Making Tactile Books
For general information about designing and making tactile books for visually-impaired children see the website of the Tactile Book Advancement Group (TBAG) at www.tactilebooks.org. If you are thinking of making a tactile book for the ClearVision library, please read on!
Making a Fabric Tactile Book
The ClearVision library is building up a collection of tactile books for loan to schools and other educational establishments. The following guidelines were produced to encourage people to ‘make and donate’ a book to our new collection. Over a thousand sewn books have been donated so far and we have been able to donate a small number of tactile books to libraries for the blind overseas, to help them start up their own collections. Please contact ClearVision if you are interested in this scheme. You may also like to borrow a sample of a tactile book and we will gladly lend you one to examine.
What is a tactile book?
Tactile books are used by young children with little or no sight, many of whom have additional physical or learning difficulties.
Tactile books are an excellent introduction to the fun of reading, as well as being an invaluable means of conveying ideas, concepts and vocabulary. They encourage interaction between the young reader and his sighted classmates and family. They are admired and enjoyed by sighted as well as blind children.
The best tactile books use a variety of contrasting textures, not all of them soft and silky. Tactile books need to be robust enough to withstand enthusiastic exploration, have a small amount of text and very simple illustrations, with every aspect accessible by touch. Items which can be moved or manipulated are popular. Many children who cannot see print have enough sight to enjoy bright colours and good contrasts; some especially appreciate the sparkle from reflective materials. If the book contains sounds and smells as well, so much the better.
How Do I Start?
Making a tactile illustration is rarely just a question of raising the print illustration. Think tactile from the start. The whole of McDonalds can be illustrated by one chip carton; a small ceramic tile or a piece of towelling can represent the entire bathroom. A country lane can be represented by a single snaking pathway across the page. A bunch of bananas can be represented with the fruits splayed out like the fingers of a hand so that they can be felt separately. Consider what you want the child to focus on in the illustration and eliminate all other clutter.
Why not feel your way through some materials, textures and objects? Notice how some surfaces are colder than others; some make a noise when rubbed or tapped. Some fabrics which look different feel very similar. Scourers and car mats, shower curtains and bubblewrap can all provide interesting textures. Start collecting simple, flattish objects which could be sewn onto a fabric page.
Consider the life experiences of young children with no sight. What will they have felt in everyday life? Sighted children can match pictures with what they have already seen. They can recognise pictures of houses and zebras and buses and clouds. What will a child with no sight have experienced? Gradually they will learn about the visual way of representing these things, helped by our tactile books. One day they may learn about perspective and symbols and speech bubbles. One day we hope they will be able to decipher a tactile map of France. But in the early stages, tactile illustrations need to be very simple and as easy to recognise as possible. A spoon sewn to the page will be far easier to understand than a collage picture of a family having breakfast.
For the surface of the pages choose a smooth fabric which will repel dirt. Sew the fabric over both sides of a rectangle of plastic canvas or other washable, pliable stiffener to make a page. Make your book by stitching the left-hand edges of the pages together, or by making a couple of holes in each page and tying them together. An unstiffened margin at the edge of the page will make this easier, and help the pages to lie flat.
Make sure the book is completely safe for young children. Everything should be very securely attached to the page, especially small items such as beads, buttons or long fibres. Avoid toxic glues or inks and anything sharp.
To suit small hands, pages should not be more than 20cm x 25cm with not more than 8 pages to a book (excluding covers). The book is likely to be quite thick, but try to make sure the pages will open out flat.
Keep the text, if any, short and simple. Words can be written with laundry marker or sewn into the book, or printed on paper then attached to the page with a rectangle of clear plastic sewn on top. Do not attempt to add any braille text by hand; this is best done with a specialist machine as it needs to be absolutely precise to be legible. If the braille text is to be added later, leave plenty of space below the print text.
Nursery Rhymes & Traditional Verses – e.g. Baa Baa Black Sheep, or One Two, Buckle My Shoe.
Traditional Stories, e.g. Little Red Riding Hood, an Aesop’s Fable or Folk Tales from any culture.
Early Learning, e.g. Numbers and Counting, Opposites, Sizes, Shapes, or a single letter of the alphabet (ask for our list of suggested items for each letter!).
Everyday Life, e.g. My Day, Getting Dressed, or A Trip to the Park.
New Stories or Rhymes, based on your own original story or poem.
To make your illustrations easy to understand:
Use only a few textures, as different as possible.
Show only one or two items on the page
Leave good sized gaps between items so that they are quite separate
Keep things in proportion (avoid having a large squirrel in the foreground and a tiny horse in the distance)
Avoid hiding part of one object behind another (don’t put the car in front of the house)
Show all the limbs of people and animals quite clearly (two-legged dogs will need some explaining)
Show faces full-on or side on, not three-quarters profile.
And lastly – Nothing succeeds like the six S’s....
Make sure your book is:
Safe – make sure everything is securely attached and not toxic or sharp.
Simple – for a young child, no tactile book can be too simple. Many are too complicated.
Small – small children, small laps, small hands, small books
Short – short attention spans. Feeling the pictures will take time. Four or five pages is fine and may be too long for some children.
Sturdy – even careful exploration will involve tugging and rubbing. And some children will not be careful . . .
Stimulating – use varied textures, rough, smooth, hard & hairy, warm and cold. Introduce sounds and smells. Use bold colour contrasts and sparkly bits to stimulate low vision.
Click here for more detailed help and how a book was actually made