Low Vision, High Contrast: Books for Kids That Need Contrasting Colors
The other day I attended a remarkable presentation to a group of local Chicagoland librarians called “Building Accessible Library Collections for Individuals with Disabilities.” Presented by Renee Grassi, it offered librarians like myself ways to remove barriers to access for different individuals within our library systems. And with its focus on community engagement and transparency, I found it a particularly timely piece.
Though many of the things Ms. Grassi touched on were interesting, I was particularly drawn to the section on services for blind and low vision patrons. She talked about BARD Mobile, for instance, which is an app that allows access for eligible users who have enrolled in the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) at the Library of Congress. People who sign up through this app receive free audio and braille reading materials. It’s eligible to residents of the United States and American citizens living abroad who cannot read standard print. As the site says, “If you are blind or have temporary or permanent low vision or a disability that prevents you from reading or holding the printed page, you may be eligible for this program. For more information on eligibility, visit https://www.loc.gov/nls/about/eligibility-for-nls-services.” So libraries could become cooperating network libraries, helping patrons navigate the site!
Another free site you should know about? Check out Bookshare, which allows you to customize your reading experience with ebooks in audio, audio + highlighted text, braille, large font, and other formats. Again, it’s free, and can be useful to people with dyslexia, blindness, as well as cerebral palsy.
In time, Renee Grassi started talking about high contrast picture books and I found myself intrigued. Back in 2017, she wrote a guest post on the ALSC blog called Recommending Books for Kids with Low Vision. In it, she discussed the ways in which you can make book recommendations to children with low vision. She wrote:
“High Contrast: Books featuring high contrasting colors are inherently more accessible to children with low vision. These titles offer visual stimulation and allow the reader to more easily distinguish between the shapes, letters, and numbers in the illustrations. You will often find high contrast board books, but it’s important to remember that older children may prefer a more mature book format. Some of my go-to recommendations for high contrast picture books include The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara, The Graphic Alphabet by David Pelletier, and Lemons Are Not Red by Laura Vacarro Seeger.”
Now that piece came out in 2017, so it got me to thinking. Surely there have been other high contrast picture books on the market since then, yes?
Today, here are some books that I think could fit the bill, though I am studiously avoiding board books, as per Ms. Grassi’s suggestion. Please note that I am no expert, and that I submit this list just as something to consider.
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
High contrast is very much the case with Cooper’s book. Though this lacks a variety of colors, you can easily make out the two main characters as they grow accustomed to one another and then, themselves, change over time. Here are some interiors to show you what I mean:
Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Ms. Seeger wowed the world back in 2012 with her book Green, and earned herself a Caldecott Honor for her efforts. She has since returned with Blue, and this year’s Red. I like Red well enough but Blue was my bag. With roughly two words for every two pages, different shades of blue, and carefully placed die-cuts, she manages to tell the story of a boy and his dog, grief, and moving on. It was a Herculean task filled with thick, luscious paints. I wonder now, looking at some of these interiors, if it’s an ideal book for this list. But at least on some of pages, the contrast is keen:
Boo! by Ben Newman
I like a book that fulfills the promise of its cover. You look at this title and you immediately assume the interiors have just as much contrast and distinctive shapes. And they do! This little number was also one of my favorite picture book readalouds of the last few years. So, in the event that you’re doing a storytime for a group of children with different vision needs, this might be a good choice.
Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton
I was a little torn on this one. In all honesty, I believe that every last one of the books in Chris Haughton’s repertoire could make today’s list. That said, this image I have of the cover of Don’t Worry Little Crab looked a little washed out. I had to find another image online to confirm that this book is just as colorful and constrasty as I remembered. And darned if the guy doesn’t do a really good crab. How does he get so much pathos out of those big yellow eyes? It’s not an overly complex book, but the way in which he delivers its message is keen.
The Happy Book and Other Feelings by Andy Rash
Basically I was sold on this book in three pages, which is no mean feat. Someone once compared it to the film Inside Out but I think it’s much more than that. Imagine that someone walked up to you and said, “Hey. Write an original book on emotions”. You’d freak out, right? Talk about an impossible assignment. As you go through the book, each emotion is paired with a different primarily color. This, added to the thick black outlines, makes it a great contender.
HIC! by Anushka Ravishankar, ill. Christiane Pieper
This title set in India came from Tara Books back in late 2017 and I’ve never forgotten it. There’s a real tendency with a list of this sort to eschew books with international creators or settings. All the more reason to gravitate to this book. And as for the colors, as I said in my review at the time, “Pieper’s art is rendered in black, blue, and yellow inks only (with a dot of red on the cover). The crazy thing is that until I tried to count the number of colors in the palette, I didn’t really notice how few there were.” Thankfully, what few there are really POP!
Mine! by Jeff Mack
A tale of comeuppance and cheese. Now there are stories out there about about the futility of war that use a whole heckuva lot more words than you’ll find in Mine. Happily, this one has more pictures. And what pictures they are! Check out that beautiful contrast at work. I always said that this book would read across a room well, but it is clear that it has many other purposes too.
My Pictures After the Storm by Eric Veille
I believe that this little number was a French import back in 2017. And, as Travis Jonker over at 100 Scope Notes said in his Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books post of that year, “Viellé isn’t afraid to get absurd, favoring weird and humorous choices over the standard melted-ice-cube-becomes-puddle-of-water fare.” I feel it only fair to warn you that while the images are easy to see, the text (written in a particularly curlicued flourish) is not.
Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, ill. Dan Yaccarino
Who’s looking for some serious smash time? Join Mr. Gilly as he smashes, crashes, tumbles and crumbles a great big building down to smithereens. Expect to read this one out loud again and again! Trashy Town was released in 1999 and a whopping 21 years later we now have Smashy Town. It has all the perks and high contrast hues of its predecessor, but the extra added benefit of allowing you, the children’s librarians, the chance to yell, “SMASH SMASH SMASH!” and “CRASH CRASH CRASH!” at the top of your lungs during storytime? Amazing!
Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani
I love math already, so this lightly adjacent title combines two of my favorite things: simple math concepts and even simpler art. And rather than showing it to you in individual images, why don’t you watch it in full in this video? Not sure how it’s legal but oh well…
We Are All Me by Jordan Crane
Let’s end the day with just the smallest possible tincture of weirdness. This book by TOON Books represented a bit more philosophizing than you usually find in the genre. In fact, I kind of want to set this book to music, but I haven’t found the right pairing yet. If you can find a tune that would work with the words here, please let me know. It kind of deserves to be sung.
Filed under: Booklists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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