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

The Road from Princeton to Boston: The Princeton Braillists and an Enduring Legacy

Four colossal bookcases. Seven thermoform machines, five binding machines, and two light projectors. Twenty boxes bursting with aluminum tactile graphics ranging from fungi to fish, electricity to elements, geomorphology to geometry, mitosis to moon phases. And the pièce de résistance: 40 volumes amounting to 2,177 pages of the most comprehensive maps available in a tactile format.

Four decades of thoughtful devotion have been poured into the compendium that is The Princeton Braillists’ collection. Beginning in 1965, armed with a background in Experimental Physics and a penchant for handicrafts, Nancy Amick created tactile images to accompany audio texts for Recording for the Blind in Princeton. Drawing on her childhood experience with copper embossing, Nancy generated textures, patterns and lines in sheets of flexible aluminum, designing hundreds of diagrams for math and science textbooks, and simultaneously developing novel techniques to become an expert in the field of tactile graphics.

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In 1980, after Recording for the Blind shifted  its company focus, Nancy and Ruth Bogia, a certified braille transcriber, resurrected a dormant non-profit: The Princeton Braillists. Their first tactile volume, “Basic Human Anatomy,” was released in 1988, and eight years later they advertised their first set of tactile maps: “Maps of North and South America”. The all-volunteer operation expanded to include Fran Gasman, a transcriber for the New Jersey Commission, Phyllis Branin, who assisted in assembly, and Nancy’s family, including her husband Jim and daughter D’Maris. By 2016, The Princeton Braillists had created 35 books covering Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, as well as 18 U.S. states, along the way receiving wide acclaim and awards for their tactile contributions to the blind community.

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Nancy passed in the fall of 2016, and her family continued to fill orders while searching for a new home for the entire collection. Jim and D’Maris toured NBP in February 2017. By May, three National Braille Press team members were in a 15-foot truck bound for Princeton, NJ, charged with the careful transfer of Nancy’s work.

National Braille Press was honored to accept the generous gift of The Princeton Braillists’ celebrated tactiles, and has embraced the opportunity to continue Nancy’s legacy. Our hope is to maintain and reproduce the current catalogue while investigating ways to update geographical information, recode for Unified English Braille, and create new volumes of additional countries and states. We also aim to showcase the extensive collection of math and science diagrams from Nancy’s early years, sharing the delightful breadth of her images from beginning to end.

Learn more about The Princeton Braillists at NBP’s Annual Meeting, June 20th.

The Power of Great Expectations!

 National Braille Press is pleased to introduce Measuring Penny, the 6th book in our innovative “Great Expectations” children’s book program. The primary mission of this program is to bring picture books to life for blind kids through song, tactile play, engaged listening, word play, body movement, and picture descriptions. We do this by creating 9 accessible, fun, and free online activities to go with each book in the program. These free activities can be used at home or in the classroom to further explore the themes found in the book.

measuring penny and activities

In Measuring Penny, the main character Lisa is given a fun but challenging homework assignment—to measure something using both standard and nonstandard units. She decides to measure her dog, Penny, using everything from traditional wooden rulers and yard sticks to the decidedly nontraditional paper clips and cotton swabs! She learns a lot about herself, her dog, the art of measurement, and the things that you can’t put a number on, like love.

Enjoy the book and check out the free online resources we have created to go with it. Each online activity has a downloadable BRF file and a downloadable, accessible PDF file so you can take the activities with you and share them with others. And best of all, the activities were created especially with blind kids in mind. Here are the activities for Measuring Penny.

Make Doggie Biscuits

Make delicious treats for your dog using this fun recipe from Stir It Up! Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks.

Accessible Measuring Tools

Learn about all sorts of accessible tools made especially for budding blind scientists, and then make your own balance scale using items from around the house.

Same Versus Different

Use comparison to evaluate how things are the same and how they are different.

Tips from a Blind Scientist

Meet Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a Ph.D. computational organic chemist, and make your own ice cream using an experiment from Out-of-Sight Science Experiments.

Tactile Graphs

Have fun surveying your friends and family, and then turn your data into a tactile bar graph or tactile pie chart.

Animal Friends

Collect data on how much work it takes to care for different types of pets. Also learn about how pet dogs and guide dogs are different.

Jokes About Math

These are some real zingers to share with family and friends. Who would have thought math could be so funny?

Songs About Measurement

Sing some great songs about different units of measurement.

Picture Descriptions

Enjoy detailed descriptions of the illustrations in the book, all created especially for you!

 

Follow the Great Expectations program on Facebook!

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

Happy 90th Birthday, National Braille Press!

Today we tip our hats to the founder of National Braille Press, Francis B. Ierardi, an Italian immigrant who, 90 years ago, on March 17, 1927, pressed 200 copies of the first braille newspaper in Boston, called The Weekly News. With all volunteer help, this early experiment became the first braille newspaper ever published in the Western Hemisphere; it quickly expanded across the United States and to other English-speaking countries.

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Francis Ierardi in the pressroom

As we celebrate this special day, we reflect proudly  on an amazing history that to this day impacts thousands of blind people around the world. Let’s start with a letter to Mr. Ierardi from Helen Keller on Feb 3, 1936, where she thanked him for two publications: The Weekly News and a woman’s magazine created by NBP called Our Special.

“… They mean more to us who are doubly handicapped than to others who only lack sight. Their enlivening pages restore to us as it were the aspects, colors and voices of the light-filled world. They bear us over sea and land wherever we will, and we are free. Gone is the crushing weight of immobility and tedium! Our spirits rise light and glad in the thought that we can still think, read, write and sometimes fill our hungry hands with useful work.”

Over the years we have received similar letters of congratulations from First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Laura Bush.

An amazing fact about NBP is that we have sustained many hardships over 90 years, surviving the Great Depression, major recessions, wars, and runaway inflation. Because we are not a direct service organization, such as a school for the blind or a rehabilitation center, we do not receive annual federal or state funds to support our work. It is with the help of our generous donors and loyal customers that we have been able to fulfill our original mission of producing materials for the blind, “promoting finger reading,” as described in our Articles of Incorporation, and supporting braille literacy.

We certainly have adapted since 1927. The Weekly News evolved into SCW (Syndicated Columnists Weekly), we created the Children’s Braille Book Club, and we invented the print/braille book that is modeled by organizations around the world today. Our Readbooks! program continues to help thousands of parents understand the importance of braille in their child’s future, and we embrace technology for the future of e-braille in the digital world.

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NBP building, c. 1950s

So, Happy 90th National Braille Press! What is next? Of course, we will continue to provide our braille materials for kids and adults as well as reach out to parents and teachers with our children’s literacy programs. However, we’re not done growing. We aim to contribute to the design and development of a quality braille and graphic tablet for the blind; to advocate for a braille interface in those driverless cars in which we will ride into the future; and to continually innovate in children’s braille programming.

Thank you for supporting our work and our commitment to braille. We will celebrate our 90th throughout the year, in Boston and across the country. Visit our website, nbp.org, for local events and updates. NBP is bringing the world to your fingertips every day.