Future Reflections        Winter 2012

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For the Love of Reading: Seedlings Braille Books for Children

by Vicky Opie

Debra and her Perkins in 1985, the early days of Seedlings.

From the Editor: When blind children develop a hunger for books, parents and teachers must seek out reliable sources of Braille materials. Seedlings Braille Books for Children is an invaluable resource. For more than twenty-five years, Seedlings has fulfilled its commitment to promote Braille literacy.

In 1978 a Michigan woman named Debra Bonde pondered what she could do to make a difference in the world. After speaking with a Braille transcriber, she decided to sign up for a transcribing class at the local community center. One of her classmates was the mother of a visually impaired child. This mother told Debra that few books were ever produced in Braille for blind children. Debra deeply enjoyed sharing the special moments of reading with her children, who were sighted. She didn't think it was right that blind children had such limited access to the books her children loved. Soon she came up with the idea of making Braille books on her own.

Debra Bonde turned her idea to reality in 1984, when she founded Seedlings Braille Books for Children. The mission of Seedlings was to promote Braille literacy and instill blind children with a love of reading. At that time children's books in Braille were scarce and quite expensive. Seedlings worked to increase the availability and lower the cost of Braille books for children of all ages.

Working from her basement office, Debra produced 221 Braille books in 1985, the organization's first year of operation. Today Seedlings produces approximately 23,000 Braille books per year. Some are print/Braille books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, including such titles as Touch and Feel Baby Animals. There are also full-length novels for teens transcribed in several volumes, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief.

Even today only a very small percentage of children's book titles are ever produced in Braille. In 2011 Seedlings added ninety new titles, and twelve hundred titles are offered in the 2012 catalog. Seedlings books sell for about half the cost of production. Individual and corporate donations, foundation grants, and proceeds from fundraising events make up the difference.

In 2007, Debra Bonde shows a young blind visitor one of her giant embossers.

Over the years Seedlings has received many moving letters of appreciation, some from parents of blind children and others from blind parents of sighted children. One reader wrote, "Ms. Debra Bonde, I'm writing to thank you for the truly wonderful service that your Seedlings company provides to the visually impaired world. I am a totally blind father who has been purchasing and reading your company's books to my six-year-old daughter for the past five years. One of the happiest days in my life as a father had to be the first day that she brought one of the books and began reading it to me. Even though she is sighted and can read print books, she still sometimes loves to get the Braille books that you produce so that she can see me reading along with her. Thank you and your employees for such precious moments and making experiences possible for me and many others at very affordable prices."

Seedlings sponsors many special projects and book giveaway programs to put more books and more Braille into the hands of blind children. The Rose Project offers free encyclopedia articles to any child who needs Braille research material for reports and school projects. The Book Angel Program sends two free books per year to children in the US and Canada. The titles are drawn from wish lists the children submit. This program was originally called Anna's Book Angel Project in memory of Debra's nineteen-year-old daughter, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2001.

Seedlings received this wonderful message from the parent of a blind child: "I received the two free books from your Angel Book Program, and I wanted to say thank you! It means more than I can say to have your organization available to us. Reading is something I have always loved, and I hope to instill [this love] in my daughter. Having so many books available in Braille is such a blessing. I was so excited to skim through your catalog, and when I did, I started to cry because I realized that my little girl will not miss a thing. She can experience the same wonderful stories that I did growing up. Thank you again, so much!"

With the help of a small staff and scores of volunteers, Seedlings ships Braille books and articles from its office in Livonia, Michigan, to children all across the United States and Canada and in many countries overseas. Seedlings Braille Books for Children has produced over 330,000 books and articles in Braille since 1984. For more information or to request a free catalog, visit  <www.seedlings.org> or call (800) 777-8552.

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