This week Narelda Joy, Tasmanian author and illustrator, provides behind the scenes insights into her publication of a nursery rhyme book for young Tasmanians and an accompanying braille edition.
In 2020 I was thrilled to be chosen to create a book for the Help Babies Learn project, an initiative of Toast for Kids Charity Inc. Having had first hand experience of the low literacy rate in Tasmanian schools, I knew the idea behind the project was important - to encourage parents to read aloud to babies and young children by providing a *free book to the parents of Tasmanian newborns, and to create a braille and low vision companion version of the same book, so that parents with print disabilities would have the same opportunity.
Reading aloud to a newborn baby, toddler, or preschooler every day is important because it provides them with the building blocks of language, and introduces them to words and phrases that aren’t used in everyday talk. Stronger connections are formed in their brains from the repetition of words and sentences, and this helps them process language faster, and be ahead when they start school. If they don’t have these strong brain connections by kindergarten, it is much harder for them to learn.
Spending time reading aloud to a child also develops a special bond that makes them feel loved and secure, exercises their concentration and imagination, and creates a fun, positive experience of reading. Kids that read succeed! Interestingly it doesn’t matter what you read aloud to a newborn baby, as it’s the sound of the words, the cadence of your voice, and your expressions that they absorb. It could be the Financial Times, Australian Dairyfarmer, a brochure on a steam train ride, or even Shakespeare!
A book with a Tasmanian theme, as defined by my brief, was far more fun and appealing to me! I decide that I wanted the book to feature the quirks and uniqueness of Tasmanian animals, as well as the different environments in which they live. I wanted the book to have multigenerational appeal, to encourage older siblings to read aloud to younger, and to hopefully peak the interest of adults into learning more about the animals with their children. The book also includes a counting game in which the reader looks for animals hidden in each illustration, and the palawa kani names of the animals in the book.
After many hours of research into Tasmanian animals, writing and refining the sixteen rhymes, illustrating the animals and the landscapes, designing the layout, typesetting, editing and proofreading, Tassie Rhymes for Little Tigers was sent to the printer, and then officially published in August 2022.
Print book launched by Roger Jaensch (Tasmanian Minister for Education, Children and Youth)
L to R: Roger Jaensch, Narelda Joy, Steve Martin (President Toast for Kids Charity Inc,
Sally Darke, (TAS Community Fund)
I then set to work on the braille and low vision companion version. It was such an honour to work in collaboration with the team at Next Sense (previously known as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children) to make this happen. This institute has been supporting those with print disabilities since 1860, and believes that “everyone should have the power to reach their potential”… I also believe this!
I quickly discovered that the illustrations needed to be completely different to my usual detailed textural style, in order for them to be viewed by someone with low vision. I started from scratch and simplified each animal into groups of shapes, and used thick black or white lines around each shape to define them. I then chose the colours for the shapes specifically to provide a high contrast between each of the elements on the page.
A comparison of the Tasmanian devil illustration by Narelda Joy
- showing a high contrast image for low vision on the left. © Narelda Joy
The sixteen rhymes from the original book, which feature Tasmanian animals, remained unchanged, as did the translations of the animal names into palawa kani, (and I’d like to thank the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre for providing those). However other incidental text within the book needed abridging, for as I have learnt, the amount of braille that will fit on a single page is 40 characters across and 20 lines down. It was important that the words in braille on the left side of a double page spread were replicated exactly, in a large size font suitable for a person with low vision, on the right side of the spread, to enable a parent with low vision and a child without any vision, to read along together (or vice versa).
The illustrations were sized to fit any available space that remained on the low vision (right-hand side) pages. The book became quite thick, as each page is actually an A3 sized paper folded in half, so that the dot impressions of the braille do not impact the low vision text on the reverse.
Her Excellency, the Honourable Barbara Baker AC, Governor of Tasmania launched this braille and low vision version at Government House. That night, a mother of three vision-impaired young children contacted me, after the launch was reported on the TV news, and we were able to personally deliver her a copy of the book the next morning!
Braille and Low Vision companion version book launched by
Her Excellency, the Honourable Barbara Baker AC, Governor of Tasmania.
L to R: Sonali Marathe (Manager, Accessibility and Inclusion, Next Sense),
Steve Martin (President Toast for Kids Charity Inc), the Honourable Barbara Baker AC,
I was genuinely shocked when I heard that there were very few books for young children with visual impairment, and that most were home-made by parents. Hopefully this book will be a step in the right direction to rectify this. There are so many exciting possibilities available, for example Next Sense have the ability to produce a braille outline of an illustrated character so that a child can trace it with their fingers, or a 3D model of an animal that a child can hold and feel while the book is being read, to get a sense of its shape.
I’d like to thank Steve Martin and the Toast for Kids Committee, for their enthusiasm and determination to create these two books, our generous sponsors, and especially the CBCA Tasmanian Branch for their support.
My hope is that both versions of Tassie Rhymes for Little Tigers will foster and encourage a love of reading that spreads throughout Tasmania, and continues for generations of Tasmanians to come.
Award winning children’s book illustrator, author and designer.
*If you are the parent of a newborn, please refer to the Toast for Kids Charity Inc. Facebook page for the terms and conditions of receiving a “free” book, or contact T4K directly. https://www.facebook.com/toastforkids/
|Book signing in a Hobart bookstore|
© Narelda Joy
If you are a member of the general public, the original book is available for purchase in Tasmanian bookshops, or through T4K, for $20. The braille and low vision version has a high production cost as each is individually printed, and as such will be printed on demand. Please contact T4K directly for pricing and details of how to obtain this version.