Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors
Unique within the landscape of children’s literature, Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria’s The Black Book of Colors accomplishes something that no other book has yet to do: telling a story about color without actually using any true colors. Made up of pages filled with shiny black-on-black images and bright white text, The Black Book of Colors links colors to sensory experiences, managing to activate all of the senses but sight in order to describe all of the colors of the rainbow.
In addition to lacking color, The Black Book of Colors is unique in another way. The book is written with braille letters accompanying the text on each page, allowing readers to inspect and gently feel the patterns of tiny bumps that share the same meaning as the letters and words they’re used to. While the braille included in the book isn’t printed in a way that allows it to be read by blind children, its presence allows sighted readers to consider the similarities and differences between their own literacy and that of a blind peer.
The sensory experiences that the story evokes call upon readers to consider the taste and feel of the color yellow, the skinned-knee pain that is red, the leafy crunch sound of brown, and the freshly cut grass scent that is green. Each two-page spread describes a specific color, and is accompanied with an illustration meant to be seen with the fingertips. Rather than pairing the synesthesia-like descriptions of color with brilliant images to match, the illustrator has created images of black-on-black, made from a glossy raised ink. The illustrations can be seen, but the feathers, strawberries, waves, raindrops, and grass clippings dotting the pages are much more interesting when felt instead of read – encouraging young readers to consider what it might be like to experience books without the sense of sight.
While the book’s design prevents it from being shared between blind and sighted children, it does give those with sight the opportunity to consider the ways in which color can be experienced. The book encourages sighted readers to make connections between colors and their own experiences. Additionally, readers can gain familiarity with the structure of the braille alphabet and develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which humans are capable of communicating with each other.
Using our literary guide, families can broaden the scope of their reading experience. By utilizing critical thinking questions and a carefully outlined mini-lesson, families can learn about the ways in which people of differing abilities experience the world. Additionally, suggestions for extension activities (easily adaptable for use with any age) connect a reading of the book to studies of the braille alphabet, tactile books, accessible entertainment, and neuroscience.
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