Six Dots: The Story of Louis Braille, the blind boy that wanted to read

Jen Bryant, Six Dots. A Story of Louis Braille. Illustrations by Boris Kulikov

Published 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf, 40p

 

Award-winning writer Jen Bryant considers Louis Braille one of the most inspiring personalities of all times.  She wrote a graphic novel on the French inventor in 1993 but she wanted now, with this version of his biography, to show Braille’s determination and dedication and to insist on the impact his invention had on sight-impaired people’s lives. Six Dots is not only a moving reading but also a great resource on Louis Braille’s life.

Louis was born in 1809 in a small town in France.

I was a curious child, and my eyes studied everything: Maman’s gentle face. Lace draping my cradle. The smooth shape of a bread loaf on the table.

I grew strong and healthy. When I rode to the baker’s on my brother’s broad shoulders or fed the chickens with my sisters, the villagers waved and smiled. “So handsome!” they cried.

Unfortunately, at the age of three, while playing in his father’s workshop, Louis hurt one of his eyes with an awl. Soon the infection spread to the other eye too and by the time he was five, the little boy was completely blind.

blind

I could see nothing at all. No trees or sparrows. No faces. No lace or loaves of bread. By the time I turned five, I was completely blind.

The villagers whispered: “Poor Louis Braille! Such a clever boy. What will happen to him now?”

My world was dark and dangerous. I stumbled about the house, banging into the chairs, the walls, the door. My body ached. “Where is the sun?!” I cried.

In time the boy realized he still had the curiosity and the desire to discover the world; and his family was of great help. They thought him the alphabet and how to explore the world by touch. But what Louis really wanted was to read. “Do you have books for blind children?” he would ask the priest and the teacher.

When he was ten he went to Paris to study at The Royal School for the Blind, excited at the promise that there he would find books for blind students.

How could I make them understand? Without books, I would always be “poor Louis Braille”. I would always be held back, like that dog chained too tight. “I love you”, I told them. “But I must go”.

The moment Louis arrived at the school he understood it was not at all what he had expected. The building was not a palace but a former prison, he had a hard bed in a crowded room and the books he wished to bring light in his life were just short versions of the stories he had dreamed to read. The waxy letters were huge so that the boys could trace the words with their fingers and by the time he finished reading a sentence, Louis was already halfway down the page.

first contact with books

When the headmaster announced the students that a French army captain had invented a code to send secret messages during battles, Louise became hopeful again. The code was based on patterns of dots punched on thick paper with a sharp metal instrument. Braille spent years practicing the code and then trying to simplify it. Often his tuberculosis became an impediment and slowed his work but by the time Louis was fifteen he managed to develop his own system of reading – a simplified version of the initial code that used just six dots.

working

The Braille system is still used today, offering the visually impaired people a chance to read and an opportunity to improve their lives. Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, compared the importance of Louis Braille’s invention to Guttenberg’s printing press, stating that both discoveries meant the chance to education for ordinary people.

thebraillealphabet-e1500266437265.jpg

Complement Six Dots with other beautiful short biographies on Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel, Claude Monet, Bob Dylan, Henri Matisse and Virginia Woolf and watch the video with Jen Bryant presenting her book:

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