In addition, it is a textbook on sociology, for it shows how individuals relate to each other and to groups. To say all of these things does not detract one bit from the fact that the book is a delightful and entertaining story for children. Indeed, its readability and unpretentious style enhance the value of the book as a serious work.  It may well be one of the most valuable contributions yet made to a real understanding of what blindness is –and what it isn’t.

Regardless of all of this, The Seeing Summer is worth reading—if for nothing else, just because it’s fun. Perhaps it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) its appeal is not limited to children. It is a must for those who want to increase their understanding of blindness, or for those who simply want to read a well-written children’s book.

 

 

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