Hanni and Beth in Braille

September 21, 20077 CommentsPosted in book tour, Braille, Uncategorized

S & SSeedlings Logo  The Braille version of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” is here! I received my advance copy in the mail today! That means the “real deal” should be available to blind readers on October 15th, the same day the print edition will officially be released. This is very, very unusual.

Braille is so expensive to publish that “braile presses” usually wait until a book becomes a best-seller before putting it out in Braille. But here it is, already in my dirty little hands.

Okay, that’s a joke. I washed my hands before touching the new book.

The book is in a Print-and-Braille format. The contracted braille and print match line for line, with the print just above the Braille (no pictures).
I can tell you first hand, so to speak, that it’s “good Braille” = the dots are stiff, they stand up straight, They’re easy to read.

A little known fact about Braille: less than 20% of the 50,000 blind children in the United States are proficient in Braille. All too often, the “written word” has been inaccessible to kids who are blind, far easier for them to listen to books on audio or hear words on a computer screen equipped with a screen reader. Technology is cool, but how will these children ever learn to spell correctly? How will they know where to put commas, quotation marks, paragraph breaks and so on?

My children’s book publisher, Blue Marlin Publications, teamed up with Seedlings Braille Books for Children, a non-profit organization in Michigan that creates Braille books for kids who can’t see. Blue Marlin didn’t charge Seedlings a penny for the rights to publish the book in Braille.

Not only that, but Blue Marlin Publications is donating a portion of the sales of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound to Seedlings so they can continue creating books in Braille for kids who need them. By producing Braille books for children, Seedlings helps promote “literacy for the blind,” providing visually impaired children equal opportunity to develop a love of reading.

With Safe & Sound available in Braille, I’ll be able to read it aloud at my presentations, too.

To find out how to order a copy of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in Braille, or to donate to Seedlings to help them create more books in Braille for kids, link to

Say "Cheese"…and Wine

September 19, 20078 CommentsPosted in Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Safe & SoundWalking the Mean StreetsEvery once in a while, my talking computer barks out an email from the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I listen and think, gee, that event sounds interesting. And then I find out where they are meeting, or when they are meeting, and I hit the delete button.
But then came the announcement for last night’s soiree. Downtown Chicago. 5:30 pm. Wine and cheese.
We live just south of the Chicago loop. The wine and cheese party was at Carus publishing – they’re the ones who publish Cricket Magazine for kids. Who knows, maybe Cricket is looking for stories about Seeing Eye dogs. And if they’re not? Wine. And cheese! I signed up.
Carus is at 70 E. Lake. A fairly easy walk for Hanni and me. Except during rush hour.
It’s not the traffic that’s the problem at 5 pm – it’s the commuters! Workers are so eager to catch their trains or get to their el stops or talk to friends on their cell phones that they don’t watch where their going. Hanni only got stepped on once during this trip, pretty good. But she was bumped into more times than that.
At one corner Hanni finally retaliated. She ran me right into the poor soul standing there waiting for the light to change.
“Hey!” the woman shouted at me.
“Sorry,” I said.
No answer.
We waited a bit. A noisy corner. Difficult to hear the traffic and figure out when the light turned green.
“Are you crossing here?” I asked the stranger.
No answer. Man, she really was mad at us. We waited. It was especially hard to judge the traffic. I needed help.
“Are you going this way?” I asked, pointing across the street. No answer.
That’s when I realized. The woman we ran into must be developmentally disabled. I left her alone.
Just then a young man walked up. “God you are in your own world!” he complained, nudging the woman so hard that she ran into us. Yeesh, it’s a violent pedestrian world in Chicago! “Take off your headphones!” the guy shouted to his friend. “You can’t hear anything!”
The stranger at the corner wasn’t developmentally disabled – she was voluntarily hearing impaired! The guy kept shouting to her as they crossed the street. We crossed along.
Hanni and I made it to 70 E. Lake. The book writers and illustrators were nice to us. One helped me find a seat, and Hanni immediately curled up next to me to recover from the trip. I drank wine. And ate cheese. And learned a lot about Carus Publications.               Any writers out there who are reading this blog: Cricket and Lady Bug and Baby Bug and all their magazines receive far too many stories about farms. And too many stories about summer adventures. They want more stories with an activity connected at the end. So if you have a story in mind about a winter activity in the city, send it to Carus. If the story centers on boys, all the better – they get far too many stories that relate solely to girls.
Our trip home was much easier – the commuters had all arrived at their destinations. Hanni and I made it home.  Safe & Sound.

Close Call

September 14, 200714 CommentsPosted in guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Book CoverBeth and Hanni  Last Wednesday Hanni led me to the Union League Club of Chicago to meet with the Barrington Bliss Book Club. Well, I say she led me there, but to be honest, when I asked her to turn at the front door she sped right by. The Union League Club is a swanky private club right in the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial district. Members meet there to “socialize and enjoy fine food and impeccable service.” No wonder Hanni raced passed the front door – she couldn’t believe we’d been invited!
When I felt we’d gone too far, I turned Hanni around and pointed in the general direction of the entryway. I could tell from the reluctant pull of the harness that she still wasn’t so sure.
We were at the right place,though. Some members of the Barrington Bliss Book Club are also members of the Union League Club, and they were kind enough to invite Hanni and me to join them as a guest author. The club had read “Long Time, No See.” We talked about how I decided to write that first book of mine and what all has happened to me since University of Illinois Press published it in 2003. Of course I managed to get a plug in for “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” as well! I passed the advance copy around, everyone ooed and ahhed appropriately at the illustrations. You can oo and ah now, too – a friend has attached the book’s cover design to my blog. (As you might imagine, visual decorations like that are not my forte!)
Back to Barrington Bliss Book Club: I met some wonderful women and time seemed to fly by. “Where’s Hanni?” some book club members asked when it was time for us all to leave. I pointed under the table – Hanni had curled up and fallen asleep down there. She was so quiet and still, they hadn’t realized she was with me!
When we left the Union League Club and headed east on Jackson, we approached a side street. Hanni stopped, of course. Traffic was rushing by at our parallel, cuing me that it was safe to cross. “Forward!” I commanded. Hanni looked both ways, and judging it safe, she pulled me forward.
But then all of a sudden she jumped back. I followed her lead and heard the rush of a car literally inches in front of us. Hanni had seen the car turning right off the busy street. I hadn’t.
She saved my life.
I felt someone rush by us, then heard shouting down the side street. My heart was racing, but training at the Seeing Eye told me what to do next. “Walk backwards! Get on the sidewalk before you praise her!” I heard my trainer from years ago calling out in my head. We had practiced this very thing during training – staff members would drive Seeing Eye vans around town while we were out with our dogs, the van drivers would make quick turns and dart in front of us on purpose so we would feel how the dogs reacted.
Back on the sidewalk, I got on all fours to hug Hanni. I was afraid from what had happened, of course. But even more, I was afraid that the near miss could scare Hanni from wanting to work again. I pet Hanni. I hugged her. I reassured her. People who’d seen what happened called out from across the street to make sure I was okay. I called out a “yes!” and just then a man bent down and patted me ever so slightly on the shoulder. “You alright, miss?” he asked. He was out of breath, panting. “I work at the Union League Club, I saw the whole thing.” It was a cab that had sped around the corner, he explained. The driver hadn’t even slowed down to make the turn.
We stood up; I patted down my skirt and tried to regain my composure. Suddenly I realized. The sweet man panting beside me, worrying if Hanni and I were alright — he was the one I’d felt rush past while I was reassuring Hanni. “Was that you shouting?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was trying to catch him,” the doorman said. “Sure you’re alright?” He asked.
This kind of caring, coming from a complete stranger, made me feel better. I was sure, I told him. Hanni was alright, too. She stopped at every curb after that, and we proceeded with caution. But as always, we made it home. Safe & Sound.

Almond Joy

September 10, 20075 CommentsPosted in guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Silly, Hanni!I have a part-time job moderating the autism blog at Easter Seals. Every Friday I meet with my supervisor for a “weekly download,” i.e., we go over what happened the previous week.
For our last download of the summer we decided to do something special – meet at Jake’s Pub, one of my boss’ favorite bars in Chicago. I fed Hanni in the bathroom at work before we left. Her dog bowl wasn’t under the sink where I’d left it, so we went into a stall and I just spilled her bag of dog food on to the floor. It seemed to take her FOREVER to finish. “C’mon, Hanni! C’mon, hurry up!” I urged her on. I wanted her to finish before someone came in and caught her licking the bathroom floor.
We do have some pride, after all.
Hani finally finished her food, we went downstairs, piled into a cab and headed to Jake’s. One drink led to another. I started getting hungry. Reaching down into my bag, I pulled out a pouch full of almonds, set them on the bar and started to munch. .
Ugh! Yuck! Spit out! Ugh!
No wonder it had taken Hanni so long to eat her dinner in the bathroom stall – I’d given her a pouch full of almonds instead of dog food!
I think Hanni got 100% of her daily Vitamin E requirement that day.
As for me, I really impressed my boss. She’d never seen ANYONE eat dog food at Jake’s
Pub before.