Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for Children's Books

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by Suzette Wright

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Purpose of the Guide

Whether you are a teacher, transcriber, or caregiver of a child with a visual impairment, this guide is intended to help you learn more about

It is hoped discussion of these will assist you, whether you are designing tactile illustrations for an existing children's book, a book you have created, or are evaluating tactile illustrations in tactile books produced by others.

Role of Illustrations in Children's Books

A quick glance at children's books on library and bookstore shelves reveals a wide range of storybooks and informational books filled with colorful, interesting pictures. People who study how to engage young children in books and in reading believe visual illustrations in children's books play several important roles.

An adult reads aloud from a picture book as a young child listens and examines its pictures.

A young child independently turns pages of a picture book as she pretends to read aloud.

For a young child who is not yet a reader, visual illustrations are an important bridge, helping a young child take a more active role in book reading, as a listener and later, as a beginning reader.

When a Child Has a Visual Impairment

It is clear that visual illustrations in children's books engage and assist a child with typical vision. But what if a child cannot see a book's pictures? How can adults engage a young child with a significant visual impairment as books are read-aloud? What can add meaning to the words of the book, especially if the child's language skills are still limited?

However, exploring braille may not hold the attention of a young child for long periods, and lengthy descriptions of pictures can take away from rather than add to a child's interest. Furthermore, unlike exploring a picture, listening to a description is a passive activity. A key goal of reading aloud is to engage the child as an active participant.

Given the young age of the audience, and the limitations just discussed, many teachers and parents of preschoolers with visual impairments have chosen to use story box objects and tactile illustrations as a way to add interest and meaning to some books they read aloud (Miller, 1985; Stratton & Wright, 1991; Newbold, 2000; Lewis & Tolla, 2003).

Story Box Objects

Story box objects are real objects, related to the book, given to the child to handle and explore as the book is read aloud. The items are usually collected together in a box or bag. Story boxes (or bags) offer a good first step for sharing books with a very young child who cannot view pictures. Although it takes time to find books featuring common objects that can be easily gathered up, most children enjoy using story boxes and often like to help choose and collect the items to include.

However, story box objects are not part of the book. They are examined alongside the book, and therefore, may not engage the child in exploring and handling the book to the same degree as visual pictures (Lewis & Tolla, 2003). In fact, story box items may draw a child's attention away from the book itself, limiting his exploration of the book and the written words it contains.

Photo shows an open book, story box, and story box items.

A long-time favorite, "If You Give Mouse a Cookie," by Laura Joffe Numeroff, features a demanding mouse with a growing list of needs for milk, a straw, a napkin, crayons, tape, and more—items that are easily found around the house for inclusion in a story box.

Tactile Illustrations

In addition to story box objects, tactile illustrations—pages with illustrations designed to give tactile (touch) information related to the book's story or topic—also have the potential to add meaning and interest to books for a preschooler who cannot view the book's pictures.

Tactile books (books with tactile illustrations) vary in the types of tactile illustration they use and are available from different sources.

Photo shows tactile books featuring real object illustrations, thermoformed illustrations, and raised line illustrations.

Assortment of tactile books from the American Printing House for the Blind featuring a variety of types of tactile illustrations. Each book is designed for and evaluated with children with visual impairments, yet also provides visual images for children with limited or typical vision. Text is both large print and braille.

Role of Tactile Illustrations in Children's Books

To be effective, a tactile illustration should provide the child with a tactual experience that, along with the book's words, triggers a connection with the child's own experience of the object in everyday life (Wright & Stratton, 2007).

Like visual illustrations, tactile illustrations can serve several functions as books are read-aloud.

A preschooler examines a tactile illustration in a book she shares with a caregiver.

In addition, books with tactile illustrations give a child with a visual impairment opportunities to learn how to examine and interpret tactile displays. This is important knowledge since a variety of tactile displays (tactile maps, diagrams, charts, and graphs) accompany school textbooks.

Children with typical vision seem to interpret visual pictures and many other types of graphic displays, such as diagrams or maps, almost automatically. Since infancy, their world has supplied a steady stream of images on signs and labels, in books, and on television. They have had many chances to observe as adults use a variety of visual displays.

For a child with a visual impairment, however, learning to interpret tactile illustrations and displays is not automatic; it requires practice, support, and instruction. Many abilities—hand skills, tactual exploration skills, and cognitive skills—develop over time and combine to help a child explore and interpret tactile displays. There are also conventions or rules of practice that require explanation and associated concepts to be learned. Many adults with visual impairments report dissatisfaction with their own preparation for interpreting tactile displays.

For a number of children, exploring and enjoying books with well-designed tactile illustrations may be a valuable, early step in their preparation for using tactile maps, diagrams, and other tactile graphic displays. It is possible experience with well-designed tactile illustrations provides a foundation both by building skills and by helping the learner form a positive attitude about tactile displays.

Every book does not need to be accompanied by a story box or tactile illustrations, and not every child enjoys them. But many children with visual impairments demonstrate interest and enthusiasm for tactile illustrations (Miller, 1985; Stratton & Wright, 1991; Wright, 1991; Swenson, 1999; Norman, 2003).

Interest in tactile books

Tactile storybooks developed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) are evaluated with young children with visual impairments to assess children's interest in them. More than 18 storybooks have been developed for the On the Way to Literacy series, featuring a range of types of tactile illustrations. From 16 to 37 children, ranging in age from 2 ½ years up to kindergarten level or age 7, participate in the evaluation of each book. Questionnaires returned by their teachers indicate most children—both potential braille and large print readers—show a high level of interest in the books. Many have commented that a student with little previous interest in books (without tactile illustrations) showed increased interest in reading from the tactile books. In addition, teachers report that some students use the book's tactile pictures to help them pretend read (Wright, 1991). (Please see Appendix B for a listing of these and other tactile books produced by APH.)

Types of Tactile Illustrations

There are many different ways to represent objects and concepts in a tactile medium. We will discuss a possible order of difficulty for these later in the guide, as well as the tools and materials needed to create them. For now it is enough to become acquainted with basic types of tactile illustrations frequently used in tactile books designed for a young child.

Tactile illustrations may be composed of:

A tube of toothpaste provided as an illustration in a book about bath time; it is enclosed in a plastic zip-lock bag stapled to the poster board page.

A tube of toothpaste provided as an illustration in a book about bath time; it is enclosed in a plastic zip-lock bag stapled to the poster board page.

A thermoformed image of a shell in clear plastic; beneath the thermoform is a print drawing of the shell provided for visual learners.

A thermoformed image of a shell in clear plastic; beneath the thermoform is a print drawing of the shell provided for visual learners.

Fake fur fabric, cut in the shape of a child's teddy bear, glued to a paper page.

Fake fur fabric, cut in the shape of a child's teddy bear, glued to a paper page.

A jack-o-lantern shape cut from thick foam paper and glued to a highly contrasting, black paper page.

A jack-o-lantern shape cut from thick foam paper and glued to a highly contrasting, black paper page.

An unfilled raised outline of a spoon, thermoformed on a white plastic page.

An unfilled raised outline of a spoon, thermoformed on a white plastic page.

A raised outline of a hand, filled with a dotted areal pattern, embossed in paper.

A raised outline of a hand, filled with a dotted areal pattern, embossed in paper.

Raised outlines of geometric shapes created by drawing with a felt tip pen on sponge paper (Quick Draw Paper available from the American Printing House for the Blind).

Raised outlines of geometric shapes created by drawing with a felt tip pen on sponge paper (Quick Draw Paper available from the American Printing House for the Blind).

Challenges and Limitations of Tactile Illustrations

The purpose of a tactile illustration is to communicate an idea or information—not to reproduce a visual picture in a tactile form.

There are key reasons to include books with tactile illustrations among the many types of books you make, borrow, or buy to share with a young child with a visual impairment. However, it must be emphasized: a tactile illustration is not the same as a visual picture and does not replace it.

A tactile illustration can never be as complete as a visual picture or understood as instantly and completely.

Even adults with visual impairments often find tactile illustrations challenging to interpret. There are more than a few explanations for why this is so, and it is important to be familiar with them before attempting to create or evaluate tactile illustrations—especially if your intended audience is a young child:

Child's fingertip explores a single dot in a row of raised dots.

Principles of Good Tactile Design

In addition to the challenges and limitations just mentioned, a child's ability to interpret a tactile illustration can also be seriously impaired if the designer has not followed key principles of good tactile design. If you are making your own tactile illustrations, it is critical to become familiar with and follow principles of good tactile design. If you are selecting a tactile book—one that is ready-made, knowledge of these principles can guide you in avoiding tactile books whose tactile illustrations are poorly designed.

Basic guidelines of good tactile design

To make tactile displays easier to interpret:

(American Printing House for the Blind, 1997)

Additional reading and sources regarding the principles of good tactile design include:

The Good Tactile Graphic: A two-tape video presentation and booklet. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Barth, J. L. (1981). Tactile graphics guidebook. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Edman, P. K. (1992). Tactile graphics. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

Otto, F. (1997). Guidelines for design of tactile graphics. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Otto, F. & Poppe, T. (1994). Tactile graphics starter kit guidebook. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Research and Development Institute (2006). Tactile displays and graphics: Guidelines for designing tactile displays. Sycamore, IL: author. Available online at:

Sheppard, L. & Aldrich, F. (2000). Tactile graphics: A beginner's guide to graphics for visually impaired children. Primary Science Review, 65, 29 - 30.

Designing a Meaningful Tactile Illustration

Yet even when a tactile illustration uses principles of good tactile design and has a context, it still may not trigger, for the child, an association with the real object/s or concepts he knows. If a child is unable to associate a tactile illustration with his own experience of the object and relate this to the words of the story, the illustration will be more decorative than meaningful. It may be tactually interesting, but it will not support the child's understanding of the text, engage him in meaningful conversation about the story, or build skills for learning to interpret tactile displays.

Designing and creating a truly meaningful tactile illustration for a book requires careful consideration of many elements: the child, the story or text, type of tactile illustration, principles of good tactile design, as well as the tools and materials needed to produce the illustration.

The following summarizes questions and factors that must be considered as part of the process of designing a meaningful tactile illustration for a young child.

1. Begin with the Child

Begin with the child in mind—considering his previous experiences, background knowledge, and abilities.

Provide hands-on experience first. A young child cannot be expected to understand a tactile illustration of an object he has never before felt or examined.

Design your tactile illustration to include these, even if this results in an illustration that is not visually like the object. It is a very common mistake to create a tactile illustration based on the visual features of an object—such as a raised outline of a teddy bear. This visual "point of view" is less likely to trigger a connection with a young child's tactual experience of his own teddy bear, which he may identify by its fuzzy texture, floppy arms and legs, or button nose.

Design a tactile illustration that corresponds with the child's abilities. If textures, raised shapes, or raised lines are used, differences should be clear and obvious unless the child is skilled at detecting small differences. Will the child be able to discriminate differences in the specific textures, shapes, objects, or line types you plan to provide? Checking this beforehand can save valuable time.

Older child carefully traces the edge of a small object with the fingers of his right hand as his left hand marks the starting point for his exploration.

Create tactile illustrations that are in keeping with the child's ability to explore and be prepared to help him explore carefully and completely.

Create tactile illustrations that are in keeping with the child's cognitive ability to fit together the information he gathers into a meaningful whole. Illustrations that show only one object with little detail are usually easier to "piece together" than illustrations with many elements or ones that show a large object with a complicated shape.

Design your illustration to build upon his previous experiences with other tactile illustrations; talk about how the current illustration is like or unlike others he has explored. Be prepared to explain conventions/rules of practice used in the illustration.

One of the surest ways to create a tactile illustration that has meaning for a child is to involve the child in choosing how to illustrate a particular thing or concept.

Equipped with tactile items they have gathered, an adult and child create a tactile book together.

2. Consider the Story/Text

Whether you intend to add tactile illustrations to a published children's book or illustrate a book that you have written or the child has dictated, carefully consider aspects of the book's text.

Select stories whose text gives enough information to support the meaning of the tactile illustration or be prepared to add this information as you read the book aloud. Even if a tactile illustration shows a familiar object with its most significant tactile features, a child still needs a context to make a meaningful interpretation. Although there are picture books for typically sighted children that have little or no text, this is not a successful format for tactile books. In tactile books, the meaning of a tactile illustration depends upon the words of the story (Stratton & Wright, 1991).

It has been said that while "a picture may be worth a thousand words"—a tactile illustration without words isn't worth anything!

Select books that allow you to illustrate significant things or events using tactile illustrations suited to the child's abilities and experience. However, even if you choose books with care, you may find that you cannot illustrate all of a book's most important objects/concepts. This leaves several options: creating a tactile illustration of another, less significant object; including fewer tactile illustrations; rewriting the story to include something that you can represent with a tactile illustration.

It is difficult to create a meaningful tactile illustration of imaginary or nonexistent things like castles and dragons. Largely visual things, like a rainbow, also present a significant challenge. Attempts to illustrate these with a tactile illustration are unlikely to hold much meaning for a young child. Better to choose another book or use descriptions to give an older child some sense of these. In some cases, you may be able to illustrate something else from the story that the child has experienced—a bean for "Jack-and-the Beanstalk," rather than the castle or the giant.

3. Design the Tactile Illustration

In considering the child's abilities and the objects you plan to represent, you will have given thought to the overall type of tactile illustration you hope to use: objects, thermoformed objects, textures, cutout shapes and textures, raised and filled outlines and lines. You may even have chosen specific textures and materials that you plan to use.

As you complete your design, there are many other details that must be weighed and considered, then rechecked against what is appropriate for the child and what best illustrates the story. The following are some basic questions you will need to answer. As you do, other more specific questions will arise.

With each step involved in creating the illustration, it is important to reassess: Does my tactile illustration follow the guidelines that govern good tactile design?

4. Present the Tactile Illustration

Even if an object is familiar to a child, it will be helpful to have him touch and examine the object just before encountering its tactile representation.

First, and always, provide hands-on experiences with the real thing before presenting a tactile illustration of it.

5. Evaluate the Tactile Illustration

Before you include the illustration in the book and use it with the child, it is an excellent idea to try out the illustration yourself—with your eyes closed! Better still, "test drive" your illustration with someone who has never before seen or touched the illustration. Provide your test subject with a context by reading the book's text, watch as he tactually explores the illustration (with eyes closed, if he is sighted), and ask him to "talk through" his examination and interpretation of the illustration. What you learn can be valuable—and surprising! If an adult or older child has difficulty examining and understanding your illustration, it is all but certain that a young child will also have trouble. If this happens, redesign your illustration to correct the problems you discovered.

Once you do complete and use the tactile illustration with the young child, be a careful observer.

An older child should be able to reflect on the illustration and his examination of it. This is valuable information for you, the designer!

The observations and comments you collect may help you to design a better tactile illustration the next time, introduce the illustration in a more meaningful way, or may indicate areas where the child needs to develop more skill.

Two children explore a fuzzy cutout in a tactile book.

Sequence of Difficulty for Types of Tactile Illustrations

As mentioned earlier, base your selection of the type of tactile illustration you will use on what is most appropriate for the child, taking into account his skills and previous experience. We have pointed out characteristics that make any tactile illustration more difficult to explore and understand—having many elements, showing complex spatial relationships, sizes that differ from the size of the actual object. These add difficulty, regardless of the type of illustration used.

However, the question remains: Is there an overall sequence of difficulty when it comes to introducing various types of tactile illustration? Are tactile illustrations that use real objects easier to explore and interpret than thermoforms of objects, and are thermoforms easier to understand than illustrations that use raised lines? We do not have a great deal of research to "spell out" a sequence of difficulty among types of illustration, but we know some of the factors involved. Some are best explained in terms of the tactile illustration, others, in terms of the child.

Child's Development of Necessary Skills

As far as a young child is concerned, research shows a child's tactual discrimination skills and fine motor skills develop gradually, following an overall sequence during the early years of life. A very young child's ability to examine things with his hands is at first limited by a whole-hand style of exploration (Griffin & Gerber, 1981). At this stage, he can grasp objects and notice large areas of texture, but may not be able to separate his fingers to examine a flat shape or use his fingers to follow a raised line or outline. Tiny shapes and details may not be noticed or adequately explored by a child at this stage of development. Therefore, at first, illustrations that use objects and have larger areas of texture or larger shapes usually function best.

Once a child is able to examine objects more fully using his fingers and more sensitive fingertips, he can detect more about their shape and texture. As the child develops greater sensitivity, fine motor control, and the ability to think about the tactual input his senses bring, he will be better able to explore the details of tactile illustrations that use flat shapes, raised lines, and outlines.

Sequence of tactual discrimination skills

Kershman (1976) found evidence supporting the gradual emergence of a sequence of tactual discrimination skills in a study of 60 children whose level of vision was categorized as light perception or less. Children ranged from 5-12 years of age. Each child was required to tactually examine four items and indicate which one was "not the same." Children were first able to pick out which item was "not the same" when examining 3-dimensional objects. As age increased, greater numbers of children correctly picked out the item that was "not the same" as they examined flat shapes. This was followed by proficiency in detecting differences in raised shapes and lines, and last of all, variations in braille shapes.

Richness of Clues Contained in the Illustration

From the standpoint of the illustration itself, many clues to an object's identity are lost in creating a tactile illustration of it; however, some types of tactile illustration result in more lost clues than others. For this reason, some types of illustration are likely to be more difficult to interpret, especially for a child who is inexperienced with tactile illustrations. Stratton (1990) offers the following example of how various types of illustration—objects, raised shapes, raised outlines—offer progressively fewer tactile clues to help a child connect the illustration with the object it represents.

"Lost in translation"

Most young children are very familiar with socks and the business of putting them on and taking them off. A young child's tactual experience of sock probably includes the impression that it is soft, that he can place his hand or foot inside the sock, and that he can scrunch it up or stretch it.

A child needs a great deal of experience and a context in order to make sense of a tactile illustration when so many familiar clues are missing!

(Stratton, 1990)

It is always possible that providing a key detail can make even a more difficult type of tactile illustration easier to interpret, and the reverse is also true. An illustration that uses objects is not necessarily easier to interpret, if, for example, it is cluttered. Nonetheless, information we have about children's development and the richness of clues provided by different types of tactile illustration does suggest an overall sequence of difficulty.

Object Illustrations—First

Tactile illustrations that feature objects—real object illustrations—are likely to provide the best introduction to tactile illustrations, both because a young child has the fine motor skills, tactual discrimination skills, and cognitive abilities needed to explore them and because they contain more significant clues to the object's identity.

A two-year-old explores a real object illustration in a tactile book, unzipping a small purse attached to the book's page.

A two-year-old explores a real object illustration in a tactile book, unzipping a small purse attached to the book's page.

Raised Line Illustrations—Later

Given what we know about children's development of tactual discrimination and exploratory skills, as well as the number of tactile clues missing from raised line illustrations, it is reasonable to expect raised lines/raised shape illustrations to be more difficult to interpret than other types of illustrations. Raised line drawings, in most cases, should be reserved for use with a preschooler who has had successful experiences with other types of tactile illustrations.

A four-year old uses his fingers to examine a very simple raised line illustration as his caregiver reads aloud.

A four-year old uses his fingers to examine a very simple raised line illustration as his caregiver reads aloud.

Intermediate Steps . . .

Between real object illustrations and raised line illustrations, however, are other types of tactile illustrations that seem to be of intermediate difficulty. They may lead a child in making the transition from real object illustrations to raised line illustrations. Or they may simply offer an alternate means of providing more, and richer tactile clues.

Thermoformed objects

Barth (1984) first suggested that tactile illustrations featuring thermoformed objects might serve as an intermediate step between identifying objects and interpreting illustrations with raised shapes and outlines. Poppe (2004) also utilizes this progression in a set of training materials designed to help students transition from exploring 3-dimensional objects to interpreting 2-dimensional raised line illustrations. Thermoforming may be a good choice for representing objects whose shape is an important identifying clue. However, if thermoforming eliminates texture as a clue, it loses some of its effectiveness. A thermoform of a comb may be highly recognizable; it is very like a real comb. A thermoform of a fuzzy stuffed animal, however, has lost its most important clue—its texture.

Parts of objects

Using part of an object in a tactile illustration can provide a good or a poor means of representing an object, depending on the specifics. Evaluate each case carefully based on the child's familiarity with the whole object and its parts, his ability to understand part/whole relationships, and how distinctive or unique the part is. A tab from a soda pop can is a key part of the real object, but may not signal soda pop can to a young child who has never opened his own pop cans! Placed alone on the page, it may not be understood, even if the story supplies a context.

Texture-added illustrations

Adding texture to raised line illustrations—either through cutting shapes from textured materials or adding textures as "fill" patterns—has the potential to boost the richness of clues in an illustration. Research shows even typically sighted preschoolers pay special attention to texture (Abravanel, 1970). When an object's texture is distinctive, it can be a powerful clue to its identity. Sometimes, it may even be able to "stand alone" as an effective illustration.

Distinctive details

Similarly, distinctive details of an object, if there is a way to represent them, can greatly increase the ease with which an illustration is interpreted. Regardless of which type of illustration you are using, be on the lookout for these "telling" details or clues and how you can show them tactually. Just one can "jumpstart" recognition and make a "more difficult" type of illustration, such as raised line drawing—easier to interpret.

Future research may offer guidelines about the best times and ways to introduce various types of illustrations, including, which are most appropriate for a given need, and how they may be combined.

A tactile illustration is shown that combines a large foam paper cutout of a pumpkin, a raised line drawing of a child's hand, and a large silk leaf.

Last Words

It is helpful to frame our thinking about tactile illustrations and young children by recalling that both development and experience play important roles in learning to explore and interpret tactile illustrations and displays. Not only must an illustration be well designed, the right type of tactile illustration must be presented in the right way at the right time for a particular child.

Responsibility rests with the adult to:

The central question should be: how meaningful will this illustration be for the child in the context in which it is supposed to function?

Tactile illustrations, while serving a role in sharing some books with a young child with a visual impairment, are not necessary for every—or perhaps—most books. They provide one way to add meaning and enjoyment to read aloud stories. And tactile books offer a child opportunities to begin building a foundation for interpretation of tactile displays contained in geography, science and math textbooks.

In many cases, however, you will discover that a tactile illustration cannot convey the information you wish to convey. This is not a failure on anyone's part. There are many ways to enrich book reading that do not involve pictures. Closeness, quiet time together, and the sounds of language read aloud—these are a powerful part of sharing books with every child.

And as one individual with a visual impairment remarked, "I don't have to enjoy things in the same way as a sighted person. I'm happy with the things I enjoy! Once my friends were describing the view from the hill we had just climbed, going to great lengths to put into words the colors of the sunset. I was happy feeling the breeze on my face, the chill air as night fell, and the sounds of approaching night. So I suggested to them they go ahead and enjoy their "view" while I enjoyed mine . . ."

Summary: Design Considerations for Types of Tactile Illustrations

The next section summarizes information for creating specific types of tactile illustrations—those created using real objects, those that use thermoformed images, and those that consist of raised shapes, lines, and outlines. Tactile displays that primarily use abstract symbols, such as those used in maps and identified in a map key, will not be discussed. Information about designing abstract, symbolic tactile graphics can be found in a number of sources, including those listed under the text box titled "Basic guidelines of good tactile design.".

Creating Tactile Illustrations Using Real Objects

At first, a young child is usually most successful discriminating three-dimensional forms (Kershman, 1976). At the earliest levels of tactual discrimination, he is more likely to notice gross differences in texture and size (Griffin and Gerber, 1981). Before the age of 2 years, or in a child who has not done much exploring due to early tactile defensiveness, you may notice a tendency to explore with the whole hand, instead of using his fingers separately. Even preschoolers have been observed to prefer exploring objects in this way. Tactile illustrations that feature real objects are appropriate choices at this initial level.

Creating Tactile Illustrations Using Thermoformed Images of Objects

If certain guidelines are followed, tactile illustrations made by thermoforming real objects may help bridge the gap between recognizing real objects and interpreting tactile illustrations that use raised lines to represent objects (Barth, 1984; Stratton & Wright, 1991, Poppe, 2004). A thermoform image of an object is made by heating a thin sheet of plastic, vacuum forming it over the object or a molded form of the object using a device called a thermoform machine. The resulting molded plastic image closely follows the contours of the original object and shows details, such as surface markings and indentations. Before thermoforming an object, however, it is very important to consider its identifying features from the child's point of view. What clues will be lost? A thermoformed image shows shape very well, but is hard and has the surface texture of the plastic medium. If a fuzzy texture or pliability is an object's most significant tactile feature then thermoforming the object is not likely to produce an effective tactile illustration for a young child. Beyond this, many of the same guidelines for creating an effective tactile illustration using real objects can be applied to tactile illustrations showing thermoformed objects. In fact, many of the same objects suited to real object illustrations are also suitable for thermoforming.

Creating Tactile Illustrations with Raised Lines and Shapes

A preschooler may continue using tactile illustrations created with real objects and thermoformed images of real objects. He may also be ready to explore and interpret tactile illustrations that feature raised lines and flat, cutout shapes glued to the page. (Recall Kershman's levels of tactual development described under Sequence of Difficulty for Types of Tactile Illustration.) This type of tactile illustration will require him to use his fingers separately, tracing along lines with fingertips. He will also be required to notice finer tactual differences. Ideally, lots of experience with real objects, textures, and other types of tactile illustrations has prepared him for this step. Raised lines are often used to show the outline of an object, such as the outer shape of an apple. Unfilled outlines present a problem, however, for most young tactile learners. It can be difficult to tell what the outline encloses, especially if several objects are presented. For this reason, outlined shapes are usually filled with an areal pattern. An areal pattern is a repeating pattern of raised dots or other small raised marks; this tactual pattern "fills in" the area inside the outlined shape. Think of it as "coloring-in" an outline to help define the shape being presented. A cutout shape solves this problem of filling an outline; in addition, if it is cut from material that is similar to the texture of the real object, this preserves an important clue. Raised lines, areal patterns, and cutout shapes are sometimes used together in a tactile illustration—as long as the resulting illustration is not cluttered and each type is used in a consistent manner. Raised lines, outlines, and cutout shapes can be created using a variety of methods and materials.


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Newbold, S. (2000). Emergent literacy for young blind children. Phoenix, AZ: FBC Publications.

Norman, J. (2003). Tactile picture books: Their importance for young blind children. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 21 (3), 111-114.

Poppe, K. (2004). Guidebook: Setting the stage for tactile understanding: Making tactile pictures make sense. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Stratton, J. M. (1990). Tactile graphics in storybooks: Think tactile-and think of the reader. NBA Bulletin, 26 (3), 24-25. [National Braille Association]

Stratton, J. M. & Wright, S. (1991). On the way to literacy: Early experiences for visually impaired children. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Swenson, A. M. (1999). Beginning with braille: Firsthand experiences with a balanced approach to literacy. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

Whitehurst, G. J., Falco, F. L., Lonigan, C. J., Fischel, J. E., Debaryshe, B. D., Valdez-Menchaca, M. C., & Caulfield, M. (1998). Accelerating language development through picture book reading. Developmental Psychology, 24, 552-559.

Wright, S. (1991). Final report, developing literacy: Early experiences for visually impaired children. Unpublished report. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Wright, S. & Stratton, J. M. (2007). On the way to literacy: Early experiences for children with visual impairments, 2nd edition. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Appendix A
Tools and Materials for Creating Tactile Illustrations for Children's Books

Remember—safety first!


*If the child has usable vision, select materials with bright colors and contrasting, solid backgrounds.

Materials/Tools for Creating Tactile Illustrations Using Real Objects

Attach objects to page using:

Materials/Tools for Creating Tactile Illustrations Using Thermoformed Images of Objects

Thermoform equipment and supplies (available from American Thermoform Corporation)

Materials/Tools for Creating Raised Shapes for Illustrations

Cut shapes from:

Draw shapes with:

Mold, form, or assemble shapes using:

Materials/Tools for Creating Raised Line Illustrations

Draw lines with:

Shape and adhere to page to form lines:

Multi-sensory Additions

APH Products for Creating Tactile Illustrations and Displays

Braillable Labels and Sheets (various sizes: 8.5 × 11 sheet; 3.87 × 0.95 label, 3.875 × 1.75 label)

Braille Paper, White (various sizes: 8.5 × 11; 11.5 × 11; unpunched and punched for ring binding)

Braille Paper, Manila Transcribing (various sizes, unpunched and punched for ring binding)

Chang Tactual Diagram Kit (Catalog #: 1-03130-00)

Crafty Graphics: Stencil Embossing Kit (Catalog #: 1-08844-00)

Crafty Graphics II (Catalog #: 1-08852-00)

Draftsman Tactile Drawing Board (Catalog #: 1-08857-00)

Feel 'n Peel Stickers: Point Symbols (Catalog #: 1-08846-00)

Graphic Art Tape (Catalog #: 1-08878-00)

Picture Maker: Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit (Catalog #: 1-08838-00)

Quick-Draw Paper (Catalog #: 1-04960-00)

Swail Dot Inverter (Catalog #: 1-03610-00)

Tactile Graphics Kit (Catalog #: 1-08851-00)

Tactile Graphics Starter Kit (Catalog #: 1-08839-00)

Tactile Marking Mat (Catalog #: 1-03331-00)

Textured Paper Collection (Catalog #: 1-03275-00)

Appendix B
Related Products from APH

On the Way to Literacy Handbook

A handbook for parents and teachers, the second edition of On the Way to Literacy: Early Experiences for Children with Visual Impairments, suggests ways to use everyday events to support a child's learning in key areas that support early literacy. It contains extensive information on selecting and reading aloud from a wide variety of appropriate books, including books for story boxes. It discusses writing and illustrating tactile experience books, and the importance of providing opportunities for a child to use the tools for writing in braille and for making tactile drawings.

Second edition of On the Way to Literacy: Early Experiences for Children with Visual Impairments, 2007; Print edition and CD of accessible files—Catalog no. 8-77520-00

On the Way to Literacy Storybook series

Children's storybooks in the On the Way to Literacy series are intended to be used as part of an overall approach to providing young children with visual impairments with skills and experiences that form a foundation for literacy. The storybooks offer parents, teachers, and young children with visual impairments and their peers opportunities to share an enjoyable, read-aloud story by combining braille and large print text with tactile illustrations that can also be seen by children with low vision. All books were designed for and evaluated with children with visual impairments from 2 ½ to 5 years of age.

On the Way storybooks illustrated with real objects and textures:

Geraldine's blanket, Catalog no. 6-77501-02

Giggly-wiggly, snickety-snick, Catalog no. 6-77502-05

That's not my bear, Catalog no. 6-77501-01

Something special, Catalog no. 6-77500-05

On the Way storybooks illustrated with thermoform images (molded plastic images):

Gobs of gum, Catalog no. 6-77500-08.

Jennifer's messes, Catalog no. 6-77500-06

Roly-poly man, Catalog no. 6-77500-07

Jellybean jungle, Catalog no. 6-75502-01

Thingamajig, Catalog no. 6-77502-04

On the Way storybooks with raised-line drawings:

The blue balloon, Catalog no. 6-77501-03

The gumdrop tree, Catalog no. 6-77502-03

The caterpillar, Catalog no. 6-77500-02

Bumpy rolls away, Catalog no. 6-77500-03

Silly squiggles, Catalog no. 6-77500-09

That terrible, awful day, Catalog no. 6-77500-04

The littlest pumpkin, Catalog no. 6-77504-00

The longest noodle, Catalog no. 6-77500-01

On the Way book to customize:

Book about me, Catalog no. 6-77500-10.

Moving Ahead Tactile Graphic Storybook series

Moving Ahead: Tactile Graphics Storybooks are designed to be the next step for preschool and kindergarten students who have had experience with the tactile illustrations used in On the Way to Literacy storybooks. Each read-aloud book invites the child to have fun while listening to the story and exploring its tactile illustrations and print/braille text. Moving Ahead storybooks introduce symbolic representation, more complex raised-line illustrations, and an increased emphasis on text. Children have the opportunity to track varying types of lines, encounter tactile symbols, simple keys, and maps, and discover key braille words in the illustrations and text.

Goin' on a bear hunt, Catalog no. 6-77903-00

Splish the fish, Catalog no. 6-77902-00

Rolling Into Place

Rolling Into Place is an interactive storybook that is both visual and tactile. It is intended for children aged 3 years and older. As the hook/loop material ball is rolled into its final "surprise" destination; hand skills and basic directional concepts are learned and reinforced. Also included is an assortment of hook/loop material face pieces and suggested activities.

Rolling into place, Catalog no. 1-08450-00

The Rolling Into Place Construction Kit allows teachers and parents to construct books similar to Rolling Into Place using the accordion-folded panel that forms the book itself, hook/loop material pathways and accessory items (drillable sheets, adhesive dots). A User's Guide provides story suggestions.

Rolling Right Along Construction Kit, Catalog no. 1-08451-00

Tactile Graphic Training Materials and Games from APH

Setting the Stage for Tactile Understanding: Making Tactile Pictures Make

Sense; for 5 years and up (Catalog no. 1-1-08853-00)

Squid Tactile Activities Magazine (multiple issues available; for 5 years and up)

Tactile Treasures (Catalog no. 1-08842-00)

Tactual Discrimination Worksheets (Catalog no. 1-08810-00)

Teaching Touch (Catalog no. 1-08861-00)

Scattered Crowns Tactile Attribute Game; for 5 years and up (Catalog no. 1-08462-00)

Web Chase Game (Catalog no. 1-08460-00)