The Anatomy of a Free ReadBooks! Bag

by Kesel Wilson, Editor and Programs Manager

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
―Frederick Douglass

How often do you come across something that is both free and of tremendous value? How often does everything you need to begin a challenging journey come in a single free bag? How often do you find resources created specifically for you by an organization with 90 years of experience? If you answered “Not often” to any of these questions, you probably aren’t aware of our ReadBooks! childrens’ braille literacy program.

Since we began this program in 2003, we have sent free bags of beginning braille materials to over 17,000 parents and teachers of the blind and visually impaired all across the United States and Canada. We believe passionately that literacy is the foundation of education, independence, self-expression, privacy, lifelong learning, and success in the workplace. Our ReadBooks! bags are designed to give caregivers and teachers the knowledge and resources needed to start children on a path of early braille literacy and they are 100% free. Let me take you on a quick tour of the bags and their contents:

We have 3 different bags, for 3 different age levels, and the bags come in both English and Spanish versions:

  • A red bag is for ages 0 to 3;
  • A blue bag is for ages 4 to 5;
  • And a green bag is for ages 6 to 7.
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Blue ReadBooks! bag with below contents inside

Every bag has:

  • A welcome letter from our president, Brian Mac Donald
  • An order form for a free book for called “Just Enough to Know Better.” This book will help you learn “just enough” braille to help your child learn it too.
  • A sign-up sheet for our Children’s Braille Book Club—a low cost subscription program featuring a new print/braille book every month.
  • A flyer about our Great Expectations program—a program that brings picture books to life for blind children with picture descriptions and free online activities.
  • Our most recent catalog, so you can be up to date on all of our newest braille books.
  • A braille alphabet card, so you can learn the braille symbol for each letter of the alphabet.
  • A Happy Birthday coupon, which can be redeemed for a free braille children’s book.
  • A caravan block, which is a fun, tactile block for practicing your braille alphabet.
  • A “Because Books Matter” pamphlet to help you understand why braille is so important to literacy and independence.
  • A “Because Pictures Matter” pamphlet which explains how and why to introduce your child to tactile graphics.

The other items in the bag vary according to the age level of the bag, but each bag has:

  • A print/braille picture book for practicing beginning reading with braille;
  • A tactile graphic for exploring non-textual information through touch;
  • And a tactile manipulative, such as a sensory ball or Wikki Stix—to experiment with tactile play.

I encourage you to take advantage of this free resource! You can order your bags directly from our website at https://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/readbooks/readbooks.html

Children’s Print/Braille Books: A Formula for Fun and Togetherness

Many years ago, National Braille Press began publishing children’s books in print/braille. We do this by finding the most interesting and engaging children’s picture books and attaching a transparent sheet of braille on top of each printed page. This innovative technique, now adopted by many publishers around the world, allows families to share stories together.

We hear all the time from our loyal customers how much they enjoy the potential togetherness that these unique books create: blind grandparents who read books to their sighted grandchildren; sighted parents who read books with their blind child; and siblings who get to sneak away and share books together.

As Walt Disney once said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Having access to the most creative children’s book writers of our time is a spark to literacy and fuel for the imagination of early braille readers. It’s why we created the Children’s Braille Book Club, a monthly subscription program that sends a new “treasure” each month to children all over the United States; and the Great Expectations program, which provides picture books in braille, along with free online activities for blind children to further explore the concepts in the book.

See what two authors recently had to say after their books were chosen for these programs:

In April of 2016, NBP produced Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty as part of the Great Expectations series.

“My books have been translated into many languages from Mandarin to Welsh to Hebrew to Russian, but by far my favorite edition is the Braille version of Iggy Peck, Architect. The National Braille Press has brought this book to an audience that might not have found it otherwise. Together with the accompanying Famous Landmarks book by Tactile Vision Graphics, Inc., this edition opens the world of architecture to kids who have their own ways of interpreting the world around them. One day, these books could lead a kid who identifies with Iggy Peck’s passion for architecture to become a great architect and change architecture forever!”

—Andrea Beaty

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Front Cover of Iggy Peck, Architect

 

In December of 2016, NBP produced Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein as part of the Children’s Braille Book Club.

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Front Cover of Interrupting Chicken

“I am always honored when someone takes the time to translate my work. Braille is a code that makes the work available to a whole new audience! How exciting.”

—David Ezra Stein

A Lifetime of NBP Braille: From Reader to Proofreader

By Carey Scouler, Proofreader

I’m sure that everyone can remember or relate to the joy of receiving an expected gift in the mail as a child; counting down the days until it would be delivered, checking the mail every day for weeks, then eagerly ripping it open when it finally came. From the ages of six to ten, that gift for me was the chance to visit new worlds and delve into the lives of all sorts of characters, while at the same time learning new letters and words. It was the gift of literacy, a gift for which I owe all of my thanks to National Braille Press.

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Proofreader Carey Scouler and her guide dog Hayden

Ever since I was very young, reading has always been a passion of mine, and that passion was fueled considerably when I began receiving books from the Children’s Braille Book Club. My mother and I would sit on our plushy couch side by side, and she would animatedly read the printed words in a book to me. She would then gingerly hand me the book, and my fingers would carefully touch each braille dot as I learned new letters and sounded out words. This was a fun activity for us both, and I continued to enjoy reading as I branched off and began exploring more advanced braille books. This love of reading and my eagerness to learn the braille code couldn’t have been achieved without the wonderful books I first received from National Braille Press.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

The lessons I learned from the books were not the only thing about National Braille Press which stayed with me forever—so did their address. One day, while sitting in the back of my parents’ car, lovingly clutching “Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph” (a print/braille book which my grandmother had often read to me), I casually asked my parents where 88 St. Stephen Street was after carefully examining the book’s title page. They told me where it was and we discussed possibly visiting. For a while after that, I checked the address on the cover of every book I received from NBP, each time still longing to visit and learn about where the books I had grown to love had come from.

As I got older, my love of braille led me to make some wonderful friends. When I was in fourth grade, I began competing in the Braille Challenge, a competition which tests students from grades 1 to 12 in different aspects of braille literacy such as charts and graphs and reading comprehension. The winners in the regional level would then have a chance to compete nationally. Through many years of participating in this contest, I made many wonderful friends, most of whom I’m still in touch with to this day.

When it came time for me to graduate from college and start looking for a job, I knew I wanted to do something involving words. I had graduated with degrees in English and journalism, and immediately started looking for writing and editing jobs. During the networking process, I realized that NBP was hiring and looking for a proofreader. I was thrilled at the idea of being able to read things I hadn’t gotten the chance to, while at the same time looking for errors and essentially practicing my editing skills. I took part in two interviews, and was hired to work as a proofreader a few weeks later. Now I can say that I’ve not only visited 88 St. Stephen Street once, but that I have been given the opportunity to go there every day. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that each day, I get to be a part of helping kids and adults receive the same gift I was given—the gift of literacy.

What We Discovered In Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids

It started as a pretty straightforward concept: blind and visually impaired kids miss out on critical information that is conveyed through pictures in children’s storybooks. Many times, the illustrations in children’s books supplement the text and enhance the story, both in entertainment value and through additional information that helps move the story forward.

After observing a group of sighted kids laughing uproariously when shown the pictures as they were read the Dr. Seuss classic, Hop on Pop, a simple rhyming book, I knew that blind kids were also missing out on a lot of fun.

How could we make the act of reading children’s picture books more interesting for blind kids and spark a love of reading that would last a lifetime? This was the question that some NBP staffers, headed by former publisher, Diane Croft, asked after hearing Matt Kaplowitz of Bridge Multimedia, show parents how to describe pictures to their visually impaired child to make storybooks come alive.

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How would you describe this picture? Check out the picture descriptions on our website: http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/gep/grace/grace-picdesc.html

That was the beginning of the Great Expectations: Bringing Picture Books to Life for Blind Kids program. Not only does the program help parents and teachers tell the “whole story” by providing picture descriptions for each Great Expectations book selection, but NBP and a cadre of dedicated volunteers went even further. Now, the program takes a multi-sensory approach to literacy — songs, tactile play, body movement, engaged listening, as well as picture descriptions — all designed to promote active reading experiences for children with visual impairments and featured on our website, www.nbp.org.

This program has been well received by sighted parents and teachers but what we didn’t expect was how many blind parents absolutely love this program. The picture descriptions provide blind parents with information that was previously unavailable to them. Now when reading to their child from one of NBP’s print/braille GE books, they can engage in a dialogue with their child using information from the pictures that is rich with learning opportunities. They can also share in the laughter with their kids when pictures are silly or whimsical.

As a result of this discovery, the Great Expectations program tries to incorporate more elements that blind parents will also find useful. We welcome feedback from all parents — blind and sighted — on how to keep this program lively and informative.

By Kimberley Ballard

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GreatExpectationsProgram/