Sunday, January 13, 2008


left: 7 blind mice by Ed Young. Transcribed by Dorthy Johnson. Tactile illustrations by Marcy Meyer.

Last fall, I took a 15 week course on teaching principals and practices. I learned how people learn, how to teach and how to evaluate to see if they learned. The first lesson plan I made was on a topic of my choice. It was suggested that I research something that I have always wanted to learn. I made a list, because I love making lists, and decided on teaching braille.
I taught my peers how to play go-fish using cards in braille. Everyone wore pirate eye patches and bandannas so no one could see.
One of my teachers from last spring told me about the Lighthouse, which is a non-profit that helps the blind and visually impaired. They have an art show at City Hall every Fall. I went with my boyfriend to the opening reception. It was unlike any reception I'd been too, because everyone was touching the art, including the oil paintings. I want the viewer to interact with my art, but it is a social no-no to touch art, especially in a gallery.
I tried checking books out in braille at the San Francisco public library, peninsula library and Berkeley public library but I wasn't aloud because I am not blind.
At Christmas time I played braille go-fish with my cousins ages 6,10 and 11. The next day, the oldest was making flashcards of the alphabet and punctuation with the help of the youngest. The eldest memorized the alphabet that day! That night we were writing questions to each other in braille using fabric paint.
above: The foot book by Dr. Seuss.
Transcribed by Marcy Mayer.

Fabric paint comes in a small tube with a pointed tip. It dries raised, so it can be red like braille.
I looked online for books in braille at her public library and they had a bunch of kids' books. She went to the library and the reference desk didn't know they even had any. They found them on a shelf right behind them. She even checked out a book that teaches braille to the sighted.

My cousin has been loving these kid's books in braille, like books by Leo Lioni and Dr. Seuss! She checked some out for me to read! They are written in type 2 braille, which is the alphabet with contractions. So my cousin went online and printed off a list of some of the contractions for her and me. There are about 190 contractions so there is a lot to memorize.

above: Ruby bakes a cake by Susan Hill from the Children's Braille Book Club. The page on the left is paper and the right page is plastic with braille printed on both sides. Under that plastic page is a paper page with more words and illustrations.

I came across a font in braille, so of course I had to tell my cousin. We're planning to transcribe a book into braille, including thermoformed pictures. We are planning on transcribing Shel Silverstein's, "A light in the Attic." We're going to look into how to do our own thermoform, which is similar to embossing.
We would love to visit a transcriber and see how they work. I am guessing that a printer does the thermoform, but I am not sure. I could see this as a possible job while getting my sculpting career going. In her city there are a couple of transcribers, same with my city. I'll let you know what comes of it.
What is most amazing about the kid's books is that the pictures are raised, so you can feel them. They are beautiful works of art. They simplify the original illustration for clarity. Also it has objects that are closer to you, like a body in profile has a higher raised arm then the face. This is called form on form. It also emphasizes texture, since there are no colors.
Some of the books are a little different, like Leo Lionni's A color of his own. Some of the braille books come with the same book in print, so a parent could help their kid with reading. At the top of every page is the title of the book. In this Lionni book there is a row of dots to delineate between the title and the story.

A color of his own by Leo Lionni.
Transcribed by Dorthy Johnson. Tactile illustrations by Marcy Meyer. The page with cirlces isn't in the print book. It is a texture key for the story. The top left color is black and it is the roughest texture. On a page not shown the white texture key is totally smooth. In the second row, second one down, it's the key for gray. Later in the book you will meet an elephant, and he has this gray texture.


  1. I can hardly wait till I can do some more braille with you. Have you been able to read any of the books from my library yet.

  2. I don't know if you check old blog entries. As a mom of a blind son, I'm always looking for tactile books and Marcy Meyer's illustrations are excellent. Do you know if these books are available for purchase, or were they only through your local library? You can email me at
    Thank you.