Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 68

BOOK REVIEW by Katherine Breen Crohan

Getting a Feel for
the Firmament
TOUCH THE STARS, FIFTH EDITION
Written by Noreen Grice
Tactile Illustrations and Picture
Descriptions by Irma Goldberg and
Shirley Keller
National Braille Press
113 pages, ISBN 978-0-939173-84-6
US$35.00, hardcover/large print/braille
TOUCH THE STARS describes this book

perfectly. The title not only hints at
the eloquent language used throughout
but indicates that the reader can literally touch the illustrations, which are
magnificently embossed in braille. The
writers took great care in both the main
body of the text and in the descriptions
of how to use the illustrations.
I'm a good judge of that, as I've been
blind all my life, and I'm a teacher
of the visually impaired. When I was
growing up and when my children were
little, my visualization of the stars was
abysmal. The Big Dipper - what's that?
I wondered. My knowledge improved
enormously after reading this book.
Kent Cullers, the world's first totally
blind astronomer, says something similar in his foreword. Cullers, a NASA scientist who developed the signal-detection software that radio astronomers
use in the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program, says, " The
reason I intensely enjoyed [this book] is
that I learned so much. " While he could
calculate the temperature of a star, he
writes, " before reading this book I knew
nothing about the appearance of the
constellations. "
I did not grow up being exposed to
tactile braille drawings, nor did I have
a comprehensive science background,
so this book was a bit of a revelation to
68

FEBRUARY 2 021 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

me. Part of the reason for my dearth
of knowledge was that the language
of textbooks for the blind and visually
impaired didn't bridge the gap between
understanding and visualization. When
I began teaching this population in
public schools in 2004, I was amazed by
what was available for students studying
math and science compared to when I
was in school.
To make sense of a tactile drawing,
the blind or visually impaired reader
has to learn the nuances of the various textures as well as comprehend the
accompanying text, including keys and
descriptions of the drawings. Additionally, as the principal author of Touch the
Stars clearly realizes, certain concepts
need explaining when a drawing and its
descriptive text, however accurate and
helpful, might still leave unanswered
questions.

TX The braille labels for this
drawing of Jupiter read " Great
Red Spot " and " bands of
gases, " respectively. In the
descriptive text below, note
both convex and concave
braille text. The concave text is
printed in braille on the reverse
side of the printed page partially shown here.

Jupiter

Take, for example,
the waxing and waning
of the Moon, a particularly challenging process for a blind person
to envision. The figure
below right illustrates
this monthly metamorphosis with a pair
of tactile drawings. The
author explains that
the same side of the Moon always faces
Earth. To grasp that aspect, she suggests
having a parent or teacher demonstrate
it using a beach ball for Earth and a
baseball with a piece of heavy tape on it
for the Moon. Helping the blind person
move the baseball around the beach ball
with the taped side always facing the
" Earth " nicely illustrates the concept.
The book begins with " Some Things
You Should Know About the Illustrations in This Book. " The author
describes the concept of imaginary lines
that connect the stars; how the drawings represent brighter stars using larger
and more prominent circular bumps,
and fainter stars with smaller bumps
exhibiting shallower relief; and the
need to explore the entirety of a page,
which is a good reminder for the blind
or visually impaired reader who might
be new to tactile drawings. She suggests
viewing each page as a " new adventure. "



Sky & Telescope - February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - February 2021

Contents
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 1
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 3
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 4
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Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover3
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover4
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