fourteen: the black book of colours by menena cottin
The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin
London: Walker, 2010
Review published 2010 at CMIS Resource Bank
The Black Book of Colours captivates everyone who gets their hands on it. Ask yourself on finishing: do you really see our world, or have you become blind to its brilliance?
Thomas is blind, but that doesn’t mean he misses out on the rich rainbow of colours that fills our world. His mother has worked with him to identify the smell and feel of colours, the taste and the sound of colours. The Black Book is presented from Thomas’ third person viewpoint, incorporating Braille text with white typeset text on the left of each completely black double spread, with raised black line drawings on the right.
Evocative text describes colours through sensory imagery to allow sighted readers to understand how blind and low vision people may experience colour.
Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurts when he finds it on his scraped knee.
The Black Book will have many applications in the classroom, from disability awareness to history (of Braille), art class and English. Students may make their own sensory picture story books or use vivid imagery to describe colours. Scratch and sniff strips, siren sounds, fluffy feathers and sandpaper are found in various tactile toddler books to link words and senses. The Black Book uses descriptive language to bring those senses to life. It targets sighted people to develop understanding of a blind or low vision person’s life experience. On a more complex level, tolerance of others’ viewpoints could be taught – we all see things differently.
Readers may begin to imagine what it is like to read by touch, but decoding these line drawings is surprisingly difficult. Their structure is not truly tactile as outlined by IFLA.
For futher literacy extension, students may develop their own black boxes in the style of Vision Australia’s Feelix kits. Such kits may contain the storybook with typewritten and Braille text, an audio version (or the children may read to a visually impaired student), and a variety of tactile props to support the story. Props for The Very Hungry Caterpillar could result in quite a feast!