Guest Post: Choosing Books for Sight by Peta Kennedy
Something I really treasure about running My Little Bookcase is getting to know the readers who follow our posts and articles. Mostly this takes place through Facebook comments and emails.
I have my own reasons for starting My Little Bookcase, but every reader has their own family, story, and reasons for loving books.
One friend I’ve come to cyber-meet through My Little Bookcase is Peta. Today, she has kindly shared her family’s story with us. I’m sure her story will touch your heart like it has mine.
Most importantly though, this guest post will challenge you to think about what books really mean to you. As you read, you’ll imagine how your reading experiences would be different if you couldn’t see. If you’re anything like me, when you finish reading Peta’s story, you’ll value books more than you ever imagined you could.
When our son was first diagnosed with vision impairment at 4 months of age, the future looked quite bleak. We were uncertain as to what he would be able to see if anything at all and we were told that he “would never be able to read normal books”.
Words cannot describe the emotions and loss that came with the diagnosis. I began looking around at other “normal” children and wondering, ‘Why me? Why him? Why us?’ None of it seemed in any way fair (and it still doesn’t). So many thoughts raced through my head every minute of every day, mostly thoughts about what my baby was going to miss out on in life – never being able to ride a bike, not knowing what we looked like, what the world looked like. I looked at my collection of beautiful children’s books that I had kept for the day I could share them with my children and was devastated that I wouldn’t be able to share them with him. That he wasn’t going to know the beauty of the Rainbow Fish or the magic of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the way that I did.
Once we dealt with the initial shock of the whole situation, we got down to business. My husband and I (and our entire family who have been so supportive throughout our journey) were determined to offer this precious little baby every opportunity we could to make his life as ‘normal’ as possible each and every day. We wanted to immerse him in life experiences that would allow him to reach his full potential.
There is a wonderful quote, that throughout my career in teaching, I have carried with me; “If a child can’t learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn”. In order to give this little boy the best opportunities in life, I had to change the way I thought about and did things, and teach him in a way that he could learn. I knew that this could still involve books, they may not be the ones that I would ‘normally’ have gravitated to but I never shy away from a challenge, especially where the education of my child was involved.
Maisy’s Twinkly Crinkly Counting Book was and still is a favourite. This is one that stands out in my mind; we used to read this several times
a day. We came across it again the other day and it still has as much appeal only now, my son was enjoying recognising the numbers in the book. It’s amazing how some books can grow with children and challenge them at different stages.
As an early childhood teacher and children’s literature lover, I had plenty of first hand experience with the ways in which stories and books can help and teach children in many different ways. From exploring feelings associated with the birth of a new sibling to learning about different and new cultures. For our little man, books are fantastic for these reasons and so many more.
From a very early age, my son seemed to love his books (He must take after his Mummy there!) In the early stages, we used lots of books with him that had reflective paper (usually found at places like the Reject Shop). These books enabled him to have something to attract his attention to the page. Also good at this stage were books with black and white pictures and those with high contrast.
We gradually moved onto the “That’s not my…” series of books which we loved. Not only are the pictures highly contrasted but they also have a sensory aspect on each page where T. could use his sense of touch to gain more information about the book we were reading. At this stage we were unsure if he was going to be a Braille reader. These touch and feel books are important for children with vision impairments in order to develop the concept of reading through touch (Braille).
As my son got older, we used books to help him learn about the world around him and introduce him to things that we take for granted. When he was about 15 months old he started using the word “noon”. Noon referred to stars and the moon. We didn’t think he would be able to see the real moon so I went on a search for books with the moon in them that he would be able to relate to and learn from. Books like ‘Goodnight Moon’, ‘Jemima’s Trip to the Moon’, ‘Goodnight Baby’, ‘Spot says Goodnight’ all introduced the concept of the moon. He was able to explore the moon at his fingertips, see what it looked like, where it was and generally what it was. One night there was a large full moon in the sky and we took him out to have a look. He actually saw it, there were tears flowing let me tell you! He still loves the moon and has taken this interest further now to space and the planets.
Choosing books for a child with a vision impairment is not easy – it’s not impossible though. I have spent many hours over the last 3.5 years looking at children’s books, looking for ones with clear pictures that represent the text. Pictures that use strong colours and a black outline are good. As my son gets older, we are able to choose books that have a bit more detail but the picture quality is still important. He has a magnification dome, which we can use to look at detail – this vision aid will be helpful to him when he starts to read.
It has been amazing to see how much our little man has learnt through the exploration of his books. He is now recognising letters, he uses his finger to follow words in books and asks what words in the environment say. These are all things that we were told he wouldn’t be able to do. The other day we even read The Rainbow Fish together and afterwards, we made some fish for a clear box we have.
The future looks bright and with so many wonderful children’s books out there we are loving learning together!