Monday, May 18, 2009

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

Translated by Elisa Amado. Initially published in Mexico and 2007 winner of the Bologna International Book Fair's BolognaRagazzi New Horizons Award.

Chances are if you are reading this, you have the gift of sight. While we all understand how different and difficult our lives would be without sight, there are some finer points of this gift that a new book for children addresses.

The Black Book of Colors talks about color, but in a way that, honestly, never occurred to me before. What do un-sighted people think of when they think of color?

The book is physically interesting and I confess, when I saw it on a cart of new books, I furrowed my brow.* “Did I order this book? Why did I order this book?”

The book is long and narrow, with a black cover skimpily embellished with grey etched lines. Not the first book a child might want to pick up.

And this is an interesting thing to note.

1) Not all picture books are created with child appeal in mind
2) Children that can read independently can still read a picture book…

Choosing to write a picture book is choosing a format. This format choice works really well for this message.

The pages within the book are thick glossy pages of black. The illustrations are done in raised and textured black ink. Because of the contrast in texture, the sighted can angle the book and “see” the illustrations. The unsighted can participate to by feeling the illustrations.

The text on each page is done in both contrasting white type and above that, in Braille. A Braille alphabet is included at the back of the book, to give readers an idea of what it might be like to learn a new alphabet…one that can’t be seen, but felt.

Now that I have gone on about the mechanics of the book, let’s talk about the message. While part of this message is conveyed through the mechanics of the book, the rest is done through beautiful imagery that conveys the spirit of color…while not being able to rely on the visualization itself. For example:

“Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is a soft as a baby chick’s feathers.”
“Brown crunches under his feat like fall leaves. Sometimes it smells like chocolate, and other times it stinks. “

The author manages to convey all of the things that can be associated with a color, using descriptive language and every sense, but sight. We know what yellow tastes like…and how it feels. We know how brown sounds and smells.

While this may not be the first book that gets picked up by a toddler, this book has a place on library shelves. I would consider using this book to talk about descriptive language, as a poem, or as a discussion point for differently abled people.

If you see this odd little book, please pick it up and check it out. I hope you are as impressed with its beautiful language and meaningful message as I am.

*Please remember that while I ordered the book, I order lots of books…and have slept since then.