February 27, 2015 • Posted in blindness, Hanni, Harper, public speaking, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Whitney by

Teachers in Mayville, Wisconsin had read my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe &Sound  aloud to their students before I arrived there last week, so when I showed up without Hanni, the star of that book, a few of the kids were – quite reasonably– disappointed.

Hmm. Might be good to start my presentation with an explanation. Hanni had retired from guide work, I told them. She lives with friends, she plays in the forest preserve a lot, and she just had a birthday. “Hanni is 15 years old now,” I said. After explaining what dog years are, I asked them to multiply 15 X 7. They were amazed.

From there I described how frightened my next dog Harper became after he heroically saved us from getting hit in Chicago traffic. “He saved us from getting killed,” I said. And for that, he deserved an early retirement.” I sensed them nodding in agreement.

I told them how another pair of friends took Harper in, and I shared stories of how happy Harper is now in a quiet suburb with a big back yard to play in.

Then I introduced them to the dog sitting calmly at my feet. When Whitney heard her name, she sprung up, flipped over and kicked her legs, hoping for a belly rub. The kids laughed and clapped,overwhelmingly approving of this silly new dog.

Whitney loved being off harness, and the kids loved it, too.

Whitney loved being off harness, and the kids loved it, too.

While Whitney and the kids started settling down, a hand shot up with a question. “How come you didn’t bring those other dogs with you then, too?” The questions went on from there. Some examples:

  • How did you get blind?
  • How do you drive?
  • How did you get here?
  • How does it feel to be blind?
  • Do you ever get tired of the color black?
  • How do you write books if you can’t see the paper?
  • Does your dog ever make a mistake?
  • How do you open a door?
  • How can you use a key?
  • How do you know what year and month and day and time it is?
  • Why do you keep your eyes open if you can’t see?
  • How can you sit on chairs and not fall off?

Whitney and I had a ball in Wisconsin last week –the temperature was below zero, but the people we met were so warm we hardly noticed. The staff at the Radisson in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin took turns taking Whitney outside for me whenever she needed to “empty.” The thoughtful teacher who picked us up at the hotel to drive us to school had a cup of hot coffee waiting for me in her warm car, and the Mayville students were bright and curious and thoughtful – one girl had painstakingly glued beads onto a sheet the night before to create a Braille note I could read on my own. It all warmed my heart.

Marsha On February 27, 2015 at 3:50 pm

My favorite question was “do you ever get tired of the color black?” I love kids!

bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 6:01 pm

You know, that was my favorite question, too, Marsha. And it’s one I’ve never, ever been asked before. My second fave? The one about falling off the chair, which, in fact, I’ve done. More than once! I love kids, too. This Wisconsin visit really was fun.


Laura On March 1, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Beth, I’ve fallen off chairs too! What’s my excuse?

bethfinke On March 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Watching Blackhawk overtime games from a bar stool, maybe?


Marlene Targ Brill On February 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Your willingness to share your experiences shows youngsters that there is no limit to what someone with a disability–any disability–can do. Education is power, and you have given the class a lot to think about. I love the questions. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear the answers.

bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Hmmm. Maybe one of these days I oughta write a post that lists *answers* rather than the questions. Confession: my answers change according to my mood…


Diana Conley On February 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm

What a great experience. Kids asked great questions. So glad that you are able to share your experiences with kids who are curious and learning at an early age to better understand people with disabilities. Keep up the good work.

I miss your class and look forward to second quarter registration and being back.

Diana Conley

bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 6:05 pm

What a coincidence: we miss having you in memoir-writing class, too. Looking forward to your return.


Monna Ray On February 27, 2015 at 5:10 pm

And warmed our hearts. Beth, if you’d ever like me to meet you at the Basil Leaf please let me know.

Stay warm.


bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Thanks. Will do!


Diana Conley On February 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Have you ever thought about writing a book based on the question kids ask…… and your answers?

I wondered what some of the answers might be.


Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Diana, you’re right. Publishing a children’s book with all the questions kids ask at school visits is a very good idea. So good, in fact, that it’s already been done!
The book is called “Do You Remember the Color Blue: The Questions Children Ask about Blindness.” It’s written by a blind woman named Sally Hobart Alexander,
she uses a Seeing Eye dog to get around. Here’s a description From School Library Journal:
“As she has done in past books, Alexander makes blindness clear to readers. Here, she responds to frequently asked questions, including how it feels to be blind and how blind people cope with daily living…Her discussion of remembering colors and dimensions will interest sighted readers. Small black-and-white photos appear throughout;
most are snapshots from the personal collections of the author and her friends.”
I’ve never read this book, maybe if I did I’d find out there’s room for *two* books about the questions kids ask about blindness. I do know this: I am mildly irreverent with some of my answers, but not sure that would make for enough difference to warrant another book with the same theme.
Thanks for the idea, though –keep ‘em coming!

Jean Spencer On February 27, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Dear Beth,
As always your stories are amazing…I miss you a lot..the memoirs writing group here is o.k., not like yours.

I’m volunteering in a first grade room..will read your book to the kids, let you know how it turns out..Love to all, jean Spencer

bethfinke On February 27, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Gee, if the kids end up liking the book, maybe we oughta fly out to California and visit you and that classroom, eh? GREAT to hear from you, Jean, and delighted you are back in the classroom — they must love you there.


Brittany On February 27, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Hi Beth! My name is Brittany and I am one of the second grade teachers in Mayville. I just wanted to say thank you for coming in to talk with our students. They really enjoyed your visit and thought it was “really cool to meet a real life author!” 🙂

bethfinke On February 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

A real-life author? Love it.


Sheila A. Donovan On February 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

I love how the little girl made a braille note for you. Creativity and politeness combined!

bethfinke On February 28, 2015 at 11:08 am

Yes, they were a creative and polite bunch. It was truly an “escape to Wisconsin”!


Deborah Darsie On March 1, 2015 at 12:55 am

The questions never fail to make me smile. The kids really get to indulge in curiosity, which is an amazing gift! I hope they will keep it alive throughout their lives!

The moments when they realized Hanni was not with you sounds quite powerful too! We don’t always recognize that working animals get to retire too!

Thanks for the smile! Love to Mike & Whitney as well!

bethfinke On March 1, 2015 at 10:25 am

When I’ve had a good experience at a school, before Whitney leads me out to get my ride back, I always make a point to compliment the teachers on how curious their students are. I agree, Deborah, it’s a *very* important quality, and one to be encouraged. And their curiosity makes me smile. Glad I could share it with you.


Laura On March 1, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I love this story. And I didn’t know about Harper, so clicked through for the whole scoop there. Good dog…

bethfinke On March 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Harper the hero *was* a great dog. Still is!


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