Braille: More than Words

For years I had heard what a wonderful experience it was to meet our customers and hear how much they value braille and National Braille Press. Of course, I had heard this sentiment expressed before given my long tenure at NBP. But it was a totally new experience hearing it over a period of several days from almost everyone who stopped by our booth when I attended my first ACB convention.

Several days back from my trip, I received an email from Leah Bernie whose parents were both blind. Her story, like so many of the stories I heard at the convention, touched my heart. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear National Braille Press, 

I am a sighted daughter of Sighted girl with print/braille booktwo blind adults, and I recently had a baby and ordered a board book from you for my mother to read with my daughter.  As a result, I started receiving your newsletter. This got me thinking about the impact your organization has had on my life, and I wanted to share that with you.  

My parents have both been avid readers since they learned Braille. My mother went blind in second grade and excelled in school and reading after she learned Braille. She recently retired from the State of Texas as a rehab and Braille instructor. Growing up, we had an abundance of print/Braille books and she would read to my sister and myself every night. As we got older, my mother would borrow chapter books from the library, and my sister and I would follow along in print as my mom read aloud.  

My father has been blind since he was a baby, and is one of the most well-read people I know. He has always been a great example of pursuing academic as well as pleasure reading. His stories of being young in rural Alabama and gaining access to Braille books have made me appreciate my own access to books.  

I am a high school teacher, and recently realized how very many families do not read together or have that as part of their lives. I am grateful that my parents have set that example and instilled such a love of reading in both myself and my sister. I am further grateful for the Children’s Braille Book Club for making that possible. You are also making it possible for my parents to connect with their grandchildren in a way that might not be possible otherwise. This realization nearly brought me to tears.  

The work you do is so important, and I am eternally grateful to have and continue to be benefitting from the accessibility of Braille. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!


Leah Bernie

Thank you, Leah, and thank you to so many others who took the time to tell me how much NBP has meant to them over the years. We are currently celebrating the 30th year of the Children’s Braille Book Club, and it is stories like yours that remind us what is important.

Ruby Bridges and Her Teacher Reunite Because of a Print-Braille Book

When my son was small, he was my best sampler of kids’ books to offer in our Children’s Braille Book Club. Book cover of "The Story of Ruby Bridges"“No, Mom. Forget it. Borrring!” was the gist of his review of many, many books. But sometimes he would surprise me, like the time he sat quietly as I read all the way through “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles. It was 1995, a long time after the actual story took place.

Ruby Bridges was six years old when she agreed to be one of the first black students to integrate New Orleans schools in 1960. Her parents must have Ruby Bridgesagreed, too. It was a brave decision all around. She would later remember the white woman who heckled her from the sidewalk, carrying a black doll in a coffin.

When Ruby showed up at school, everybody left. Yep. The entire school emptied out. The only two people left were Ruby Bridges and her teacher Barbara Henry, who was white, and the only teacher willing to teach a black student. For one year, Henry taught Bridges alone. When the year ended, Henry moved and the two lost touch.

This is where my son re-enters the picture. He took the print-braille version of the book to his school in Boston. That night he mentioned, over a plate of spaghetti, “Mom, you know what? Ruby’s teacher is at my school.” I smiled. I didn’t believe him. I cleared the table.

“Really, Mom. And she wants to keep the book.”

Several days later on the drive to school, “Mom. What shall I tell Mrs. Henry? She wants the book. She’s been trying to find Ruby all these years.” For some reason in that moment it clicked. I checked the book jacket information and saw that it mentioned only Mrs. Henry’s maiden name—her whereabouts unknown.

I went into the office and called the publisher, Scholastic Inc., and reported the connection. A few minutes later I took a call from an excited publicist, “Ruby has been looking for her teacher all these years, too!” In 1996, after thirty-five years, the two were reunited on Oprah. Ruben and I made a bowl of popcorn and watched the whole show—and we cried.

To Ruben, Keep the faith and thanks so much for bringing Barbara back to me! – Ruby Bridges

Dear Ruben, You will ever be so very special to me for all the joys you helped bring to me in finding Ruby and renewing our friendship and love. – Barbara Henry

In Her Own Way

I don’t know if it’s true everywhere, but our customers like to share their stories and their lives with us. This story begins with the February book selection for our Children’s Braille Book Club. Since it’s Black History Month, we chose Henry’s Freedom Box. I didn’t think that much about our decision; we had featured Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and even President Obama in previous years. So when a parent called to ask about February’s selection, I said, “It’s about a man, a slave, who wanted his freedom so badly he mailed himself up North in a crate.”  Silence.  “It’s…a true story.”  No response.  “I mean, he arrived safely…It turned out okay.”

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that not every parent is comfortable exposing a child to the painful legacy of our past. I thought, how do we decide how and when to tell our children the truth about the sordid facts of American history? Do we wait until they hear about it for the first time in history class?

Henry's Freedom Box book cover

Henry’s Freedom Box © Scholastic

Then Liane Getty called, describing herself as “the proud mother of two beautiful young boys, Liam, age 9, and Brandon, age 7.”  She told me the amazing story of how she and her husband had taken a trip to The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  “My husband, Todd, said he had to show me something,” said Liane, who is blind. “He placed my hands on a 2×3-foot wooden crate. I am honestly thinking to myself, what’s the big deal about a wooden crate? Then my husband started reading me a story about a slave named Henry who mailed himself to freedom. I told my husband that I had just seen that book on NBP’s website—how coincidental is that!

“My boys returned to the lobby, upset and frightened about what they saw at the exhibit. When I asked them what was so scary, they said ‘everything with the slaves.’ It occurred to me that they did not realize that the Civil War was about slavery. I tried to think of something encouraging to say, and I remembered one of your print/braille magnets with the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: Do one thing every day that scares you.

“I repeated Eleanor’s encouraging words and explained to the boys that if Henry did not do that one thing that scared him that day, he might never have gained his freedom. My beautiful boys took a deep breath and said, ‘We’re ready to go back to the exhibit.’”

What an amazing mom. She had decided she wanted to be the one to tell them the truth. I said, “We’ll mail Henry out this week, in a box. So he’ll arrive safely.”