Case Study 1: New College Worcester School Workshop and Project
This project aimed to explore the needs of visually impaired audiences in relation to books, particularly tactile books, whilst taking into consideration the constraints that might affect a UK publisher.
Whilst many touch and feel books are published in the UK for children, these tend to be aimed at the very youngest of children. They can also run the risk of being repetitive in terms of their format and tactile content. Our experience is that tactile books need to include a wider variety of really ‘meaningful’ textures and recognizable shapes, if they are to engage children who are blind or partially sighted.
The first RtW project identified some beautiful books featuring tactile elements. However, OIW was aware that some of these books were expensive to produce and might also fail the UK’s stringent toy safety standards.
We therefore wanted to ask visually impaired young people to explore the books and gain insight into what the UK might learn from their content. However, we also wanted to involve a UK artist/creator with experience of publishing mainstream touch and feel books to understand what might be viable in terms of costs and safety.
The project used a range of books from around the world to inspire the students, and compared these with the new Child’s Play ‘Off to the…’ series, which were produced in consultation with visually impaired people with the aim of starting to offer a far greater range of tactile elements than most UK touch and feel books.
ABC Touch and See
Karadi Tales, India, 2006
Tactile and Braille, Language: English
A carefully handcrafted book using a variety of materials and textures, with the printed text accompanied by Braille letters, it combines bright colours with an array of tactile sensations bringing the pictures to life through touch.
I Feel a Foot
Marante Rinck, ills. Martijn Van Der Linden
Karadi Tales, India, 2008
Tactile, Language: English
Adaptation from an old Sufi story of five men in the dark who come across an elephant. Not knowing what it is, each feels and imagines something different. I Feel a Foot mirrors this experience and through tactile sensation, brings colourful animals to life.
Three tactile titles from Child’s Play Getting Ready, Off to the Beach! and Off to the Park! have been developed in consultation with children, families and organisations working with blind and partially-sighted children, and contain high-contrast images, tactile features and Braille-style numbering. They are suitable for children with a variety of different additional support needs.
Getting Ready, ills. Cocoretto, UK, 2016
Off to the Beach! ills. Stephen Cheetham, UK, 2014
Off to the Park! ills. Cocoretto, UK, 2016
Seon-hee Kim and Dan-ah Kim
BF Books, Korea, 2009
Tactile and Braille, Language: English
Touch Me is a tactile book about animals and birds. The text is in large print and braille. On each double page the text is printed on the left-hand side and the animal, made from thick felt, is placed on a transparent plastic sheet.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
(Dreaming Fingers Series)
Eric Carle, Karadi Tales, India, 2006
Tactile and Braille, Language: English
Eric Carle's book has been lovingly created by hand into a tactile and braille version for VI and sighted children. The colourful collage illustrations, on specially prepared paper, has used 34 different textured materials. Together, Dots Make a Picture (Reading Fingers Series) Jeong-soon Um, Changbi Publishers, Korea, 2008 Braille, Language: Korean
Presented in accordion-style format, this unusual book shows dots form a trail and merge together to make a line and then shapes which allows visually impaired children to trace the different objects with their fingers. Various materials are used including leather, fake fur and sequins to imitate the real feel of animals. The text is also provided on an audio CD.
Accessible and Inclusive Books
The Ghost Story (El Cuento Fantasma)
Jaime Gamboa, ills. Wen Hsu Chen
Grupo Amanuense, 2012
Text and Braille, Language: Spanish
The Ghost Story is the unusual story of a braille book that thinks it is a 'ghost' because its pages are blank and no one ever borrows it from the shelves of the library. Then it is 'discovered' by a blind girl who runs her fingers over its white pages to reveal the story within.
Seeing in the Dark (Noir/Voir)
François David, Motus, France, 2005
Text with Braille, Language: French
Noir/Voir effectively plays with contrast, tactile elements and braille to encourage the reader to consider visual impairment. The blind narrator describes a game she plays with her friends Jessy and Manon in the dark. They all have to navigate numerous obstacles before reaching the kitchen, which Jessy and Manon find extremely difficult, but as they agree, the narrator has an advantage. The book ends with a philosophical question about whether when we look we truly see.
We invited Annie Kubler to participate in this project. Annie is not only an illustrator herself, but also works for Child’s Play and was an integral member of the team behind Off to the Park!, Off to the Beach! and Getting Ready.
New College Worcester is a specialist college for blind and partially sighted students aged 11 to 18. The students there have a keen interest in books and were consulted during our first Reading the Way project.
Alex Strick is already well known to the college, having worked with staff and students previously. Alex facilitated the project, working closely with Annie and two members of NCW staff.
Date: 9 November 2016.
Participants: 9 students, including one AS level student from the art group, and 8 students from Year 7.
Length: 90 minutes.
The workshop aimed to bring together the expertise of NCW students with the commercial expertise of Child’s Play. The idea was very much to ensure a mutually beneficial workshop, in which each party might learn from the other. Together the group would try to identify ways in which tactile books might truly appeal to visually impaired audiences, whilst recognising the financial and safety constraints of a UK publisher.
Head of KS3 Cathy Wright introduced Alex and Annie.
Alex talked briefly about the purpose of the project – to collect the students’ views and enable them to work with a very well established author, illustrator and publisher. She outlined how the first OIW project identified some noteworthy books from around the world. Some of the books had been taken to NCW before and one student (“R”) was involved in the first sessions and remembered several of them, whilst for the other students the books were all new.
OIW wanted to know whether any of these could be published in the UK, and if not, what might be learned from them to enrich the UK landscape. We were keen to know what the students thought of them – and what they would like to see included from them in mainstream UK books, given the constraints of publishing. But what are those constraints?
Alex explained that some of these books can be very expensive to produce and that there also may be issues around safety. She then introduced Annie Kubler who talked about Child’s Play, how it began, its interest in inclusion/accessibility, and how this moved into tactile books.
She talked about the three Child’s Play tactile books and some of the processes involved. She described some of the challenges, particularly where books are for children aged under three years of age. Items that can be detached (or are longer than a certain length) are particularly problematic as there is a risk of choking. So there may be high costs involved in making these items safe.
Teacher and Students from New College Worcester © Photo Alexandra Strick
To help them understand what this means in practice, she gave out copies of one of the books Off to the Park! and asked students to guess which were the most expensive elements to produce. Many students thought the scratch and sniff ice cream or the slide would be most costly. Annie revealed that it was in fact the round squishy ball, then the tyre and then the ice cream. Elements such as the ball needed to be inserted (enclosed), and this would be expensive. Also items that have to be made by hand are more expensive that machine-made items.
The students were then asked to guess which pages/ elements might have caused Child’s Play the most problems. The answer was the page featuring the shoe laces and the slide. The plan had originally been to include Velcro straps on shoes, but this had been deemed unsafe, so were replaced with laces, which had to be a particular length. In the case of the slide, there was the challenge of the tiny holes in the steps, and there was the also the issue perspective to be decided upon.
Then the students were given a second book, Off to the Beach! and asked to repeat the activity. This time they guessed far more easily, thanks to their previous learning. The page with the ‘moving feet’ was the most expensive page by far, with its handmade, moving component, featuring some printing and also a glittery backdrop.
The students were then asked to identify their favourite pages. It was very clear that interactive elements were most popular. They all stated that the moving feet were best, but they also liked the lunchbox that could be opened. One girl also loved the tactile shells.
The workshop then moved into sharing some examples of tactile samples that were initially considered but had to be abandoned for safety reasons. She also shared early dummies of the books.
Finally, the students had a look at Getting Ready (the third tactile book) and now found it easy to identify which tactile elements in this book were machine-made, handmade, expensive, complicated, etc. There was particular enthusiasm for the jacket with the moving zip, which the students declared to be ‘so cool’! They also liked the tactile track. They commented that the book would be ‘great for kids who don’t like getting ready in the morning’! They found the embossed textures on pattered socks difficult to distinguish between.
There was a brief discussion about braille. The braille readers could all read the braille in the CP books but said that ideally it would be even better if it was raised slightly more. One student commented that sometimes it is helpful if the braille is placed in the same position on each page so that people can find it easily.
The workshop then moved on to look at the books identified in ‘Reading the Way’, asking the students to try applying what they had learned to these books.
A range of books were handed out and Alex asked the students to talk about what stood out for them. What did they think, given Annie’s insight into the commercial world, might be challenging about publishing these as they are? What do they think might be possible? What were the highlights for them?
Books included The Very Hungry Caterpillar, ABC Touch and See, I Feel a Foot, The Ghost Story, Dots Together, and Touch Me.
In pairs, the students were then given 5-10 minutes to explore a book, and think about aspects of it that they particularly liked, aspects that they didn’t think worked so well and any aspects they felt might be challenging for mainstream publication.
Students from New College Worcester © Photo Alexandra Strick
Then each student/pair were then asked to feed back to the rest of the group. Some of the pairs looked at more than one of the books.
Several other books were also in a pile for students and staff to explore for comparison and to collect new ideas, these included Noir/Voir and UK books such as the new DK/RNIB braille books. They also explored some tactile resources (including a ‘make your own’ pack, featuring an empty felt book with a bag of animals / items with Velcro attached to be stuck into the book.)
The group also brainstormed themes for future books. One child suggested ‘school’ (particularly to complement the ‘Off to the…’ series). The staff reported that fairy tales always proved popular, such as Grimm’s tales as well as myths and legends with the slightly older students, due to the vividness of the story, and the fact that they feature lots of drama, but one can also read them in a modern way. The students love exploring Greek and Egyptian history, and (thanks to the popularity of computer games) are very familiar with all the names of gods and mythological characters. There was a sense of girls tending to like more of a story than the boys.
After the workshop, “R” also interviewed Annie to collect some more material before the end of the visit.
The workshop was felt to be a great success. Cathy Wright told us that the students had thoroughly enjoyed it and had learned a lot. She shared some further comments from students about the workshop and opportunities to feed into books in this way:
Annie Kubler stated that she was ‘absolutely delighted’ with her visit and that her participation in the workshop was valuable and enjoyable. She said:
“The students were such fun - engaged, enthusiastic, spontaneous, helpful … and above all, showing a genuine eagerness to learn and share their views. Amazing! It was also a pleasure to spend time with “R” who shows incredible maturity and independence in her approach to her work. We benefit hugely from that kind of meeting…the feedback and reactions I got yesterday are so valuable to us.”
The school then went on to work with “R” to develop a project, inspired by this workshop and to form part of her AS level Art course work. The project would take the form of “R” creating a brand new tactile book based on the learning points from the project.
It was felt that a second workshop was unnecessary, since the RtW2 project aims were met through the first workshop and subsequent college project.
However, the college and Alex kept in touch as “R’s” book was created, and shared with OIW in the form of a photographed version (the book itself having been submitted to the examinations board).
“R” worked on this project with support from two key members of staff at the college. The book took into consideration the key messages that the students had raised about the need for really meaningful shapes and textures, and the importance of uncluttered text and layout. It was also very clear that she had gained important understanding of the commercial aspects of mainstream tactile book creation. She worked hard to ensure that the project took note of the different methods for creating tactile interest, such as textured paths, inserted items and raised elements. Particularly impressive was the way the student clearly acknowledged the Child’s Play design style, whilst bringing in her own choice of theme and textures.
A second meeting was also arranged remotely in order for OIW to collect any final feedback about the value of the project to the college.
The feedback confirmed that the college had found the project to be immensely valuable to its students.
Particularly welcomed was the chance to gain an insight into the commercial production of books. The staff explained how the college activity often involved creating tactile resources and pictures, but this project enabled them to take this a step further, which had proved hugely valuable.
Also appreciated by the college staff and students was the opportunity to meet a 'real' writer/illustrator/publisher, and one with a specific interest in tactile books, which again was very rare for them. The project helped to strengthen the students’ interest in books and (in the case of the one student who was to work on the subsequent tactile book) offered a unique opportunity to be mentored and supported, harnessing her enthusiasm and giving her a genuine interest in working in the industry.
The fact that the project truly consulted the students was highlighted by the college as a particular strength. The students appreciated the sense of their knowledge being of genuine value. There was a sense of a real two-way learning process having been generated by the project, with the students able to feed into the book publishing world.
The staff also praised the opportunity to discuss books from around the world with students, as this brought a new and important dimension to the college’s activity. Global awareness, embracing cultural differences and seeking opportunities to travel represent important subjects for NCW.
The project has also sparked what is now becoming an ongoing relationship between the college and Annie Kubler/Child’s Play. The artist revisited the college after the project had finished, to work further with another student who was hoping to develop a career in illustration.
The RtW2 project has clearly had a powerful effect on Annie. She told us how it had impacted on her and the publishing company as a whole:
“My involvement with the Outside in World - Reading the Way 2 project has made me and everyone at Child’s Play more determined to make accessibility and inclusion a priority for every book we publish. The enthusiastic young readers from New College Worcester showed me how essential and inspiring consultation and testing are. Their experience of the books was so different from mine, with so many unexpected sensory twists and turns."