Saturday, May 21, 2016

Author/Illustrator Challenges for the Blind

Whew! Finally a break is coming, just over the horizon. With the past few months of school visits, conferences of teachers, librarians, agents, editor, authors, and illustrators, I will once again be back at the drawing board. And with this comes a fun, recent challenge. A forgotten voide challenge all of us in the kid lit biz should take time to discover.

The missing voice, the forgotten voice? The group not usually portrayed, the blind and visually impaired. It was not until I was introduced to Donna Posont, a blind naturalist from UM Dearborn did I ever think or spend time or even know of the challenges of the blind.

Donna praised my Holly Wild books saying that they worked well with her blind kids that she works with. Nature and the blind go hand-in-hand. Something us "sight challenged" people, she jokes, take for granted. Right now, as I write this, I hear a myriad of birds, layers of songs and calls. The breeze is bringing in the pungent odor of blooming autumn olive. A truck drives up the dirt road, banging and clanging, teeth-jarringly over potholes, a beagle whimpers, and my fingers tap these keys. Kind of easy to describe these observations in word. But art? Illustration?

Book 1--now in Braille!
Sensory writing. Sensory art. For years, I have worked in mixed media for my fine art, mixing color, texture, text, and natural ephemera. With my books, I use those ingredients for covers or inside illustration. But how does an illustrator put work out for the blind?

Donna wrote me a few months ago requesting the last two books in the Holly Wild series to be recorded. The first two were recorded years back by the Michigan Blind and Talking Book Library. As time flies, and business and busyness prevails, we never contacted them to do the last two. So of course, we hopped on that request immediately. She wants the books to be required reading for her students! Because there were not enough copies to go around, Donna had Bamboozled on Beaver Island (book 1) printed in braille for her next event. The text, no illustrations.

I got to see this nifty braille version in person (5 copies) when I was recently invited by Donna for the Big Day of Birding, to celebrate Urban Birding at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor. Donna, or "Butterfly", as she is known by the kids was leading our group out onto the park trails to bird by ear.

Donna Posont, blind naturalist, helps build confidence in blind kids.
Warm, funny, gentle , she truly is "Butterfly" to the kids.
The event sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind MI, UM Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center, and the MI Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (MVPI), and others put on a super event. There were even beautiful, colorful textural, raised art and braille t-shirts from Cindi Dail of Artrageous.com.

But the real fun was in sharing stories, crafting, and birding with blind and VIP of all ages. We shared the love of birds and learning and nature, despite the chilly, rainy, windy spring weather that was dished to us!

It was a challenge for me to put together a craft for the energetic and enthusiastic group, known as the Michigan Birdbrains. I had made a bird art piece from trash a few years ago, and do you think I could find it now that I needed it?

My urban bird art of found items
So I created another using trash around home. Next, I hit the internet in search of tips for crafts for the blind. I do mixed media, so it should be easy--and it was. Printing, stamping, drawing with scented markers and crayons. Tissue paper and fiber textures to be glued down with glue sticks on birds and nests that I cut out of heavy paper. My craft was a hit since we couldn't get out onto the trail with wind and rain.

After the craft it was time for the trail and bird count. Now, Marie and I are taking part in the Michigan Frog & Toad Survey this year and are "frogging by ear" at night to count species as a part of the state's citizen scientist program. So "birding by ear" is the same, counting species from songs present. And holy cats, how many songs are twirling around out there and competing with our human made noise?! After spending time with the group I was inspired to learn more songs. Some of these kids really know their birds and Donna is a font of knowledge.

I was so impressed with the group and what Donna is doing for Detroit kids that I am including them all in my next book to get all kids thinking about using their senses out on the trail as well as in the yard. I hope to get out to another of their events to work with them again this summer.

But when I do, I will raise the large illustrations with Puffy paint on my laminated large chapter copy of Bamboozled on Beaver Island so kids can actually feel Holly and her freckles, the "creepy arm" of the story, and other scenes (Cindi's shirts got me thinking!). It's all about remembering the other people out there who maybe cannot fully engage or enjoy our writing or illustrating. A simple thing as raised art, textural art for speaking events is pretty cool and a creative challenge!

List of textures to include:  sandpaper, bubble wrap, cheesecloth or burlap, buttons, yarns and twine, gel medium paste to build up, handmade papers, glitter, feathers, fur scraps, fringe, to name a few. Think, TOUCH! Think inclusive. :)

Shelf fungus on a fallen tree offers textural time.

Listening to bird songs to record.

Mute swan on her next by the trail.


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