Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

EPUB testing discussion for the SDPP-D Grant project 2018-19
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Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

Post by
Rachel_Osolen
»
Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:45 pm
In the past, we received feedback on children’s books that were more text heavy with complementary illustrations. The main focus for that feed back was how the Alt-Text fit into the narrative flow. This time around we are looking more specifically at Children’s Picture Books. We have two examples below that utilize different approaches, we also have a list of several questions for you to consider as you are going through the books. Please take the time to answer each question to the fullest. This will go a long way to helping us develop better practices around the creation of Children’s Picture Books.

Book Examples:
General Questions:
  • Does describing the image in a Children’s Picture Book enhance the reading experience or interrupt it? Why?
  • As a rule of thumb, Alt-text generally starts from big to small and often just gives a basic description of the image leaving out details. Do you think that this technique is appropriate to describing illustrations in children picture books? Should there be more detail?
  • How much detail is preferred?
  • Should the style of the illustration be described?
  • If the illustration is based of a description in the book, then should there be less description in the Alt-Text?
  • Some picture books also use creative font styles. Should these be described when appropriate?
  • Should the tone of the description match the tone of the book?
  • Should the description match the reading level of the book?
  • How aware of language should we be when writing descriptions? Should we have basic guidelines about appropriate language use and reading levels?
  • When describing a book that is culturally specific (i.e. an Indigenous Story) how accurate do we need to be when describing the different cultural aspects (clothing, objects, etc.)?
Specific questions:
  • For Go Show the World we wrote the text as normal text, and then described the images with Alt-text, dividing each section with headings that were the original page numbers. What do you think about this approach? What works? What doesn’t work? Do you have any suggestions to improve this?
  • Different children's’ books use illustrations to various degrees. For instance, some books are mainly illustration driven (what we refer to as Children’s Picture Books), while others just have illustrations to complement the text. In these cases should the guidelines be different?
An example would be The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which is a more text heavy book with illustrations throughout. Here is a link to that book https://nnels.ca/items/lion-witch-and-wardrobe
  • Do you have any specific recommendations for how we can improve?
As Always,

Rachel
Rachel_Osolen
Posts: 36
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Re: Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

Post by
Karoline
»
Wed Dec 12, 2018 6:41 am
I have been looking for a book called Where we should go. Can't find it. Am I missing something? I love the 2 books linked.
Children’s book questions

• Does describing the image in a Children’s Picture Book enhance the reading experience or interrupt it? Why?
It definitely enhances the experience. As a blind listener, the picture descriptions bring it to life for me. I could almost see the little girls laying in the leaves. List end
list of 1 items
• As a rule of thumb, Alt-text generally starts from big to small and often just gives a basic description of the image leaving out details. Do you think
that this technique is appropriate to describing illustrations in children picture books? Should there be more detail?
list end
As I am a detail person, I love more information. Describing the place and colours makes you feel more involved in the story making for a richer experience.
list of 1 items
• How much detail is preferred?
list end
As much as possible.
list of 1 items
• Should the style of the illustration be described?
list end
Yes. I will say that if the book is for very young children, it may just be over the top. A book such as When we were alone, would be a fine example of a book that could get the style described.
list of 1 items
• If the illustration is based of a description in the book, then should there be less description in the Alt-Text?
list end
Yes. You don’t want to repeat the information unless it would add to the story.
list of 1 items
• Some picture books also use creative font styles. Should these be described when appropriate?
list end
Yes. If they are being used, a visual reader would see this. A blind reader should have as much information as a sited reader.
list of 1 items
• Should the tone of the description match the tone of the book?
list end
Yes, where possible.
list of 1 items
• Should the description match the reading level of the book?
list end
Yes. You want to make sure the reader can understand the language and intent.
list of 1 items
• How aware of language should we be when writing descriptions? Should we have basic guidelines about appropriate language use and reading levels?
list end
Yes.
list of 1 items
• When describing a book that is culturally specific (i.e. an Indigenous Story) how accurate do we need to be when describing the different cultural aspects
(clothing, objects, etc.)?
list
Since the purpose of these books it to educate, more details would be necessary. This also would promote cultural understanding. End

Specific questions:
list of 1 items
• For Where We Should Go we wrote the text as normal text, and then described the images with Alt-text, dividing each section with headings that were the
original page numbers. What do you think about this approach? What works? What doesn’t work? Do you have any suggestions to improve this?

I like the sound of this. I could not find that book. You did the same with Go Show the world. It sounds just fine! I actually like it.

list end
list of 1 items
• Different children's’ books use illustrations to various degrees. For instance, some books are mainly illustration driven (what we refer to as Children’s
Picture Books), while others just have illustrations to complement the text. In these cases should the guidelines be different?
list end
An example would be The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which is a more text heavy book with illustrations throughout. Here is a link to that book
https://nnels.ca/items/lion-witch-and-wardrobe
list of 1 items

A good way to do this is to use the book as your guide. If the book is picture heavy, then you want to describe more.
• Do you have any specific recommendations for how we can improve?

One thing I did notice is that when pictures in When We Were Alone, the reader used opinionated words such as beautiful. Perhaps just the description of the photo? I did not mind it, but I wonder if leaving the reader to figure this out may be better.
Hope this helps!
Karoline
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Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 9:31 am
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Re: Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

Post by
Rachel_Osolen
»
Wed Dec 19, 2018 12:13 pm
Thank you so much Karoline for your responses!

As for the title Where we should go, that was a typo on my part. The question is for Go Show the World. I edited the original post to fix this. Sorry about the confusion.
As Always,

Rachel
Rachel_Osolen
Posts: 36
Joined: Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:15 pm
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Re: Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

Post by
Danny
»
Thu Jan 03, 2019 10:55 am
Here are my
Recommendations for the creation of Children's Picture Books

*General Questions:

1. Does describing the image in a Children's Picture Book enhance the reading experience or interrupt it? Why?

If done correctly, picture descriptions are always welcome. Picture books rely so heavily on illustrations that they are nearly incomprehensible without them. Even in text-rich books, however, a picture often adds an anecdotal element that is missed in the text, so having it described can add a lot to the experience.

2. As a rule of thumb, Alt-text generally starts from big to small and often just gives a basic description of the image leaving out details. Do you think that this technique is appropriate to describing illustrations in children's picture books? Should there be more detail?

I often marvel at how well movies are described. Audio descriptions must fit into blank spaces in the narrative or scene, so there is often very little time to articulate what's going on. In busy scenes where space is a premium, descriptions of who is doing what must suffice. Beforehand, however, when very little is going on, the narrator might have time to describe how a person is dressed, or what the weather is like. But above all, the writers of movie descriptions must be acutely aware of what is crucial to understanding the current scene - and the movie at large.

Just as in a movie, description should exercise brevity so the text is not unduly interrupted. Much discussion has taken place to try to establish a sensible limit to a string of Alt text, keeping in mind that it may not be able to be reviewed word-by-word due to limitations of the playback device. I do wonder if setting a limit for Alt text could help to insure that descriptions are clear and concise, conveying necessary information without breaking up the narrative too heavily.

As a blind reader, I care very little whether the main character has brown or black hair, or what color the tractor is. An important consideration when describing a children's book, however, is the audience. Blind parents of sighted children are often confronted with a question of "Hey, what's that blue thing?" Unless the description specifically says the tractor is blue, we're completely in the dark. So, wherever possible, visual elements of this nature can be extremely helpful.

3. How much detail is preferred?

A single-sentence picture description can make the difference between understanding a book and missing its point entirely. Bring that description up to three or four sentences, and enjoyment of the book increases dramatically. Perhaps a good rule of thumb might be: the description could take as long to read as a sighted child might spend looking at it.

4. Should the style of the illustration be described?

Not usually. Unless the book is teaching different art concepts (and the blind parent will need a lot of help), I truly don't care whether it's a watercolor or a pencil drawing. What I need to know is what it shows, so I can point out items of interest to the child. For blind kids, all they usually want to know is what's going on, so they can understand what the text left out and move on.

5. If the illustration is based on a description in the book, then should there be less description in the Alt-Text?

Definitely! We never want to repeat text. But there are always elements in an illustration that are not included in the narrative. Here might be a great place to include more descriptions of the kids, their school, the weather ... anything a child who reads the book over and over might want to know.

6. Some picture books also use creative font styles. Should these be described when appropriate?

I really don't think so. Remember, there is only one font in Braille - and only one size at that. I suspect the concept of different fonts is going to be completely lost on most kindergartners - and doubt they would care anyway. The only exception here would be blind parents who may be reading the book with their sighted child - so a brief mention of a special font at the beginning of the book could be helpful.

7. Should the tone of the description match the tone of the book?

Undoubtedly. Pictures are designed to make a book more approachable to readers, so the descriptions of those pictures should be equally inviting.

8. Should the description match the reading level of the book?

Yes. For any parent reading the book to their child, the less they have to paraphrase or try to describe the picture the better. And for blind children starting to read on their own, they don't want to reach a description of a cute picture and be unable to read or understand it.

9. How aware of language should we be when writing descriptions? Should we have basic guidelines about appropriate language use and reading levels?

I think that's a great idea. That way anyone who is writing descriptions can take care to use words the child should know in the descriptions they write.

10. When describing a book that is culturally specific (i.e. an Indigenous Story) how accurate do we need to be when describing the different cultural aspects (clothing, objects, etc.)?

Sighted kids learn a lot about how other people groups dress by observing others, often times in books. Since these details are often only conveyed in illustrations, much of this educational aspect is lost without a text description. We wouldn't want to break up the text with a detailed list, but touching on elements that differ from how the child may dress herself could be extremely beneficial.

So, I don't think we need to go overboard describing every minute detail, but I think we want to maintain a degree of accuracy in a clear, concise description. If the child doesn't know what a Totem pole is they can always ask, but knowing how tall it is and what it depicts would be fantastic. We don't have to answer all the questions, but we want to be accurate with what we do convey.


*Specific questions:

1. For Where We Should Go we wrote the text as normal text, and then described the images with Alt-text, dividing each section with headings that were the original page numbers. What do you think about this approach? What works? What doesn't work? Do you have any suggestions to improve this?

I assume this question refers to "Go Show the World". And this is a fantastic approach.

The attention to detail in these picture descriptions is amazing. I really get a great picture of what is going on in these images. The tremendous care that has gone into this title is evident and its producers should be highly praised. I am honored to have had the chance to review such a well-designed title.

There are places where the descriptions are a tad wordy. For instance, instead of taking three sentences to describe the lake on the cover page, it might be sufficient to say "Underneath lies a blue lake, bordered by green trees and rocks." But this is tremendously minor and only a very small suggestion. I am blown away by the exquisite descriptions here.

2. should the guidelines be different for books that use illustrations to various degrees.

Generally, the less text there is, the more important the illustrations become. In "When We Were Alone" for example, the picture descriptions are fantastic, but not necessary to comprehend the meaning of the title. They add a whole new dynamic to picturing the characters and their surroundings, but the book could stand on its own and be understood without them. This is not true for all books. Those that rely on pictures to convey a meaning are virtually nonsensical without picture descriptions. Again, the descriptions don't have to be long - a sentence or two will suffice - but their inclusion can make the difference between a favorite book and a wasted read.

Many children's books have no need of picture descriptions at all. In the case of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" for example, I believe picture descriptions could only interrupt a narrative that stands perfectly-well on its own. That's why including descriptions in Alt text is such a tremendous idea. Readers can then decide whether or not they would like to hear the descriptions of pictures.

3. Do you have any specific recommendations for how we can improve?

The narrator of "When We Were Alone" has done a superb job of describing the images as she reads through the book. However, the edition would definitely present as more professional and streamlined if the descriptions were typed out beforehand, so she could read them instead of having to make them up off the cuff. It's great as it is, but that would definitely make it better. I really admire her ability to describe pictures that well on the fly, though.
Danny
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Re: Alt-Text for Children's Picture Books

Post by
ka.li
»
Mon Jan 07, 2019 7:52 pm
Hi Rachel,
Here are my thoughts.
General Questions:
• Does describing the image in a Children’s Picture Book enhance the reading experience or interrupt it? Why?
I believe that providing descriptions will enhance the experience since picture books can contain information that may not be written in the text and I think most kids desire to get the same information perhaps not in the same way but in another form that's more meaningful. Also, it does not leave kids out if teachers discuss the illustrations in class.

• As a rule of thumb, Alt-text generally starts from big to small and often just gives a basic description of the image leaving out details. Do you think that this technique is appropriate to describing illustrations in children picture books? Should there be more detail?
I think the technique of going from big to small works well. although, I know some readers enjoy and find it easier learning about the major items of importance in a photo and then expanding into more detail.

• How much detail is preferred?
Describing things that are relevant to the story efficiently is vital so describing decorative aspects such as borders may not be necessary. It doesn't have to be as concise as a movie description like an audio descriptive track because you don't have to worry about timing but a good length would be 3 to 4 sentences.

• Should the style of the illustration be described?
I think it should only be described if the style of the drawing is referred to in the text or helps to convey the tone of the book. For example, cartoon images or images that look like they are made of construction paper along with the context conveys to me a whimsical silly tone. Alternatively, you can mention the style of the drawing at the beginning of the book.

• If the illustration is based of a description in the book, then should there be less description in the Alt-Text?
Yes. If the same information is in the text, then It doesn't need to be repeated.

• Some picture books also use creative font styles. Should these be described when appropriate?
I don't think they need to be described if they are decorative. The exception to this would be if the different fonts convey emphasis or some other meaning. In that case, the font changes could be conveyed with bold/underline since that can be read in braille.

• Should the tone of the description match the tone of the book?
Yes. an inconsistent tone may take the reader out of the experience and they might want to skip the picture description altogether.

• Should the description match the reading level of the book?
Yes. It may be a frustrating experience if the child doesn't understand the words. I liked how in When We Were Alone, the reader used very specific adjectives to explain the pictures but after a pause, clarified the adjective with easy words. E.g. Bobby Socks, socks that come up to just above the ankle.

• How aware of language should we be when writing descriptions? Should we have basic guidelines about appropriate language use and reading levels?
That would be a great idea.

• When describing a book that is culturally specific (i.e. an Indigenous Story) how accurate do we need to be when describing the different cultural aspects (clothing, objects, etc.)?
Specific questions:
I think it's really important to provide more details since that's how blind children would primarily learn about the culture.

• For Go Show the World we wrote the text as normal text, and then described the images with Alt-text, dividing each section with headings that were the original page numbers. What do you think about this approach? What works? What doesn’t work? Do you have any suggestions to improve this?
I liked this approach an thought it worked very well. Although, since the descriptions felt like they were created on the fly, it made the flow feel slightly stilted.

• Different children's books use illustrations to various degrees. For instance, some books are mainly illustration driven (what we refer to as Children’s Picture Books), while others just have illustrations to complement the text. In these cases should the guidelines be different?
I agree with others that more picture heavy books may require more description. although, length might be an issue. As I understand it, reading picture books tend to be a quick almost non-interupted flow of information. While the experience of descriptions will be different, I think we can replicate a similar flow by providing concise but detailed descriptions with the important information being presented right away followed by additional details. It may be an interesting experienment to provide a description split into two sub-sections, essential info followed by extra details and depending on the child, they could decide how much description they would like.

• Do you have any specific recommendations for how we can improve?
Since there aren't many standards regarding text descriptions, it's important to experiment with different forms including ideas that some might find crazy. There is also an excellent book called More than Meets the Eye by Georgina Kleege that has some excellent ideas on providing text descriptions especially in Chapter 7 regarding audio description.
ka.li
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