Help Students Read!

Help the print disabled read!

Imagine going to the New York Public Library, or any public library–or even a bookstore–and finding to your dismay that ninety-five out of every one hundred books there are written in a language you don’t know. You can’t get anyone to translate them into a language you understand. Resources are too scarce to allocate time and money and energy to make materials available to everyone. Oh, and to make things worse? There isn’t any way for you to learn the language all those books are printed in, either.

That’s what it’s like every single day when you’re print disabled. At most, five percent–five out of a hundred–of books that are published ever become available in a form that a print disabled individual can access.

Think, for a moment, what that means to a student. For every 100 required textbooks their teachers will assign, only 5–at best–are available to a print disabled child in a form they can read.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare’s goal is

“to raise the floor of access so that people with print disabilities can obtain a broad spectrum of print materials at the same time as everyone else.”

Bookshare tackles this goal three ways:

  • “Building the Bookshare digital library as rapidly as possible through Volunteers, partnerships, and publishers.
  • Spreading the word so that everyone who is eligible to join Bookshare has the opportunity to do so.
  • Expanding the choices of access technology available for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is leveraging new technological developments that make reading digital books easier.”

As of today, over 167,000 books are available in a variety of accessible forms to the print disabled. Every single title is available as a DAISY talking book, an MP3, a browser-readable XML file, and in electronic braille.

Every. Single. Book.

(Printed braille books can be created, too, on a demand basis.)

For students (in the United States): membership is free. Not only is electronic access to every book in the collection free to students, Bookshare will also scan any textbook a print-disabled student needs for a class at no charge. The funding to cover student memberships and get books into accessible formats for them comes from an award by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently, over 200,000 students are Bookshare members. That’s almost a quarter of a million minds that now have not five percent but one hundred percent of the textbooks that a student needs for their education available to them.

It’s a staggering thought.

Bookshare also offers memberships to print disabled individuals who aren’t students, at a cost of $50 a year (plus an additional $25 the first year in set-up charges). If the member can’t afford that, they can volunteer to help, in a variety of ways, earning credits that are applied against their membership. In situations where an individual can’t volunteer because of personal circumstances, other volunteers chip in their own credits to cover the memberships.

You don’t have to be print disabled to volunteer. Just the opposite. Everyone is welcome, with open arms. Volunteers scan books, proofread books, and (if sighted) have the opportunity to describe images that are in books so they are understandable to readers.

How amazing is that?

If you know a print disabled student, I urge you to make sure they, their parents and their school knows about Bookshare. You can visit Bookshare’s site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer by scanning or proofreading books, or describing images–anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the print disabled–go read their page about volunteering, and jump in.

If you’d like a membership yourself, because you have a qualifying print disability, you can find out how to join on Bookshare’s website.

It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.

Trust me on this one. I know.

I’m print disabled.

The BSD Book Bunny recommends: Surviving the Death of a Sibling

The Butter Side Down Book Bunny highly recommends Surviving the Death of a Sibling for any adult who has lost a brother or sister

Four years ago today my sister Dorothy died in a car accident.

As long-time readers of BSD know, this was doubly horrific for our family, as my father was killed in a virtually identical accident in September of 2000. From statistics I was able to hunt up on this, only 39 families a year in the United States suffer the experience of losing a family member in a second unrelated car accident after previously having lost a family member in a car accident.

What happened is… indescribable. Her death was a terrible shock and loss for all of us–her husband, her children, my mother, our siblings, our spouses and children and all our related family and friends.

I miss Dorothy every single day. I always will.

One of the most helpful sources I’ve found, following Dorothy’s death, of practical, down-to-earth support and advice is T. J. Wray’s 2003 book, Surviving the Death of a Sibling.

I wasn’t sure at first, when I recently found this book, if I even wanted to read it. However, I was hooked when I read on the fourth page, “The sad fact is this: When an adult loses a brother or a sister, society often fails to recognize the depth of such a loss. Witness what I call dismissive condolences, offered by well-intentioned but sorely misguided friends, acquaintances, family members, and coworkers: “Well, you lived in different states, so you probably weren’t very close.” Or “Thank goodness it wasn’t your husband or one of your children.” And “Your brother/sister died? How awful! How are your parents?”

Whoa. I had heard every single one of those condolences myself, offered by well-meaning individuals after my sister died! And it had bothered me tremendously, although at the time I couldn’t explain why. You know what? After reading this book, now I know why! “Intellectually,” Ms. Wray writes, “we may understand that people mean well; they’re attempting to be helpful and to offer comfort to us in our sorrow. Yet dismissive condolences have the opposite effect. They make our loss seem trivial, and they also make the surviving sibling feel as if his or her grief is somehow unwarranted.”

Eureka! That’s it exactly.

While Ms. Wray is a faculty member at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, this book isn’t a dry academic study written by a detached observer. Instead, the book came about after she herself lost her adult brother, and found little or no information or support anywhere to help her deal with the loss.

It’s a one-of-a-kind book. It offers practical, nuts-and-bolts advice on what helps — and what doesn’t help — when dealing with the loss of a sibling. It’s written primarily for the mourner but it’s also a great guide for anyone who has a friend or acquaintance who has lost a sibling.

If you’ve lost an adult sibling, or know someone who has, this is the book I’d recommend.

For more information about the book, and a forum on adult sibling loss, you can check out Ms. Wray’s website on adult sibling grief.

If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.

For everyone else, here’s the book information. Surviving the Death of a Sibling, by T. J. Wray. Published by Three Rivers Press, copyright 2003. It’s 247 pages in length, and available in paperback and Kindle editions. Amazon.com also has a sneak peak of the contents. Surviving the Death of a Sibling does not contain any explicit sex, graphic violence or strong language, but the material is written specifically for adults, about death and loss.

–This post dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Michalek, September 7, 1946 – February 27, 2007.

The BSD Book Bunny recommends: Miracle on 49th Street

The Butter Side Down Book Bunny agrees that Miracle on 49th Street is a great book

This last year a friend recommended I read a sports novel written by well-known sports columnist Mike Lupica. I made it through the first three chapters, and abandoned it, as the plot definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. However, a few weeks after that I discovered that Lupica had written a series of sports-based novels for young adults, and decided to sample one of those.

It was sort of like opening a box of chocolates. You can’t have just one chocolate, right? Like chocolates, each of these young adult novels has a slightly different flavor and appeal. And they’re just as yummy.

I’ve now read all of Mike Lupica’s young adult novels, and can recommend the entire kit and kaboodle as good reads for both teen and adult readers. Some of these novels, including Heat, and Travel Team I highly recommend, especially for sports-oriented teens.

One of his titles, however, Miracle on 49th Street, I not only recommend–it’s also officially joined my list of all-time favorite books.

The plot seems simple enough: after her mother’s death, twelve-year-old Molly learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of a basketball superstar for the Boston Celtics. It’s the development of that story, and the characters themselves, that stand out.

Part of the appeal is that Mike Lupica really knows his sports stuff, far beyond the knowledge most of us have of pro and amateur athletics, even the most dedicated fans. At the same time, he knows how to integrate his expertise in sports into his tale without beating the reader over the head with the fact that he has both great breadth and deep depth in his insider knowledge about professional sports and professional athletes. Additionally, the writing itself is truly excellent. And, unlike many stock young adult stories, the main characters aren’t cardboard cutouts.

But the biggest appeal for me is that Lupica writes a truly compelling tale about the situation that Molly finds herself in. This is a masterfully crafted tale about the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise as consequences for a child, written from the perspective of the child’s experiences, when that child is born from an out-of-wedlock sexual liaison. Add in a plot that explores what happens as Molly realizes that her father’s career, image, endorsements and income will truly be adversely impacted by the existence of a previously unknown illegitimate daughter–and that there are terrible pressures that those circumstances create that make her question her own belief that parental love must be unconditional–and you get a whale of a tale.

For more about the author, check out his website. Lupica has written a whole slew of young adult books, as well as several adult novels and non-fiction works. He is one of the nation’s preeminent sports columnists, a TV anchor on ESPN’s The Sports Reporter as well as the host of The Mike Lupica Show. If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.

For everyone else, here’s the book information. Miracle on 49th Street, by Mike Lupica. Published by Puffin, copyright 2007. It’s 256 pages in length, and available in everything from hardback and paperback to Kindle and audible book editions. Miracle on 49th Street does not contain any explicit sex, graphic violence or strong language.

Happy reading!

The BSD Book Bunny Recommends: For Freedom

The Butter Side Down Book Bunny feelin' all hoppy about a new book

Ya know what? I read a lot, and always have. I was a voracious reader as a child. Those stories about the kid who read under the covers using a flashlight? Yup. Me. My days of heavy reading screeched to a halt when I became disabled. Prior to 2002, the only game in town where I could get books that were accessible (and then only as cassette tapes) was the National Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled (NLS). The NLS is a great service, but it’s never been a good fit for me in terms of what’s available in terms of my personal tastes and isn’t particularly strong in the genres I enjoy, or in access to technical materials that go into any depth.

Now I’m making up for lost time. As of December, 2010, the volunteer-driven Bookshare has over 80,000 accessible books in a variety of digital forms for blind and disabled readers. Woot! Woot! NLS has made changes of its own, too, in its case moving to digital audio books, which are much easier for me to use than their former service, which was mostly on audio cassettes. They have around 26,000 titles available, and aim to have tens of thousands more titles available to qualified disabled patrons. Go, NLS, GO!

As an experiment, I’m going to post on BSD about books I’ve read that I really like. Every one of these books is even recommended by Butter Side Down’s own Book Bunny as being a good read.

What’s that you say? Bunnies can’t read?

Humpfh. Don’t tell them that!

Anyways, part of the fun of reading is swapping recommendations for good reads with friends, right?

Be forewarned: my tastes rarely match those of the NY Times reviewers, their best-seller lists, or the like. I also rarely read romance novels, especially not the soft porn ones that have destroyed the genre–yuck! Vampire novels and horror novels don’t interest me either, although if you haven’t ever read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker I recommend it. Just make sure you don’t read it in a dark, lonely house all by yourself, ‘k?

I do read across a variety of genres, though, and enjoy a good children’s book as much as a C.J. Box novel or one of Rutherfurd’s 800-page tomes.

Ready? Here goes!

I just finished a short, excellent, young adult novel about a WWII spy titled For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It’s definitely recommended, and an easy fast read for us adults. The story is written as fiction, but it’s based on the true story of Suzanne David Hall.

Wow. It’s not that the book is the very best book you’ll ever read (although it definitely is a well-written book and a recommended read, no mistake about that). It’s the story itself that leaves me absolutely humbled. The courage, patriotism and sheer guts Suzanne David Hall displayed are truly heroic.

Suzanne, who was a French teen-aged opera singer, secretly couriered messages for three years between the Allies and the French Resistance, all while living in the midst of heavy Nazi activity in the city of Cherbourg, France. When she started, she was barely sixteen years old! The story is simply told in the first-person, by Suzanne, with many details of what her life was like under the occupation woven seamlessly into the tale.

The book isn’t maudlin, and it doesn’t present Suzanne as a super-human hero who breezed through a spot of trouble here and there. Instead, it deftly shows just how ordinary people rise to extraordinary circumstances–and how enormous the toll is even when you succeed.

I do want to note one caveat about the book’s contents. If you’re a parent, please read the opening chapter first before giving this book to your teen. That way you can decide for yourself if the graphic description of how one of Suzanne’s young neighbors dies in a bombing attack is too intense for your child. My own take: while brief, the description is definitely gruesome. I suspect that it may be too graphic for some children. It is not gratuitous violence, but the scene is realistic, and presents a vivid portrayal of the violent death of a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

For more about the author, check out her website. Ms. Bradley has written several other young adult books that I’m going to read soon, given how interesting this book was. If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.

For everyone else, here’s the book information. For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Published by Delacorte Press, copyright 2003. It’s a little under 200 pages in length, and available in everything from hardback and paperback to Kindle and audible book editions. One scene of graphic violence, but no strong language or sex.

Happy reading!