Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Jul/Aug 2016
Stories of Louis Braille and his perfection of a writing system for the blind already populate the picture book and juvenile collections, but even in a crowded field Bryant’s tightly focused work, cast in the fictionalized voice of Braille himself, is particularly distinguished. Braille was blinded by an accident and subsequent infection as a child; unlike many disabled children of the early nineteenth century, however, Braille had a host of resources available to him with a family and townsfolk that supported him, helped him toward independence, and acceded to his desire to enroll at the Royal School for the Blind in Paris. Excelling at his studies, he was introduced to oversized books with raised lettering, and he quickly understood the need to improve the system. The chance arrived when a French army officer’s raised code, readable by touch, provided Louis with the groundwork for a vastly superior method based on six raised dots, which was immediately adopted within the school and then rapidly spread throughout blind communities. Although many Braille biographies stress his disability, Bryant’s title subtly emphasizes his creativity and celebrates him as an inventor, making this an excellent addition for STEM collections. Illustrations in Kulikov’s signature style, light-hearted with a touch of tartness, deftly toggle between sun-washed scenes in which the world views Louis and blackened scenes in which Louis recreates the world he sees in his mind. End matter includes an author’s note, a Q & A on Louis as inventor, and lists of resources for further investigation. EB
Publishers Weekly, August 15, 2016
After an accident in 1819 left a young Louis Braille blind, he traveled to Paris at age 10 to study at the Royal School for the Blind, where he was disheartened to discover that the books available for children like him fell far short of his hopes: “Words as large as my hand! Sentences that took up half a page!... Even if I read a hundred books like this, how much could I learn?” Kulikov (W Is for Webster) makes striking use of chalky blue lines against black backdrops to create ghostly images of the world Braille could no longer see, suggesting a landscape re-created in his mind’s eye. Bryant’s (The Right Word) sensitive first-person narration draws readers intimately close to Braille’s experiences, and an author’s note and q&a add further depth to a stirring portrait of innovation and determination.
School Library Journal, September 2016
This picture book biography of Louis Braille (1809–59) strikes a perfect balance between the seriousness of Braille’s life and the exuberance he projected out into the world. The text highlights Braille’s determination to pursue an education. Readers will learn how he attended the Royal School in Paris and was frustrated by the lack of books for the blind, an obstacle that set him off on a long quest to invent an accessible reading system. Braille ultimately found success by simplifying a military coding technique that had earlier been introduced but was far too complex. The focus on Braille as one of the world’s great inventors is apt, and by taking a close look at his childhood, his family, and his experiences as a young person, Bryant makes Braille’s story even more powerful. She writes from his perspective, which brings a level of intimacy sure to resonate with readers. Kulikov’s mixed-media artwork mirrors and magnifies the text, keeping the spotlight solidly on young Braille and his world as he moves through it. VERDICT An engaging and moving account of an inventor, a solid addition for elementary collections. —Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
Kirkus Reviews, July 2016
Bryant follows an earlier biography for middle graders with this story, narrated by Louis, imagining life events from birth to age 15. An accident in his father's workshop damages Louis' eye, and an ensuing infection that spreads to the other completely blinds him by age 5. "I sat by the window, training my ears to do what my eyes could not." Braille's family helps him adapt, crafting a wooden cane and tactile alphabet letters. "With Maman, I played dominoes, counting the dots with my fingertips." Louis attends school, "listening and memorizing," strongly motivated to read and write "on [his] own, like everyone else." Louis, just 10, persuades his family to send him to the Royal School for the Blind in Paris after a local noblewoman secures his place. Louis endures harsh conditions there, eager to read the library's promised special books. Their discovery proves disappointing. With sentences covering a half-page, whole books contain precious little. When a French army code is introduced to the students, its punched paper symbols are too complex for most. Louis both masters the code and alters it—brilliantly, at age 15—after years of painstaking work. Kulikov's engrossing mixed-media illustrations interpose soft pastels with spreads of chalky blue line on ink-black pages, dramatically conveying Louis' isolation and single-minded intensity. An inspiring look at a child inventor whose drive and intelligence changed to world—for the blind and sighted alike. (Braille alphabet, French pronunciation guide, author's note, Q-and-A, print and web resources)
Shelf Awareness, October 2016
The revolutionary invention of the Braille alphabet brought the joy, knowledge and power of literacy to blind people everywhere. A clever, highly motivated blind boy named Louis Braille developed this "six-dot," domino-based lettering system in the 1800s at Paris's Royal Institute for Blind Youth by simplifying a military code.
In this vivacious picture-book biography by Jen Bryant (author of A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus), readers will be floored by the sheer tenacity of Louis Braille, who was blinded when he was five years old in Coupvray, France. Louis's father, a leatherworker, was always telling his son not to touch his sharp tools ("N'y touche pas!") but the awl proved irresistible and, tragically, it slipped. When the world went dark for Louis, he felt held back from life like a tightly chained dog. This frightening, suddenly dangerous world is expressively illustrated in inky blackboard spreads with whisper-like chalk outlines of people and places once familiar to Louis. With depth and warmth, Boris Kulikov (illustrator of Papa's Mechanical Fish and of Kate Banks's Max books) expertly captures the boy's emotional journey, the small-town French 19th-century community that rallies around him and the evolution of Braille itself.
While there are no actual Braille bumps in Six Dots, the full alphabet is represented, and a question-and-answer section about Braille then and now is as fascinating as the illustrated story. Louis Braille's fire within blazed a trail for millions, and Bryant and Kulikov fan the flames of this inspiring story with skill, style and heart. —Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor