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What is the story of the black book of colors?

Color is a vital part of how we experience the world, yet it remains inaccessible to those who are blind or have low vision. The Black Book of Colors seeks to convey the essence of color through vivid sensory descriptions that people of all vision abilities can understand. First published in Spain in 2004 as El Libro Negro de Los Colores, this innovative book has been translated into over 20 languages and helps create a more inclusive world.

The Inspiration Behind the Black Book of Colors

The Black Book of Colors was conceived and published by the ONCE foundation in Madrid, Spain. ONCE stands for the Spanish National Organization of the Blind, and their mission is to improve autonomy and full integration for people who are blind or have low vision. In seeking to make color more tangible for children who are blind, author Menena Cottin and illustrator Rosana Faria created a book that would speak to all readers through engaging multiple senses.

Rather than simply describing colors visually, the book focuses on conveying the feel, sound, smell, and taste of each color. By connecting colors to familiar sensory experiences, the authors help readers build an understanding of colors’ essence that sighted people usually grasp just by looking at them. This innovative approach earned The Black Book of Colors international acclaim for making a complex concept accessible.

The Book’s Unique Tactile Design

The Black Book of Colors stands out through its innovative tactile design features. Printed entirely in black ink on matte black paper, each page is die-cut to reveal unique textures representing different colors. The book’s pages are also scented using smells associated with the described colors. These features allow readers to truly experience colors through multiple senses.

The textures cut into each page shape help convey colors’ distinguishing characteristics. For example, the yellow page feels warm like the sun, while the blue page evokes the sensation of running your fingers through cool water. The descriptions are printed in braille as well as visually to make them accessible to both sighted readers and readers who are blind. This inclusive approach helps children understand that we all experience the world differently.

Vivid Sensory Descriptions

While the tactile design brings colors to life, it is the vivid sensory descriptions in The Black Book of Colors that truly set it apart. The personifications and imagery used to convey each color create a rich mental picture even for readers who have never perceived color visually. For example, the book describes red like this:

“This colour is a hothead. It gets angry fast. It whistles and boils. It’s the colour of fire. Rub this page, listen to red. It crackles and pops like a burning log. Run your nails over this texture…now you’ve felt red.”

Every color comes alive through these engaging descriptions. The authors focus on familiar sensations, smells, sounds, and tastes we associate with each color. For example, white is “the color of snow, of milk, and fluffy clouds”, while green evokes “dew sprinkled grass” and tastes “like a sour apple or lime”. These multi-sensory descriptions make the essence of each color tangible.

The Colors Described in the Book

The Black Book of Colors guides readers through 11 major colors, presenting each color with a sensory description and a textured shape cut into the page. The colors included are:

Color Description Texture
Black Silent and soft like the night Fuzzy
White Snowy, milky, clouds Bumpy
Red Hot, fiery, crackling Prickly
Blue Cool, flowing, refreshing Wavy
Brown Warm, smooth, chocolatey Smooth
Pink Sweet, floral, strawberry Rough
Orange Fresh, citrusy, juicy Dotted
Yellow Warm, bright, sunny Bubbly
Green Grassy, fresh, sour Line-filled
Purple Lavender, fragrant, regal Swirly
Grey Cloudy, smooth, stony Grainy

The shapes cut into each page, coupled with the descriptive language, work together to convey a full multi-sensory impression of what defines each color.

The Lasting Impact of This Inclusive Book

The Black Book of Colors has made a profound global impact by helping children understand colors in an inclusive way. It has shown that designing for diverse perceptual abilities benefits everyone. The book has been embraced by parents, teachers, and specialists as a tool to expand children’s understanding of how we each experience the world uniquely.

Inclusive sensory books like this help foster empathy and accommodation from an early age. They remind sighted children that their experience isn’t universal, while also giving children with visual impairments a tangible understanding of visual concepts. This cultivates a generation that values accessibility and designing for diverse needs.

The Black Book of Colors has inspired initiatives like Sight and Sound Books which aim to make illustrated children’s books more accessible through tactile features. Its approach has also influenced inclusive design of mobile apps, educational tools, household objects, and more. Most importantly, it has shown that inclusion and accessibility enrich experiences for all of us.

Awards and Honors

The Black Book of Colors has received significant acclaim in many countries and prestigious awards, including:

  • Winner of the Braille Council of UK’s “Tactile Books Competition” (2007)
  • Winner of the British Book Design and Production Awards for “Most Innovative/Creative Book” (2007)
  • Selected for the White Ravens international youth library’s catalogue of remarkable books (2006)
  • Winner of the Lazarillo Award for Books to Help Children Overcome Disability (2005)
  • Selected as an outstanding resource by the Teachers of Vision Impaired Library Consortium of the U.S. and Canada
  • Gold Medal from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards (Non-Fiction Picture Book category)

It has also been featured in prominent media like the BBC, The Guardian, and New York Times for its groundbreaking inclusive design.

Translations Around the Globe

The universal appeal of this book is evidenced by the numerous languages it has been translated into. Each translation thoughtfully adapts the sensory descriptions and textures to resonate with children from diverse cultures. Some of the many translations include:

  • English – “The Black Book of Colors”
  • Spanish – “El libro negro de los colores”
  • Portuguese – “O livro preto das cores”
  • French – “Le livre noir des couleurs”
  • Turkish – “Renklerin siyah kitabi”
  • Korean – “Colors in Black”
  • Tamil – “Kaaruvarangal”
  • Chinese – “Heise de yanse”
  • Lithuanian – “Juoda spalvu knyga”

Wherever it’s published, it conveys a message of inclusion that crosses cultural boundaries. The myriad translations enable children across the globe to experience the essence of color.

Enriching Lives and Fostering Inclusion

Over nearly 20 years in print, The Black Book of Colors has enriched countless lives. For children with visual disabilities, it provides a tangible and vivid connection to the concept of color. Sighted children also discover new ways to think about color through the engaging sensory descriptions.

This book models innovative inclusive design, using sensory substitution to make visual information accessible. It exemplifies how focusing on diverse user experiences benefits everyone. The Black Book of Colors has built intercultural understanding by sharing the joy of reading with children around the world. Most importantly, it reminds us that with some creativity, people of all abilities can participate fully.


The Black Book of Colors delivers a simple yet profound message – inclusion cultivates empathy, expands understanding, and benefits us all. By detailing colors through touch, sound, smell and more, the book’s sensory descriptions make visual concepts tangible for children who are blind or have low vision. Its innovative inclusive design earned international acclaim and inspired new approaches to accessibility.

Originally published in Spain in 2004, this groundbreaking book has now been translated into over 20 languages. The Black Book of Colors has enriched millions of young lives by fostering a love of reading, nurturing empathy and accommodation, and bringing people of diverse experiences together through the universality of color. Its lasting legacy is a reminder that we must continue working to design a more inclusive world that embraces our diverse abilities.