This book, which tells the story of Louis Braille, begins by showing the Braille Alphabet on the end papers, followed by a pronunciation guide for the French names and phrases that appear in the ensuing text.
The story came out of the author’s curiosity over what it would have been like to have been Louis Braille, the blind inventor of a system of reading and writing for the sight-impaired still in use today.
Louis went blind when he was three years old following an accident in his father’s harness workshop. When he was ten, he got a scholarship to a school for the blind in Paris, but the students had to read by tracing raised letters, and it was a very long and tedious process.
Then the headmaster announced that they would try using the same code the army employed to send secret messages during battle. That code used twelve raised dots, but at the age of sixteen, Louis revised the system to be much easier, using only six dots, and published the first-ever book using the “Braille” method at age twenty.
An Author’s Note following the book tells more of Braille’s accomplishments. For example, with the help of a friend, he developed raphigraphy, allowing blind and sighted people to write to each other. He even invented a typewriter-like machine for raphigraphy.
Louis mastered the cello and the organ, and tuned pianos. He developed a system of musical notation for visually impaired musicians. He went on to become a professor at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth and taught history, grammar, geography, and math. He died of tuberculosis two days after his forty-third birthday. The author reports that on the one hundredth anniversary of his death in 1952, his body was placed in the Pantheon in Paris, “the final resting place of France’s greatest men and women.”
As Bryant notes in her Afterword, Helen Keller compared Braille to Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press: “Before Braille, the blind were shut off from reading and writing. The Braille system changed all that.” She also notes that the support of Louis’s family for him was unusual at the time: “Blind, deaf, or otherwise physically challenged children were often abandoned or given over to a traveling ‘master’, who taught them to sing, dance, or perform tricks for money, much like circus animals.” Both Louis and the world were lucky his parents were different.
The author includes a list of books and websites for additional information.
The illustrations are by Boris Kulikov, who worked as a set and costume designer after graduating from the Institute of Theater, Music, and Cinema in St. Petersburg. Kulikov uses an interesting blend of mixed-media, adding chalk on a black background at times, that helps convey the difference of Braille’s internal reality.
Evaluation: This is a story that will inspire all ages. Braille not only overcame adversity with pluck and ingenuity, but did so in a way that made the world a better place for millions. Today Braille is celebrated around the world.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016