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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Boris Kulikov. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"My family did what they could. Papa made a wooden cane. Each day I walked a little farther, tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap ... counting the steps between the house and the garden, the vineyard and the chicken coop, the baker's and the miller's ... and back to Papa's shop. My brother taught me to whistle: vreeee, vreeee, vreeeew! And when the sound echoed back ... "

I knew one thing about Louis Braille. I suspect you might be the same. I did not know that he was a very tiny baby, not expected to survive. I did not know what a happy, smart child he was. I did not know that an accident with an awl and a resulting infection left him without sight. Now, I do - and I know much more. It is why I have such admiration for the brilliant work that artists are doing to help our children meet new heroes.

"I could see nothing at all. No trees or sparrows.
No faces. No lace or loaves of bread.
By the time I turned five, I was completely blind.
My world was dark and dangerous.
I stumbled about the house, banging into chairs,
the walls, the door. My body ached.
"Where is the sun?" I cried.'

His family helped him deal with this heartbreaking change in his life, and he did well. Louis was more than determined to get an education. He was on a mission to make things better for people like him. He was frustrated by the lack of books for sightless students. Resolved to change that, he worked long years to invent a reading system that would work for himself and many others.

By showing Louis as a young, adventurous, intelligent boy, Jen Bryant prepares us for the diligence he would bring to the task of inventing the Braille system. She tells a powerful story, choosing first person narrative to make it personal and immediate for her readers.

" ... I tried hundreds of ways
to simplify the captain's code.
I worked until my back was stiff and my fingers ached.
Often, I fell asleep a few minutes before morning.

A year passed. Then another, And another.
That winter, I turned fifteen. I was often sick.
But I wouldn't rest."
Boris Kulikov uses light and dark with great effect. Prior to losing his sight, the pages are filled with diffused light. As soon as Louis' eyesight is lost, some backgrounds become dark, with white print to tell the story. Back and forth, the light and darkness move, all dependent on which part of the story is being told. It is brilliantly designed, inspiring as it depicts the life of a determined and engaging young man who made the world a better place.

Endpapers include a message from Helen Keller, and the Braille alphabet itself. There is a pronunciation guide for French words and phrases, an author's note, a question and answer section to help readers know more, and a list of resources about Louis, and for learning more about using Braille. In her author's note, Jen Bryant writes:

"Unlike those other inventors, however, Braille was a child inventor who worked alone and without public support or financial backing. Living in a converted prison building and already suffering the early signs of lung disease, Louis Braille managed to create a system of reading and writing for the blind that is still used today. In the past several centuries, no one so young has developed something that has had such a lasting and profound impact on so many people."

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