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 Culture of Blindness

When my friend Diane Croft suggested that I come to NBP’s 86th Annual Meeting, my response was an immediate 80 percent “fabulous Idea,” mixed with 20 percent apprehension. 

I am a frequent attender of annual meetings. For someone who is both blind and has impaired hearing, such gatherings can be concealed land mines of discomfort and self-doubt. 

Where’s the bar?

Where’s the food?

And, of course, the most burning question:  Who’s here? 

The minute I arrived at the registration table, all apprehension melted. 

Like its amazing collection of braille products, NBP is rich in the culture of blindness.  One staff member swept me into the reception, describing the food, the bar, and the recognizable people as we entered. 

Every time one conversation ended, it seemed, another NBP person was at my side asking, “Do you want food?  Wine?  Would you like to talk to [this person or that]?” 

The one thing, in other words, that is most difficult for a blind person to do – look around – was rendered inconsequential.

Then, there was the meeting itself. 

Diane Croft presents Judy Dixon with NBP's 2013 Volunteer Award

Diane Croft presents Judy Dixon with NBP’s 2013 Volunteer Award

Paul Parravano, Brian MacDonald, and Diane Croft each presented with warmth and eloquence (and did I mention brevity?).  We celebrated together the work of NBP and the recipients of the 2012 Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize.  We heralded consummate advocates and volunteers—Judy Dixon, the Delta Gamma Foundation, and the State Street Corporation’s Disability Awareness Alliance — and felt connected to them all. 

We were connected because National Braille Press has a clear vision of both purpose and intent.  It is not just an organization that promotes braille.  It is a collection of human beings who love and respect blind people.  They “get” the “culture” of blindness, and made me, a braille reader, forever grateful that they do what they do.