The Black Book of Colours, by Menena Cottin & Rosana Faria (Walker Books),
ISBN: 978 1 4063 2218 7
When writers begin their apprenticeship in how to write powerful stories, one of the lessons that needs to be learned, is to show not tell. In the case of picture book narratives, this is essential. Knowing how to utilise other senses outside of words that describe visual element, such as touch, feel, smell, emotion and sound, is what makes the difference between an interesting story and a great one.
This book by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria caught my eye and my interest from the moment I held it in my hands. My father is legally blind and I am also an experienced teacher working with students with special needs. This book is so beautifully presented and designed, that i knew at once it was a keeper.
The book is designed for sighted people. It incorporates a braille version of the text on each page, which presents the narrative in a white font on a black background. The braille isn't deep enough for a blind braille reader but it certainly gives the experience of reading braille to a sighted reader.
The story follows Thomas, a blind boy, that is describing colours as taste and feel and smell.
'Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick's feathers.'
On the opposite page, the image of feathers floating are spread across the page, though the paper is still black and the feathers are a black gloss, raised embossed image, one that automatically causes you to run your fingers across them, reading the picture as a physically tactile element. It encourages you to close your eyes and to try to identify the form and shape of the picture with your fingers.
'But when clouds decide to gather up and the rain pours down, then the sky is white.'
The opposite page is filled with rain drops falling vertically down the page, increasing with size as they reach the bottom. You run your fingers up and down the texture, feeling the raised image and evoking a sense of gravity and space.
This is a beautiful book that relies on the words as much as it does on the tactile journey through the illustrations. It introduces children (and adults) to a world that, unless we are visually impaired ourselves, will never completely understand or experience. We have the experience of colour, of clear words on a page, of using all our senses, but often not to their full capacity.
I won't pretend that with the reading of this book you will have a full knowledge of what it is like to be blind. We could never be so presumptuous. but it does bring us closer to an empathy, of an realisation that the world for the blind, or even for those with other impairments are different from ours. It also shows us that the world for the blind is still filled with colour, though it is experienced in a different way. It tells us that different is just that and isn't necessarily wrong or bad or even sad.
A beautiful book to help children begin to accept difference and to experience other ways of seeing.
I will keep this one forever.
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