"Monks came, of course, with their prayers and prayer wheels, for they thought in this way to help Hwei Ming to see. Magician-priests came, of course, with their incantations and spells, for they thought in this way to help Hweibut none can find a cure.
Ming to see. Physicians came, of course, with their potions and pins, for
they thought in this way to help Hwei Ming to see..."
When the old man finally arrives, clothes tattered and dirty from his travels, he is turned away by the city guards. But through cleverness and creativity the old man is brought before the emperor, and there he is able to show the princess a new way of seeing (no spoiler here!). Hwei Ming then becomes a teacher to other blind children of Peking. Only on the last page does the reader discover that the old man was blind as well.
My first concern as a teacher is to ask, "Does this book's treatment of blindness minimalize or stereotype that condition?"
In researching that question, I came across an excellent article in the Future Reflections, a publication of the National Federation for the Blind. In the The Lack of Insight in Children’s Literature Regarding Blindness by Merry‑Noel Chamberlain, the author takes to task many authors' rather contrived treatments of the topic of blindness. Their books, she argues, fall prey to nine stereotypes. But in speaking of The Seeing Stick, Chamberlain says:
Like Knots on a Counting Rope, this folk tale is successful in avoiding the nine stereotypes about blindness... While there were earlier ‘hints’ that the man was blind, that fact was not truly revealed until the end of the book. Thus, the young readers, who may not know much about blindness, would probably think of this character as simply an ‘individual’ and not a ‘blind person.’ The author showed that a blind individual is quite capable of traveling without a sighted escort, and she did this without suggesting that he had miraculous powers. By the same token, The Seeing Stick did not portray blindness “as total tragedy.” The book did show the grieving of Hwei Ming’s father, but this was later turned around when Hwei Ming learned some alternatives. There might have been a touch of Dr. Jernigan’s themes of “Blindness as a perfect virtue” and “Blindness as purification” in the characterization of the princess. She seemed to be disconnected with the world around her or somewhat shy. Apart from this, however, the book educated its readers about blindness in an accurate and dignified manner.