Nikil’s Treasures: The Braille & Large Print Books at India’s Accessible Reading Materials Library

Ugly and too expensive, scoffed critics. But the astounding beauty and creativity in these books speaks volumes! Dr. Namita Jacob felt frustrated by the scarcity of accessible books in India. She founded the Accessible Reading Materials Library, Chetana Charitable Trust, a community of volunteers making Braille, large print, joy-filled books that allow blind kids and their families to read together. Nowhere else in the world have I touched tactile books this creative!

We hope more publishers choose to invest in accessible books. Until then, passionate advocates like the Chetana community are authoring treasures like those featured in this video.

Descriptive Transcript

Haben Girma, a dark-skinned woman in her thirties with an American accent, reads Braille out loud from a book. She wears a navy blue, short-sleeve dress and tall, black boots. Her German Shepherd Seeing Eye dog Mylo stretches out on the red-tiled floor beside her, his eyes drooping closed. Behind her are shelves full of colorful books in different sizes. On her lap is the book Just Right, starring Nikil, a curly-haired boy wearing an orange top and blue shorts.

Haben: “When Nikil opened his box one day, he felt it was time to look for new treasure. He went down to the river, he found many different things but nothing felt special. Nikil was disappointed. Suddenly, he felt a new texture under his hand. He felt it with his fingers, pinching, poking. He felt it with his palm, pressing softly, sliding over it. It was spongy and had very interesting ridges.”

Raised illustrations, using a variety of materials, pop out on the pages. Text appears both in Braille and large print. 

Haben: I’m curious. So we have the river, the waves… And above that is definitely an interesting texture. You can press on it. And I love how these things are 3D, so you can engage with them in lots of different ways. Hmm, what’s this new treasure?

In a different room, Haben sits across from Dr. Namita Jacob, an older dark-skinned woman with an Indian accent and a magnetic presence. She wears cropped navy pants, a light blue button-up, and her feet are bare. She has a keyboard on her lap and types as she speaks. Haben reads her words on a Braille computer.

Haben: Is it mostly kids who come here?

Namita: Yes. Kids mostly. The library is to help children fall in love with books. Most often books are a source of stress. 

Haben: Whenever you’re ready I’d love to check out some of the books! 

Namita: Well, come on! Let’s go!

Back in the first room, Haben sits on a narrow bed covered in a floral-patterned blanket. She closes a picture book, the cover of which has a girl with blonde hair that puffs out from the page. Namita is in a chair to Haben’s left, holding the keyboard in her lap. Mylo rests in front of them, his head on his paws.

Haben: So, I want to ask about this book because it’s very tactile. Did you- did you make that in the storytelling room? In the making room? 

Namita: Yes. Yes. This is one example of a book written by the community.

Haben: How do you decide who the author is going to be? 

Namita: Anyone can work with us, anyone can write. The only requirement is that they are open to editing. (Namita laughs) We edit a lot. 

Haben: Understandable.

Namita: We co-write a lot. We even co-illustrate. So you need to be okay with that.

Haben continues reading Just Right, Mylo is falling asleep beside her, his head against her leg. The top of the page is green, covered in raised illustrations of all of Nikil’s treasures. The bottom has a blue, wavy river dotted with green lily pads.

Haben: “He kept it in his pocket and felt it all the way home. He played with it all day and just couldn’t stop touching it. That night, he opened his box to put it in. He shifted his treasure around, but it just wouldn’t fit. Nikil had an idea. He carefully placed his new treasure on top of all his things. I don’t have to feel them anymore. Nothing is as perfect as this. He thought.” We have Nikil’s box represented above the text. And then we have fabric, curved fabric, with something clearly inside it.

Haben and Namita sit side-by-side on the floral bed, holding a thick book filled with various textured fabrics and materials on each page. 

Namita: So it’s a marker for every room. So, if you see the– he has… the first room is this. It has like a rough base. And then here he’s playing with his cars. And then in the next room, this one, he finds his blocks and then he goes all the way to the door…

Haben feels a soft, red fabric.

Haben: This is maybe carpet? 

Namita: Yeah. And then this is like tiles,

Haben feels the red tiles along the bottom of the page.

Namita: …where he finds the slippers, and then he goes all the way, and now he’s in the kitchen. So each floor, we try to make a little different so the kids know.

Namita begins unfolding the book length-wise, it stretches out one page at a time like an expanding accordion or concertina.

Namita: The kids who need the information all together can do that. And they understand that the path goes on, and on, and on…

Haben: This is the coolest thing ever! Wow!

The book is fully unfolded, lying across Haben’s lap and stretching over to cover Namita’s as well.

Namita: Until it reaches mom and dinner time.

Haben reads the last page of the concertina book, her fingers gliding over the Braille. The page she’s reading is white with large black text, and beside it is the final page; blue with raised, silver illustrations of a small child standing next to a taller, female figure.

Haben: “He looked up and there was his mother. She looked down at Sam. What are you doing? She asked. I made a line all the way from my room to you, said Sam. His mother looked at the line. It’s great, she said. But next time, please come when I call you.”

Namita and Haben laugh. 

Haben continues reading Just Right. The illustrations show Nikil’s mother sitting on a red couch, her mouth open in surprise. 

Haben: “The next morning, Nikil opened the lid of his box, but very soon, his smile faded. Everything feels exactly the same and nothing is special, he said, sadly. And threw them all on the floor. Nikil, are you making a mess? Amma asked. Nikil quickly began to pick everything up, and as he did, he remembered why each of his treasures were special.” And the treasures, of course, are above the text.

Haben and Namita are across from one another, Namita in a chair, Haben on the bed. Haben has her Braille computer in her lap, Namita holds the keyboard.

Haben: Can I feel one of the books that are in Tamil braille? 

Namita: Yeah, sure!

Haben feels the cover of a picture book with an image of a little girl on the front. She is peeking out from behind a salmon-colored Sari. Her dark brown hair is in pig-tails, tied at the tops with purple bows. 

Namita: That’s My Mother’s Sari.

Haben runs her fingers over the edge of the book. Namita turns the page for her. The camera zooms in on the Tamil print and Braille. The print text isn’t angular like the English alphabet, it’s soft and sloping, like cursive.

Namita: The book celebrates the sari of India and all the ways we play with it as kids. We swing from it…

Haben and Namita laugh.

Namita: clean our noses, hide, and so on. 

Haben: This was made here? 

Namita: Yes. We took one hundred books– 

Haben’s eyes widen. 

Haben: One hundred books?! 

Namita: –to show the publisher that access was not expensive, was not ugly, and was desirable to all. 

Namita looks up.

Haben continues reading Just Right. Mylo has fallen asleep.

Haben: “He found the spiral shell, with stamps like a ladder, and the stone with the dips and bumps. He picked out the plastic spoon with the odd tip, and the rope with the flattest bead. Nikil held the new treasure in his hand. He had an idea. I will use this to make my box special. Now, I have space for everything, he said. Nikil was happy. Everything feels just right again.”

Haben feels the tactile images.

Haben: And we have curly hair, two eyes, a big smile. And that’s Nikil’s happy face on the left side of the page, above the text. 

Haben reaches over to pet Mylo, he opens his eyes to look up at her.

Haben: What did you think of that?

An image of the library’s logo appears: A drawing of a young girl using the curved inside of the letter “C” as a seat. She’s reading, a smile on her face. Under the “C” the text says, “ARM Library” and the web address.

Voice over: Learn more about the Accessible Reading Materials Library at