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Review of Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Six DotsSix Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille
by Jen Bryant; illus. by Boris Kulikov
Primary    Knopf    40 pp.
9/16    978-0-449-81337-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-449-81338-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81339-3    $10.99

Bryant and Kulikov present the childhood of Louis Braille, from his 1809 birth to his invention, at fifteen, of his ingenious six-cell raised-dot system of reading and writing for the blind. Louis’s story, much embellished here (in an author’s note, Bryant says the book is her attempt to answer the question “What did it FEEL like to be Louis Braille?”), is dramatic and compelling. Blinded in an accident with one of his leatherworker father’s tools when very young, he learned to get around his French village independently; went to school; and eventually moved to Paris to attend the Royal Institute for Blind Youth (correctly named in the excellent back matter, though not in the main text), where after years of toil he converted a clumsy military code of raised dots into the elegant, user-friendly system still used today. Bryant’s portrayal captures Louis’s intelligence, determination, and tenacious desire for access to the written word. The first-person text, sprinkled with French words and phrases, is lively and intimate, abetted by Kulikov’s warm mixed-media illustrations. Kulikov often places Louis in a window, a potent symbol of the windows Braille himself opened for blind people. However, his choice to portray Louis with his eyes closed (whereas according to biographers Braille kept his eyes open) distances Louis from the reader somewhat. And Bryant’s implication that after Louis lost his sight (gradually, and before the age of five, and amongst a close-knit, loving family), he felt isolated and “alone in the dark” is a step too far in projecting a sighted adult’s experience onto that of a blind preschooler. On the whole, though, this is a welcome addition to the available literature. As Bryant states, “The name Braille deserves to be on everyone’s list of great inventors,” and this book ably demonstrates why.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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