Wednesday, August 20, 2014

KID LIT HEROES: What can we learn about young readers with low vision? By Jan Godown Annino

 KID LIT HEROS at GROG is honored to visit with a group whose mission is to boost literacy skills in young readers with a range of vision situations such as low vision to blindness.

My interest was piqued when nonfiction travel/nature editor and pal, Susan Cerulean, gifted our family with HAILSTONES & HALIBUT BONES, a modern classic from 1961 by Mary O'Neill. Although also admired for illustrations by famed artist Leonard Weisgard & later an all-palete edition from the pen of John Wallner, H&HB is a book of free verse that shares colors in words; it is widely read by low-vision families.
Reading it & loving all of O'Neill's work, as I do, it is my bridge into thinking about low-vision young readers' lifetime access to literacy.

Thank  you, Charlotte Cushman, who answers today's Qs for Kid Lit Heroes.

Charlotte is with PATHS TO LITERACY a joint project with an array of online
resources for blind and low vision youngsters. Congratulations to PATHS TO LITERACY for being KID LIT HEROES.

What specific techniques can help a child with low-vision or no vision, 
learn to love literature, beyond methods that inspire other young readers?

Books or stories that are well-written with interesting characters, compelling plots, lively narrative, and carefully described settings will be as much of interest to them as to other children. That being said, there are a few things that can help make literature more appealing to children with visual impairments. 

1 Books should be accessible in various formats just as they are to their sighted peers. Some children will prefer braille, some large print, and others will prefer audiobooks. 

2 Some children with visual impairments (especially if they are young or
have additional disabilities) will find it much easier to relate to books that 
depict familiar experiences. 

In this way, stories about going to school or birthday parties or pets may be more meaningful than stories about rocket ships or dinosaurs or
Ancient Egypt. 

As children get older and learn more about the world around them,
they will most likely develop an appreciation of more complex stories.

Finally, it is helpful to have positive role models,

such as characters who have visual impairments or even who just wear glasses.

Ideally the disability would be incidental and not necessarily the focus of the story,

so that child characters who happen to be blind, find exciting adventures or a character with low vision, creates wonderful inventions.

(Jan's note: for more on detective ABBY DIAMOND, who happens to be blind,  keep reading)

 What are the thoughts about the use of modalities such as braille readers, Talking Books and new technologies? 

Parents and teachers who are “in the know” find that children should be exposed

to a wide range of technologies and formats. 

Just because something is available in one format, doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t also learn to use other formats.

For example, many sighted children enjoy listening to audiobooks, but that doesn’t

mean that they are not being taught to read too. 

Similarly, we don’t ask children with sight to choose between reading hard copy books or electronic books.

Many people like to have the option of a range of formats, depending on the materials, and people who are blind are no different in this preference.

Children with visual impairments should have a Learning Media Assessment 

to determine which medium is most effective. For most children with visual impairments (as with most sighted children), they will use a variety of media. 

Are there children's authors through the years, or currently, whose
stories seems to work best in translation for children low-vision or who are blind?

It is generally best to select books where the focus is on the story, rather than
relying heavily on the illustrations. Authors such as Eric Carle use a lot of
repetition, which is good for younger listeners, not relying as heavily on the
Characters with visual impairments are often good choices. 
Some favorites include a couple of the ARTHUR books, such as GLASSES FOR DW or ARTHUR's EYES, by author/illustrator Marc Brown.

Also, consider ALL THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH by Margaret Wild with illustrations from Pat Reynolds and, the various books about Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman.

For older readers, consider ADVENTURES OF ABBY DIAMOND: OUT OF SIGHT (& several other episodes) by
Kristie Smith-Armand. This features a sharp girl detective, who just happens to be blind. 

Are the increasing number of wordless picture books ideal for the younger
ones in this group?

Wordless picture books will depend heavily on tactile illustrations and tactile

For young children, they must have repeated experience exploring tactile surfaces and learning to interpret what raised lines and textures mean. 
Books that have interesting materials and surfaces to
explore or manipulate will be more engaging to children who are blind. 

Wordless books can be adapted by adding some text to describe the text, such as
"The sun rose over the ocean."  That would be very hard to convey
to a child who cannot see in a tactile drawing without words, while it
would be readily understandable to sighted children who are shown a photograph.

Specific guidelines exist for creating tactile illustrations and these should be followed when creating 
illustrations for children who are blind: 

Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for

For children with low vision, the type of visual impairment they have and the
amount of functional vision they have will determine what types of illustrations will
be most meaningful. 
For example, some children may be able to see well enough
to interpret pictures if they are enlarged or if the lines are made bolder. Other
children, such as those with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) will be able to see the
pictures more easily if the visual clutter is minimized or if their preferred colors are

(see preferred scene on right, below from Charlotte Cushman's CVI article at

Providing clear images with good contrast and minimal extraneous details
will be helpful to many children with visual impairments. 

What motivates a publisher to make an author's book for children accessible
to the low-vision or no vision young reader? How can this accessibility to
books be increased?

It is often not the publisher who makes these decisions, but rather certain special
braille publishers (such as Seedlings or National Braille Press) who work with the
original publisher to create braille or large print versions of books. Some books
have braille overlays along with the print, so that all types of readers can enjoy

Other organizations that provide braille and/or audiobooks include:

(Jan's note: braille when not specifically referring to a proper name, is lower case,
one of many new things I learned when researching this article. This link explains 
the current preference of the majority of the active blindness community.
Q or rather 

for Praise to Charlotte. 
I appreciate that I found my way to PATHS TO LITERACY, which works with all low vision and blind readers. This is hugely helpful to me personally & professionally. 
Thank you.

Charlotte Cushman PATHS TO LITERACY


  1. Thank you for this post! I have sent the url on to my colleagues who manage our state's Braille and Talking Book program, which includes children with vision impairments.

    1. Hello Jane.

      Appreciations for this.

      Part of it may be running in a bulletiin for children's writers (credited with first appearance here.) This is a wonderful forum, watched by many folks.

      I have also learned that it is being shared via this link, by someone whose comment wouldn't "take" here for some reason.


  2. Fascinating read. Thank you for opening my eyes to this interesting take on children's literature. I'm intrigued by the tactile illustrations. That sounds exciting for all readers. Really cool interview as well!

    1. Thanks for visiting & for sharing your thoughts Todd.

      This has been so broadening from my perspective & I think I will be able to use this information in my writing for children. I feel I was lucky to find Paths to Literacy/Charlotte Cushman as I agree she offers an interesting interview.

  3. Jan: I have acquired new knowledge today. You have opened my mind and eyes to the great work that Paths to Literacy offers to children with visual impairments. I must add some of these books to my book shelf. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Garden Girl/Suzy - I feel the same way. Thank you!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing the information from the Paths to Literacy website! I invite each of you to sign up for our free blog about all aspects of literacy for children with visual impairments:

    1. I'm a new subscriber/InfoTips & feel that readers of this blog would benefit from signing up. Thanks for providing the link.

  5. Wow, Jan, what a wonderful post! I almost missed it in the flurry of a busy week. Great insights into selecting books for low vision readers. Hailstones and Halibut Bones is one of my favorite poetry books.

  6. I'm not surprised that many Grog folks know that lovely title, but I'm especially charmed to know that we share it & thank you.

  7. Jan, a wonderful post! I own a copy of Hailstones and Halibut Bones too! Thank you for sharing this information. I love the idea of a story box and the tactile illustrations.

  8. I'm so thrilled to know we luv this book in common, Janie.