Making stories available for everyone: The book award for children with little or no sight

Published on: 21 July 2019 Author: Jake Hope

During Anne Fine's time as Waterstones Children's Laureate, she was determined to help as many children as possible enjoy books.

Jake Hope considers her legacy - and explains all about an award for books accessible to young people with little or no sight...

Anne Fine

ClearVision is a postal lending library of over 14,000 Braille-interleaved and fully-textured tactile children's books - and it dates back to multi-award winning author Anne Fine's tenure as Waterstones Children's Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

Championing reading in an inclusive way was one of Anne's passions, after she met someone who had a huge influence on her.

'I studied at Warwick University and one of my history professors, Fred Reid, was blind,' she said. 'Knowing him gave me the idea for Professor Muffet in my first novel, The Summerhouse Loon.'

'Ione's father was blind. He was a University Professor, who also wrote history books and articles. Mounds of papers came for him in every post, and his study was piled high with thick, heavy files, covered in brown-wrapping paper. These he could read for himself, using his fingertips.'

Anne also remembers an unfortunate radio interview she had with Scottish Radio 4.

'I can't remember a time when I couldn't read, so the thought of no longer being able to do so terrified me,' she said. 'During a radio interview in my early 30s I unthinkingly commented, "I'd rather be dead than blind."

'In came the letters from blind listeners, explaining how rich their lives were and how many ways there were to access text. Their grace and generosity towards my ignorance and insensitivity was something that made a lasting impression.'

Making a difference

These thoughts were in Anne's mind when she met Marion Ripley at Linden Lodge School, which her nephew attended. Marion had the idea for a postal library of Braille-interleaved children's books.

Anne Fine and a tactile wallAs Anne was already a patron for Calibre - a subscription-free audiobook service for adults and children with sight problems, dyslexia or who cannot read print - it seemed like a natural fit.

Together with the help of Lois Beeson, the secretary for the Children's Laureate, Anne contacted a number of high profile authors - J. K. Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett - and together with them raised enough funds for ClearVision to be launched.

Nearly a thousand family members use the postal library free of charge, while 338 schools, Vision Impairment Services and libraries are organisational members for just £50 a year.

Celebrating accessible stories

Anne also helped to judge a competition of fully textured, tactile books, the Typhlo & Tactus International Tactile-Illustrated Book Prize.

The award was set up to increase the quantity, quality and availability of books with tactile illustrations for children with little or no sight - and it was international, involving Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom.

The logo for the Typhlo & Tactus Awards

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Typhlo & Tactus Award is open for entries until 16 August, and is a great opportunity to get creative (guidance on how to create tactile books is available on the ClearVision website and entry details can be found here).

What's more, entries can be donated to the ClearVision library so they can be enjoyed by children who are visually impaired, helping to make sure all children are able to experience a love of books, stories and information.

Anne says, 'I've been a committed patron of ClearVision for years now. Some of my most precious possessions are letters from parents telling of the pleasure their children take in the Brailled picture books or tactile books they've been sent, along with photos of them clutching their freely-given booty.

'I only hope that the good people who think of, and then make, these wonderful small artworks are aware of the joy that they bring to so many families.'

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