Future Reflections Special Issue1989, Vol. 8 No. 4

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The Kids on the Block Book Series

Written by Barbara Aiello and Jeffrey Shulman
Published by Twenty-First Century Books, 1988

--Reviewed By: Barbara Cheadle

One thing the daughter of a country preacher learns, if nothing else, is her Bible. I was no exception. Although I can no longer quote verses by memory, I shall never forget the many parables and stories I learned from my Sunday School teachers in the little country churches where my Dad preached.

I especially remember the parable of the sower. In this parable, a man goes out into his fields with his sack of seed and scatters the seed over the field. Some of the seeds fall on rocky ground and never take root. Other seeds fall among weeds or in poor soil. These seeds sprout, but soon die. Some of the seed, however, falls on good ground, and from that seed comes the new harvest of grain.

The older I get the more I understand and appreciate the message in that parable. I have learned that it doesn't matter whether, as a Federationist, I am trying to plant seeds of understanding and new attitudes about blindness, or, as a parent, I am trying to plant the seeds of tidiness, good manners, and sound moral values in three rowdy children; there is only one way to success--patience and persistence --for one never knows what word or action will make your message take root and grow.

Year after year at the National Center for the Blind we receive thousands of telephone calls, and greet hundreds of visitors. These people come to the National Federation of the Blind because they need to learn, for whatever reason, something about blindness. We give each caller and visitor the best information we can, along with, we hope, a better understanding of blindness. However, we often never know if our words have fallen on rocky ground or fertile soil. But we don't give up, and once in a while we do, as Paul Harvey says, find out "the rest of the story." As you've guessed by now, there is a story behind this review of the book, Business Is Looking Up. It began with a phone call sometime around the first of the year in 1987. A publisher in Maryland was taking on a project for a children's book that featured a blind character. The publisher was contacting various blindness organizations to get information. We sent literature and arranged a tour for the publisher's children's book editor.

The tour went well, and the editor said that she wanted someone in the Federation to review the book for accuracy when the manuscript was ready. And that was all we heard for almost a year. Then, a letter and a manuscript arrived. The editor really did want our input.

As it turned out, not only did I review the manuscript for "its merit as an engaging story and its accuracy as a depiction of a blind child," but the Federation was able to contribute in other ways to the accuracy of the book. The artist needed models for the illustrations, so we sent several of the necessary items- such as a child size NFB white cane, and a slate and stylus. When the editor mentioned that they would like to list in the book a source from which children could get a free Braille Alphabet Card, the Federation volunteered to do it.

Patience and persistence. Sometimes those who come to the Federation and say they want to learn about blindness, don't really mean it. They merely come because it's good policy nowadays to say, "We consult with the consumers." They will not learn. Sometimes those who come have a vested, personal interest in maintaining the myth of blindness (that is, blindness as inferiority and dependency). They cannot learn. But more and more those who come truly do want to learn--and can learn.

Now that you've heard the "rest of the story," here is the book review.

Published by Twenty-First Century Books, a company based in Frederick, Maryland, Business Is Looking Up was the first in a series of children's books based upon the Kids on the Block puppet characters. The Kids on the Block puppet program was founded in 1977 by Barbara Aiello (co-author of Business Is Looking Up) in an attempt to help children understand and accept people with disabilities. Today, over 1,000 Kids on the Block puppet groups perform for children in every state in the United States and in many foreign countries.

Business Is Looking Up is a delightfully lively and entertaining book. Renaldo Rodriguiz, the central character in Business Is Looking Up is an aggressive, fun-loving, creative, and sometimes just a little bit lazy, fifth-grade boy. Oh, he is also blind. But we soon discover that blindness is just one of the many characteristics that make up the appealing personality of Renaldo Rodriguiz. Mostly, Renaldo is just what he seems--a typical fifth-grader who loves pizza and hates to make his bed ("Yuck!"). It is Renaldo's budding entrepreneurial talent~not his blindness-which makes him special and is also the theme of the story's spirited plot.

The authors of Business Is Looking Up have succeeded in portraying that rare creature in fictional literature--a blind character based on reality, not myth. Renaldo is neither a super blind kid who believes it is praise to be told that others forget that he is blind; nor is he a tragic figure constantly struggling to overcome his handicap. No one in the story forgets that Renaldo is blind anymore than they forget that he is a boy; it's just that it is no big deal. Peppered throughout the story are references to his blindness, but in very ordinary ways --just as it is in real life for real blind people. " 'I don't think I can do the marketing research on an empty stomach. How about a business lunch?' I was tapping my cane toward the sweet smell of Polotti's."

Business Is Looking Up, however, was written to be more than an entertaining story with a realistic approach to blindness. It was written to educate children about blindness and to help them understand that, as Renaldo says at the end of the book, "Everyone is different in some way. And that means we're all the same, too. Get it!" To do this, it follows the same format as the Kids on the Block puppet shows. Performance (story) first, then a question and answer segment. In Business Is Looking Up, the illustrated story ends on page 29, and questions and answers, also with illustrations, make up the last 19 pages. The question and answer segment poses questions children commonly ask about blindness, such as, "How do you get dressed?", "How do you eat?", and "How do you read?"

I must admit that I didn't particularly like the way the question about eating was handled (Renaldo says that he uses the clock method--you know, meat at one o'clock, peas at six o'clock, etc.), mostly because it is the kind of technique that the professionals always teach but blind people never use outside the classroom. But this is a minor objection, indeed, in light of the overall positive and accurate message about blindness which is conveyed throughout Business Is Looking Up.

The discussion of Braille and other ways in which Renaldo reads (talking books and live readers) is excellent, and I liked the way the question about a guide dog was handled. (A few people may not appreciate the humorous crack about his cat in that section, but kids love it--at least, my sons did.)

The part that, for me, really captured the spirit of Renaldo and this book, was Renaldo's answer to the question, "How do you get dressed?" Feisty Renaldo tells the reader that he gets dressed the same way you do, "the legs go in the pants holes; the arms go in the arm holes; and the feet go in the socks." The message is clear--blind people are just normal people, like you and me. Business Is Looking Up may be purchased directly from Twenty-First Century Books by single copy, or in quantities. The cost of a single copy is $12.95 plus $2.90 for shipping. For bulk purchase discount rates, please write or call Twenty-First Century Books for more information. Currently, Business Is Looking Up is only available in print. Send orders and requests for information to:

Marketing Director
Twenty-First Century Books
38 South Market Street
Frederick, Maryland 21701.

You may also call Twenty-First Century Books at this toll free number: 1-800-421-0021. For those interested in learning more about the Kids on the Block puppet groups, you may write to, or call:

The Kids on the Block
9385-C Gerwig Lane
Columbia, Maryland 21046

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