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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Tasting and Feeling Holiday Books

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

“I tasted life.”- Emily Dickinson

I once read a fascinating quote by Nais Nin- “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection”. When I read Mr. Nin’s words, I finally realized for the first time that this was the reason that I love to write so much. An author wants to share his or her feelings with the world be it happiness, sadness, new ways of thinking, etc.

This time of year is complex. As human beings we begin to feel excitement and then out of nowhere we have an immense feeling of sadness. Someone has gone on who attended the last Christmas, money is scarce, divorce, loneliness, etc., but when we walk around the mall, visit stores, look at Christmas lights, we can feel restoration that everything is going to be okay.

As I stated earlier, an author wants to share his feelings, so when I pick up children’s holiday books, I can feel, taste and smell excitement from the past. I believe this is one reason that I enjoy reading holiday books to my students. We are once again eight-years-old and ready for the magic to come back inside of us.

APH offers a wonderful children’s book in Braille called, Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor. The story is so touching because the character in the story, Willy, wants Santa to come and visit his friend who is in a wheelchair, but he wonders how this can happen on the 19th floor.

Every year when I taught in the classroom, I would read my favorite holiday books: Little Critter’s Christmas, Hanukkah Lights, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Polar Express, T’was the Night Before Christmas, The Snowy Day, The Grinch and a host of other great holiday books.

What made the books and writing come to life, however, was when the children (then and now) were able to enhance the story through smells, tastes, touches, and sounds. If the children could see I would add the sense of sight.

We’ve made Christmas Peppermint Bark to enhance the Christian belief that the peppermint has symbolism to Christianity. (Simply melt white chocolate chips in a boiler to melt. Break up peppermint into small pieces and mix together. Yum)

Read the following information to a child and make delicious candy canes:

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy for Christmas that incorporated symbols from the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white candy to symbolize the virgin birth and the purity of Jesus. He then shaped it in the form of a "J" to represent the name of Jesus and the staff of the "Good Shepherd." Finally, he added red stripes to symbolize Jesus' blood and suffering on the cross.

The candy maker hoped that each time someone ate his creation they would be reminded of Jesus and the great love God gave us at Christmas.

After we read this version of the legend of the candy cane, we feel the true meaning when we eat or smell the aroma behind the story.

I love reading The Polar Express to children and enhance the written word with hot chocolate. My students who are blind benefit also from helping me to make the hot chocolate. We are then covering compensatory skills as well as our reading objectives. I always make a bell necklace for my student, so that they may hear the delightful sound of the bell.

After we read, Little Critter’s Christmas, the students and I will wrap up lovely empty shoeboxes and fill the boxes with wishes and hopes for others.

Another idea is to take the children to the mall during this amazing time of the year. Before you go on the trip to the mall, use your Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit and illustrate how the mall is laid out. Discuss stores and events that will take place before you leave the school.

After the trip, students will write about the sounds, smells, tastes and touches throughout their experiment. A wonderful store at North Park Mall in Dallas, Texas actually has Braille on their lotions. Needless to say, our children chose this one as their favorite store.

Students have written about the Salvation Army bell ringing, the smells of potpourri, the tastes of hot chocolate, the sounds of kids running to talk to Santa, the sound of the train display, and other great events on our trip to the mall.

The kids will then make a tactual book as a reminder of their holiday trip. They are able to name and create the book for long-lasting memories.

Simply reading a book to a child is well worth their time, however, when you add the senses to enhance the written word, the brain stores the information more readily. By the way, the sense of smell is the strongest sense and will last a lifetime especially when fun and excitement are fully involved.

At the end of this sometimes difficult season, children will feel the words of Emily Dickinson, “I tasted life.”

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