Talking Book Construction...
Recording talking books with Frederico
Recording plant remedy recipes with Frederico Sanchez, one of the most knowledgeable Asháninka from Paititi, Peru. This talking book speaks the recipes back to the young people of this village in their native language as they leaf through the pages, looking at images of the plants described. The interactive nature of these solar-powered talking books helps to stimulate the children’s interest in medicinal plants while preserving native language and medicinal plant knowledge. The books are especially helpful in communities such as this with many non-literate members.
Talking books in school
Indigenous Asháninka in Paititi, eastern Peru, examining the talking books made for their village that describe how to prepare and use their medicinal plants.
Talking books and kids
The author describing how to use the talking books to the children of Paititi, Peru, in their school. Indigenous children are the most in danger of losing the traditional medicinal plant knowledge that ethnobotanists try to preserve. Because of their fun, toy-like nature, the talking book is a great way to grab children’s interest, while it is teaching them and helping to preserve this knowledge.
Talking book demo movie
A short demo movie (517 KB, 35 sec) of the Talking book in action. Click here for a higher resolution version (9.5 MB, 320x240):
Talking book cover
The cover of the talking book, made from a talking photo album from Sharper Image (or here or here) and a solar panel from Insten to recharge its batteries.
Talking book use
There is a 12-second messages associated with each of the 36 photos in the talking book. This message can be played by simply pressing the button next to each photo.
Talking book charging
Talking book in a sealable clear plastic container, charging in the sun.
Back panel of talking photo album
The back panel of the talking photo album where 8 screws must be removed around the edge of the panel to access the electronics compartment underneath. Each screw is hidden under a little black plastic mushroom-shaped tab that can be popped out with a knife blade.
Talking book electronics
Open electronics compartment of talking book showing small main book electronics (blue on lower left) and battery compartment (light green in the center) where the wires from the solar panel mounted on the back of the book must be connected.
Solar battery recharger
The Insten solar battery charger with a small amorphous silicon solar panel, made to normally hold 4 AAA rechargeable batteries. The batteries will be taken out in this case and wires will be connected directly to the leads to charge the batteries in the talking book. Two of the rechargeable batteries in the solar panel should be placed in the battery compartment in the talking photo album instead of the non-rechargeable batteries that come with the talking book, as the latter cannot be recharged!
Inside of solar recharger
The open back panel of the solar battery recharger showing the metal spring leads to which 2 wires must be connected.
Solar panel with leads inside
The open back panel of the solar battery recharger with an 8 inch black wire connected to the top left spring lead (negative, grey arrow) and an 8 inch green wire connected to the bottom left spring lead (positive, green arrow). These wire leads should be soldered to the spring leads for durability.
Solar panel with leads outside
A 1/4 inch hole is drilled in the battery compartment cover of the solar battery charger and the wires are passed through this hole.
Leads of solar panel inside book
A similar 1/4 inch hole is drilled in the back of the talking photo album, in the same place where there is already a 1/2 inch hole in the black plastic. The two wire leads from the solar recharger are then passed through this hole so they can be connected to the battery compartment of the book. The solar recharger is then glued to the back of the talking photo album with super glue.
Talking book battery leads
Battery compartment showing wires passing through back cover from the solar panel affixed to the book and the connections to the talking book’s battery compartment, with positive wire (green wire on upper right, green arrow) connected to positive battery lead where the red wire and the bump on the battery connects, and negative wire (black wire on lower right, grey arrow) connected to negative battery lead, where the black wire from the book electronics and the flat part of the battery connect. These should be soldered for durability.
Back panel of talking photo album copy
Test to make sure the talking photo album still works and all the leads are secure. It can take several hours in direct sun for the batteries to recharge, often a whole day if it is cloudy. The electronics compartment of the talking photo album is then screwed back together with the 8 screws, and the black plastic tabs replaced. Once all the recordings have been done, it would be best to disable the 'record' and 'reset' buttons on the lower right by gluing them with super glue or removing the buttons inside the electronics compartment, so that the recordings will not be erased.
Talking book with recessed solar panel
Solar panel recessed inside electronics compartment, a more durable construction. For this design, the solar recharger should be totally dismantled, saving only the top plastic frame, solar panel, and electronics. A rectangular hole that fits the solar panel must then be cut in the back of the talking photo album, and the solar panel super-glued or epoxied into this hole. The wire connections are the same as in the previous design.
Ethnobotany program of Biology/Plant Sciences
This page serves as a supplement on the construction of talking books to the article “Talking Books: A New Method of Returning Ethnobiological Research Documentation to the Non-literate”, from Economic Botany 60(1)
Ethnobotanists and anthropologists usually want to give back training tools or documentation of their results to communities with which they work to help preserve the communities' knowledge, as a part of a social contract, and ethical guidelines, but this can often be quite difficult with largely non-literate groups. There have been attempts to use pictures and diagrams to convey this information back to the community members, and they work well, but only up to a point. With just pictures, it is difficult to represent complex and abstract ideas like names, emotions, and relationships. Using a combination of off-the-shelf products, I have constructed what I call "Talking Books"– water-resistant, solar-rechargeable picture books that explain the concepts of each picture with short audio clips in the users' native language and voices that are played when a button next to each picture is pressed. These books are effective tools for retaining and returning traditional knowledge to remote, non-literate communities lacking electricity, and stimulating renewed interest in their own traditional knowledge.
These pages give detailed instructions on construction and use of the Talking Books. Click on any image for a larger view. Contact me for more information at
If you would like to support the Ashaninka and Shipibo in Paititi, please look at the crafts that they have available here and contact me if you are interested in purchasing any of them.