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McConnellsburg girl reads 5,209 pages -- in Braille

June 24, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. -- Anna Catherine Walker likes a good tale, whether she's reading it or telling it.

"Here's a story that really happened," Anna says, settling into an oversized rocking chair and prefacing her account of losing a shoe in a stream.

Here's another one that really happened: In a two-month period, the 7-year-old read 5,209 pages. In Braille.

The feat earned the girl recognition in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as well as a trip to Dallas through the Braille Readers are Leaders contest. Anna easily won the kindergarten and first-grade category by a few thousand pages.

Anna, daughter of Steve and Carlton Walker, learned to read Braille at the same time as Amy Conner, her teacher for visually impaired services at McConnellsburg Elementary School.

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Steve Walker said his wife spends many, many evenings converting books into Braille for Anna, who loves animals, make-believe, princesses and butterflies.

"Her mom has learned Braille and has a special Brailler," Steve Walker said. The family places contact paper with Braille over books they own and makes separate sheets for the many books Anna borrows from the library next door to their house, he said.

The child had no vision problems when tested at 6 months old. Yet, malnourishment resulting from digestive issues wiped out her central vision within a year, according to her father.

"We don't think it'll get any worse because the underlying condition has been corrected," Steve Walker said.

Anna, who retained her peripheral vision, explained that she likes pictures in books just like most children, but she cannot focus on text.

For Father's Day, Anna presented her dad with a copy of "The Little House," a book he enjoyed in childhood and still remembers. His wife's conversion of the story to Braille will allow father and daughter to read it together.

For now, Anna's favorite book remains "The Big Red Barn" by Margaret Wise Brown.

"It's just about a fake barnyard and what the animals do," Anna said.

Anna sounds out tricky words when reading that story aloud. Steve Walker explained that Class 1 Braille uses each letter of the alphabet, while Class 2 Braille assigns cells to common words or sets of letters for reading based on context.

State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Fulton, guided the Walkers during last week's visit to the state capitol, where Anna was honored by both legislators and the National Federation of the Blind.

"For a blind person, listening to books on tape isn't literacy," Steve Walker said.

"If you don't read, you won't get a job," Anna said, adding that then a house and family won't happen, either.

Anna aspires to be a Braille teacher, the president of the United States, a veterinarian, a "science girl," a "jazz girl," a ballerina, a nurse, a doctor and a dance teacher, in that order. She didn't think long when asked why she'd make a good president.

"I'm a nice girl," she said.

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