The Black Book of Colours

By Menena Cottin

Thomas sees differently – he can hear colours, smell them, touch them, and taste them. We learn how he understands colours without using his eyes. ‘Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurst when he finds it on his scraped knee’. This is a story written by a sighted author & there is no pretension that it gives us full knowledge of what it is like to be partially sighted or blind. What it does do is invite visually focused readers to become more curious about difference & more accepting of different ways of experiencing the world.

The beautiful narrative is set out in white font, with a braille version on each page & alphabet at the back of the book. Print costs prevented the braille being as deep as needed to make this a fully accessible book, although I did find a couple of adult reviewers, identifying as blind, for whom the braille, although light, was raised enough to read.  Sighted readers are certainly given a lovely introduction to braille & invitation to explore the book through a range of senses. Run your fingers over the raised line drawings, to see the delicate pictures of natural objects with your fingertips. Or close your eyes & listen to the colours come alive in your mind, through the simple but poetic text. Seldom will you find a picture story that so cleverly explores how our personal contexts shape how we define the world.

Tactile books are often used for by young readers with visual impairments. They can be very helpful also for children who have difficulties with sensory processing, because of early trauma or neglect in their lives. Some will be tactile defensive, avoiding touch or feeling uncomfortable with different sensations. Some will be sensory seeking – the children who whizz around, tapping, kicking & bumping. We make sense of the world through joining up the information gained through all our senses & this influences our thoughts & feelings & shapes our behaviour. When our sensory processing is disrupted, life can feel very chaotic. How important then, to find a variety of resources that invite us to engage in pleasurable sensory experiences. Tactile books such as this are a useful tool for encouraging shared attention, regulation & exploring textures. Sometimes lots of bright colours can be overstimulating to busy minds & so the simplicity of the monochrome pages can be appealing.

The Black Book of Colours can open conversations about issues of ability & ‘otherness’ & encourage empathy. It shows us that colour can be experienced in so many ways & that differences are not wrong or bad, just different. Both difference & disability derive their meaning from how we respond to them & interpret them & support each other with them.

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