Case Study 8: Inclusive books Relevant to Visual Impairment
In this case study, we present two unusual books identified by the project, each of which was felt to take a very creative approach to the subject of blindness and sight. Each title encourages the reader to think about the idea of experiencing the world without sight in a new way.
Close Your Eyes (Tanca els ulls)
Victoria Pérez Escrivá (text), Claudia Ranucci (ill.) Thule Ediciones, Barcelona, Spain, 2009
Two siblings describe the world in entirely different ways. One uses logic to explain exactly what he sees to his brother, who is blind. His brother, in turn, uses his senses to describe the same things, offering a whole new perspective on each item.
"I try and tell my brother, but he always argues with me” says the narrator as he tries to explain the things he sees. "A tree is a very high plant and it is full of leaves" he tells his brother, only to receive the reply: "a tree is a long stick that comes out of the ground and sings".
OIW came across Close Your Eyes in the IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 2013 (no: 32).
Close Your Eyes has been translated into Spanish (Cierra los ojos, Thule Ediciones, 2010), Portuguese (Feche Os Olhos, Edicoes SM, Brazil,) and French (Ferme les yeux, Syros Jeunesse, 2009). Over 20,000 copies have been sold in France in both HB and PB; 1,700 Portugal and Brazil; 5,000 between Spain and Latin America.
Depiction of disability
The VFG were almost unanimous about Close Your Eyes in terms of the overall positive message about disability. They liked the way in which it presented the subject and Professor Adomat described the structure of the story as "very clever".
Dr. Butler commented that a noted feature of the book is the fact that visual impairment is never specifically referred to, yet a gradual awareness of the boy’s blindness permeates through the book.
Beth Cox agreed that the book was a success, describing it as:
"a really positive portrayal of different perceptions between sighted and blind children ... delivered very effectively".
Professor Lathey also praised the book, observing that it was:
"exceptional in encouraging children to experience life differently - the book is not just about blindness as there's a message here for everyone".
Questions and concerns
Patricia Billings was more cautious in her assessment. She felt it started out strongly but thought there were one or two negative scenes within the book, although these could be smoothed out in translation.
Quality and effectiveness
This book attracted positive feedback from all involved, with the quality and effectiveness of the artwork and design receiving particular praise.
Appeal and viability
Close Your Eyes was considered to have good potential appeal, offering something new and different to the children's book landscape. The only similar book which members of the VFG were familiar with was the Black Book of Colours, by Menina Cottin, however Close Your Eyes was described by one member of the VFG as being "even more effective".
Views from the Publisher Focus Group included:
The lyrical text combined with bold illustrations in predominantly yellow and black with the occasional blue and pink, help to accentuate the message of this understated book about how the world is perceived by a sighted and a non-sighted child.
OIW felt that the book introduces an ingenious way to show contrasting and confliction narrative – How do you describe soap, for example? The narrator explains that "you use soap to wash yourself" but his brother explains that "soap is a stone that melts and smells good". The sighted brother always believes that he is right and it is up to their mother to point out that perhaps they are both right, telling him to "just close your eyes".
Seeing in the Dark
[working title for the purposes of this project] (Noir/Voir – literally translates as Dark/See)
François David, Motus, France, 2005
Language: French (with braille)
Noir/Voir effectively plays with contrast, tactile elements and braille to encourage the reader to consider visual impairment. The title is 'Voir' but the 'V' has an oblique dotted line added to make an 'N' and the cover is black. The size of the font and the white elements on each page gradually decrease, as the book slowly immerses the reader in darkness, with the final pages being on matte paper and in braille. 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.
Noir/Voir by French author François David was suggested by Dr. Penni Cotton. It won the 'Prix de la Nuit du Livre' in 2006 and was nominated for the 'Prix Baobab du Salon du livre jeunesse de Montreuil' and the 'Prix Bernard Versele' in 2008. François David is the creator of the literary magazine on tape Voix and has been the literary director of Motus Editions since 1988. He has written many books for young people and also has several collections of poems and short stories.
Like The Ghost Story this title is inclusive but also has accessible elements, in the form of the story being also told in braille at the end.
Portrayal of disability
Dr. Butler commented that the book had:
"some formidable strengths. Its narrative viewpoint is that of the disabled person. It also touches on the fact that disabled people sometimes watch non-disabled people cope with a disadvantage that is a daily presence for them, a spectacle that may actually be amusing. Finally, the book poses the semantic question what we mean by 'to see'. Is it just a physical interaction between eye and brain? Or is some deeper degree of perception implied?"
Alison Long from the RNIB liked the book and thought the principle of the story and the way it was approached was effective.
Her colleague Claire Maxwell also liked the story, feeling it touched on a very interesting point. Claire commented that instigating games like this with friends was something she did as a child – for example playing Blind Man’s Buff, because as a visually impaired person she knew she would be better at it!
The staff at New College Worcester liked the unusual style and format.
The focus group at Stepping Stones School thought the books was very 'different' and were intrigued by it.
Questions and concerns
Some of the students at Stepping Stones struggled with the way the text got smaller as they didn’t understand why this was the case. They commented that some children might find this hard to read.
At New College Worcester, the 'shrinking' text meant that the book was considered too difficult for most of the students to read and the fact that there was braille at the end of the book went unnoticed. Staff commented that it was a shame that the braille version was so well hidden.
Audience and viability
For the above reasons, this book was not deemed to be a particularly effective 'accessible' book. Alison Long and Claire Maxwell at the RNIB agreed with the VI students that the braille was hard to read. There were also some reservations about the braille being located at the end. Claire found it confusing, describing a sense of being ‘left out’ of the rest of the book and feeling the braille should be included throughout.
However, there was a sense of the book having a potential audience in terms of mainstream UK audiences.
Dr. Butler could see two possible pedagogical uses and felt that it was well worth wider publication:
"In translation it can be used to help primary school children to have a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of sight. But in its native French (complex ideas expressed in simple language) it might be a useful high school reader for pupils studying that language".
We also shared the book with publishers, and their feedback was as follows:
OIW feel Noir/Voir is an ingenious book, which has much to offer. This is an attractive book and could be worth considering for publication in the UK. However, in terms of accessibility, it is not considered an example of good practice, as the braille is too discreet and not readable enough.
Some of the book’s key strengths lie in its design. It is highly distinctive, eye-catching and a pleasure to look at. Our focus group consultation suggested that the story was also generally considered to be original, positive and effectively delivered. It features an idea which visually impaired people can clearly relate to. The additional philosophical questions ensure the book offers something substantial, generating real thought and discussion.