White Print releases kids' storybook in
print, Braille and sign language
#JoyofReading : Authored by Vandana Naidu with illustrations by Neha Talesara,
Look Out, Look Within aims to bring forth the message of inclusion and empathy.
It was in May 2013 that Mumbai-based Upasana Makati went on to introduce the first English lifestyle magazine in Braille, White Print, for the visually impaired, and just months before its sixth anniversary, she released Look Out, Look Within, a storybook in print, Braille and sign language. The book has been authored by Vandana Naidu and has illustrations by National Institute of Design alumna, Neha Talesara.
Look Out, Look Within in sign language
One for inclusion
Founder, editor, publisher and owner of White Print, Makati says, “The book was born thanks to a conversation with Ahalya Naidu Momaya, the co-founder, Trilogy, the library and book store in Mumbai. We were wondering why we don’t see visually impaired kids around in libraries or book shops. It struck me and I said, yes, it is true because inclusivity is a big issue. That’s when the idea to counter this problem through a story came about, and that’s how Look Out, Look Within was conceived. I believe in the power of stories. They are powerful, and can help instil a lot of good values in young children, and can go a long way in bringing about inclusion.”
She wanted to reach out to one and all so decided to have three versions of the book – print, Braille and sign language. It was to further the idea of inclusion and ensure that it is read by the sighted, visually impaired as well as speech and hearing impaired. “We have collaborated with Radio Mirchi to produce an audiobook which will be out on Sugamya Pustakalaya, an online library for persons with visual disabilities,” says Makati on what next.
Naidu, who has been trained in the art of working with numbers, found that her skills lay in creating magic with words, and she readily came onboard. “I have to credit Upasana and Ahalya with the main idea behind this book. The problem that currently exists is that children are unsure of how to interact with differently-abled kids. And the main reason for this hesitation is a lack of material – written as well as in visual media – to show them that it is quite normal and such disabilities don’t affect their enthusiasm and capability levels,” she says.
Making a difference
The children’s storybook celebrates the friendship of two little girls, both wonderful and special in their very own right. Mia is unable to see the world with her eyes but explores it with her super senses of being able to touch, hear, feel and smell. Anya, her best friend enjoys learning about the world in an enriching and different way thanks to Mia. The book opens their world of fun and learning to the readers.
The illustrations in Look Out, Look Within have the hand-drawn feel to it too. Illustrator Talesara says, “It was more about pouring my heart out with reference to deciding the design path of the illustrations. I used the appropriate symbols to clearly indicate to the reader that Mia is visually impaired, for instance, the white and red colours for the cane. Apart from that, both Mia and Anya have their distinct dressing styles which are maintained throughout the book, for instance – the flower in Anya’s hair, and it stays with her even when she sleeps.”
Thanking Upasana and White Print for all that they do to bring reading experience to the visually challenged, Naidu says, “During my research, I was humbled when I read about the amazing successes of the visually impaired in every field you could think of – right from science to medicine to the arts. Technology is such an equalizer. And it only needs the right mindset to see everyone as equally talented and able,” says Naidu.
Through this book, the duo wanted to start a conversation and get differently-abled children out of their homes and into the play areas as well as public spaces, and lead normal, productive lives, much like other children. “The idea of the story was to normalize the inclusion of differently-abled children with everyone around them. We wanted people to move away from feelings of sympathy and pity and treat such disabilities as normal rather than a hindrance to development.” The book aimed at a younger audience has a simple title that manages to bring forth the message of inclusion and empathy. “Look Out, Look Within urges our readers to look at the world around them and acknowledge that we can promote inclusion as well as create a diverse world where differences are celebrated and not hidden away. Introducing this idea to a younger audience should help in better acceptance and hopefully will not be such a taboo subject in the coming years,” says the author, who is currently working on books for older children as well as exploring the idea of a series that will make it easier to understand and accept such disabilities as normal.
Makati couldn’t agree more with her. “The existing perceptions and pre-conceived notions about the lives of the differently abled, among adults and more importantly so, children, needs to be changed. The book addresses the subject of an ‘inclusive’ society and sows its seed in the minds of children,” she says on the reason why she forayed into this domain of children’s publishing.
From publishing a lifestyle magazine in Braille to getting into children’s book was fascinating as well challenging for Makati. “It was something I had never done before. I was new to children’s publishing, and it meant figuring out a whole new territory – where to sell these books and how to reach out to our readers, etc. Designing an entire marketing programme for a product and spreading a message about it was easier said than done. More interactions were needed and time was a big factor. Ahalya and I even did a workshop for kids of an NGO, Manorama Pathshala,” says Makati on doing all that she could to come out with this book. She credits the author and illustrator for their commitment that made it a smooth sailing affair for her.
Calling it a product of passion, Makati who was awarded the First Lady Award by the President of India and the Woman and Child Ministry last year, and has bagged a place in 40 Under 40 list of Fortune India, and 30 under 30 list by Forbes India, “The journey has been full of learning. A little has been done, and I still need to do a lot more for the community and making ours an inclusive society.”
Their joint effort to bring out a book across the platform has been received well in the market. “Feedback has been encouraging. Kids, schools and teachers, and activists have lauded this effort. Reviews have been exciting as well,” says Makati.
(The print edition of Look Out, Look Within is priced at Rs 299. To place your orders, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call on +91 9920400580. The book is also available at two book stores in Mumbai – Trilogy and Kahani Tree – and at Pagdandi Cafe in Pune.)
Other Learning Aids
White Print: The 64-page monthly magazine is printed, packed and despatched at the National Association for the Blind, Mumbai, and is circulated across India. Being single-handedly run by Makati, the magazine has articles on sports, politics, culture, fashion, technology, inspiring stories of the common man, short stories and reader contributions, and a political column in association with The Caravan.
Tactabet: It is Braille-Tactile-Text version of ABC books for children in both English and Hindi. The alphabet books will enable integrated learning for the visually impaired and children with low vision and will make it an enriching and fun experience for them.