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.
IMG_4650.JPG

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

BC1604-IGGY

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.

BC1612-INTERRUPT.jpg

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.

Ierardi postcard

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.

nbp building - old (002)

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.

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.

carey

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.

oh-the-places-youll-go

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.

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!!

Respectfully, 

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.