September 6 – Read a Book Day

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to the fine pursuit of perusing an old favorite or a newly discovered book! To celebrate visit a local bookstore or library then find a cozy nook or shady spot and settle in for a good, long read.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Written by Jen Bryant | Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

 

When Louis Braille was born he was so small that no one in town expected him to live. But he did! Louis thrived and with his curious eyes took in everything around him. Louis was smart, too, with a prodigious memory for names and stories. His father worked with leather, making harnesses and bridles. Louis wanted to be just like him and often reached for the sharp tools on the workbench, but his father always warned him away.

One terrible day, however, when Louis’ father glanced away, Louis grabbed an awl and tried to work it into the smooth leather, but it slipped. Louis’ damaged eye was bandaged and he was told not to touch it. But when the bandage began to itch, young Louis couldn’t help himself and spread the infection to his other eye. By the age of five, Louis was left in darkness, unable to see the faces of those he loved or the attractions of home.

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

Louis learned the sounds of the world. He discovered the number of steps around his house, to the outbuildings, and eventually to the shops and businesses in town. His brother taught him how to whistle and use the reverberations to avoid obstacles. He also learned to feel the shapes of letters made of straw, leather, or nailed replicas made by his family. He played dominoes by feeling the dots with his fingers.

While Louis listened to others read to him, he longed to be able to read on his own. Whenever he asked if there were books for blind people, however, the answer was always, “No.” A noblewoman who lived nearby heard of Louis and invited him to study at the Royal School for the Blind in Paris. At the age of 10 he moved to the boarding school.

The Royal School was anything but sumptuous. Louis’ room was crowded, damp, and dark. His uniform itched, and meals were meager and cold. He so wanted to return home, but the promise of books for the blind kept him there. Those books were reserved for the best students, and Louis vowed to be one. Finally, Louis was led to the library. A book thudded onto the table in front of him. “‘Voila! There it is,’” the guide said.

Louis opened the book. To read it he had to feel the raised letters, but the letters were huge and a page only held a few sentences. To make matters worse, the book consisted of only a few pages. “‘Is that all?’” Louis asked. The guide told him there were others but that they were all the same. More than ever Louis wanted to go home.

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

In the morning Louis was shaken awake; the headmaster had an important announcement.  It seemed that a French army captain had devised a secret code read by touch instead of sight. This code could be used at the school, the headmaster said. The code consisted of raised dots set in patterns that represented various sounds. The boys learned the new code then learned how to write it, using an awl-like implement that punched dots into paper.

While the code was a breakthrough, it was hard to learn and all the other boys in the school had given up—but not Louis. Still, reading the code was not like reading a book with letters, words, and sentences. Louis asked the headmaster if the army captain would work with him to improve the code, but when the headmaster asked, the answer was “No.”

Louis knew what he had to do. Night after night he punched dots into paper with the awl-like tool—just as he had watched his father do with leather. He tried “hundreds of ways to simplify the captain’s code.” Three years passed, and Louis turned 15. Finally, he had a workable solution. He asked the headmaster to read to him a book he had never heard. As the headmaster read, Louis copied his words, punching letters onto paper. Louis’ “new code used just six dots, arranged in two columns, like dominoes. Each dot pattern stood for a letter of the alphabet.”

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

When the headmaster finished reading chapter 1, Louis turned his pages over and “reading by touch, recited the entire chapter.” After that “word spread quickly. The other students rushed to try it. Si facile! ‘So easy!’ Et si vite! ‘And so fast!’ ‘We can read words and write letters like everyone else,’” the other boys exclaimed.

As Louis watched his friends read he remembered watching his “Papa in his shop, bent over rough strips of leather, making them useful. I had become like him, after all,” Louis thought.

An Author’s Note, more fascinating biographical information about Louis Braille’s life and other inventions, resources, and the Braille alphabet follow the text.

In her Author’s Note Jen Bryant says she wanted to express what it felt like to be Louis Braille. In Six Dots she succeeds in bringing the story of this very young inventor and genius to life with details of his accidental blindness, family support, school experiences, and ultimate victory. Told from Louis Braille’s point of view, the story has an immediacy that presents Braille’s frustrations, challenges, and achievements sensitively and honestly. His perseverance against all odds will inspire readers and give them a new perspective on the unique person Braille was, the importance of books for all, and what children not much older than the readers of Six Dots can accomplish.

Boris Kulikov’s mixed media illustrations take readers back to the France of the early 1800s, depicting with soft colors and period details the town, people, and influences in Louis Braille’s life. Braille’s initial accident is treated with thoughtful consideration of the book’s audience, and his blindness and dreams are portrayed with transparent outlines on a black background. Readers will be interested to see how Louis’s family and friends supported and helped him (an unusual occurrence of the time). As Louis grows, readers discover his other talents for music and sewing, and the tools Louis used to produce his Braille pages are clearly shown.

Ages 4 – 9

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 | ISBN 978-0449813379

View Jen Bryant’s website for activities, videos, and links related to Six Dots—you’ll also discover more of her books too!

To see a gallery of images by Boris Kulikov for books and other illustration work, visit his website!

Read a Book Day Activity

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I Love the Library! Coloring Page

 

Today is a perfect day to visit your library and check out some awesome books! Here’s a printable I Love the Library! Coloring Page for you to enjoy too!

August 15 – National Relaxation Day

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About the Holiday

Relaxation Day was founded in 1985 by then fourth-grader Sean Moeller, who already knew a thing or two about balance in life when he suggested that “cleaning and real work are not part of relaxation.” Today’s holiday gives you permission to kick back and enjoy yourself. The subject of today’s book invented a great way to take advantage of a day off—and also demonstrates that sometimes work and relaxation go hand-in-hand!

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

 

Lonnie Johnson had a way with stuff. In his hands bolts and screws, gears and springs, spools, clothespins, “spare parts his dad let him bring in from the shed, and various other things he’d hauled back from the junkyard” fueled Lonnie’s ideas for inventions and rocket ships. The kids at school loved to watch him launch the rockets he’d devised on the playground. Lonnie wanted to have a career as an engineer. Getting there took a lot of determination and courage. Once, the results of a standardized test said that he would not make a good engineer. Lonnie felt discouraged, but he knew that the person who had graded his test didn’t know him—or Linex.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Linex was the robot Lonnie had built from scrap metal. “Compressed –air cylinders and valves allowed Linex’s body to turn and its arms to move. The switches came from an old, broken jukebox. Lonnie used a tape recorder to program Linex, and as a bonus the reels looked like eyes.” Lonnie’s goal was to enter Linex in a science fair, but first he wanted to be able to program it. It took several years before he discovered how. Using his little sister’s walkie-talkie, Lonnie took Linex to the “1968 science fair at the University of Alabama—where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” Lonnie’s team won first place.

Lonnie went to college at Tuskegee Institute, where he realized his dream of becoming an engineer. His career “took him beyond Alabama—way beyond.”  He went to work for NASA. Before the orbiter Galileo could be sent to Jupiter, Lonnie developed a system that would ensure the craft would have a constant supply of power for its computer memory in case the main power was lost. Some fellow scientists doubted his idea would work, but it did. “As it photographed Jupiter and its moons, Galileo was supported by the power package that Lonnie designed.”

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Even though Lonnie worked for NASA, he continued tinkering with his own ideas—in his own workshop. One problem he was trying to solve involved the need for the world’s refrigerators and air conditioners to have a cooling system that didn’t use the damaging chemical R-12. “He had an idea for using water and air pressure instead.” He built a prototype and experimented with it in his bathroom sink. When he turned his pump and nozzle on, a stream of water blasted across the room.

Suddenly, Lonnie saw another use for his invention—as a water gun. He created a design small enough for children’s hands, and tested it at a picnic, where it was a hit. Lonnie took his idea to a toy company…and another…and another. Finally one company agreed to make his water gun. Spurred on by this success, Lonnie found investors to help him build other original inventions: “a water-propelled toy airplane, two kinds of engines, and his cooling system” that had led to the water gun. He even quit his day job to devote his time to inventing.

But things don’t always work out. Each project fell through—even the water gun. It was a scary time as he and his family had to move out of their house and into an apartment. But Lonnie believed in himself. He took his water gun to another toy company. In 1989 he found a toy company willing to take a look. Lonnie made the trip to Philadelphia and wowed the executives with his invention.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Now kids everywhere enjoy the fun of the Super Soaker. Today, Lonnie can be found in his workshop doing what he loves: “facing challenges, solving problems and building things” because “his ideas just keep on flowing.”

Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination. Kids will love hearing about how one of their favorite toys came to be and will be inspired to chase their own dreams despite challenges and setbacks. Barton’s detailed narration provides a full picture of Lonnie Johnson and his times, specifics that attract and inform like-minded kids. Including the results of Lonnie’s exam should encourage kids who think differently. The story is enhanced by the conversational tone that makes it accessible to kids of all ages.

Don Tate illuminates Lonnie Johnson’s life story with his bold, full-bleed paintings that follow Lonnie from his being a child with big ideas to becoming a man who has seen these ideas through to success. With an eyebrow raised in concentration, young Lonnie demonstrates confidence and skill as he works on an invention, and kids will love seeing the tools of his trade laid out on the kitchen table. With his eyes narrowed in frustration and disappointment, Lonnie reads the results of his childhood exam. As Lonnie grows older and designs systems for NASA, the illustrations depict the schematics of the Galileo power package and Lonnie’s surprise at the strength of the water stream in his prototype cooling design. As all kids know, the spurt of a Super Soaker is awesome, and this fact is demonstrated in a “Wowing” fold-out page.

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is a welcome biography of the man who designs systems for the greater world but has never lost his youthful enthusiasm to invent.

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Check out more fiction and nonfiction books by Chris Barton on his website!

Discover more books written and illustrated by Don Tate as well as a portfolio of his work and book-related activity guides on his website!

National Relaxation Day Activity

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Dive In! Coloring Page

 

The Super Soaker is a great way to cool off! Another relaxing water activity is swimming in a pool! So dive in to this printable cool pool Dive In! Coloring Page!