Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interview with _Until I'm Safe_ author Jane Grace

Until I'm Safe by Jane Grace
Print Length: 234 pages
ISBN: 1680460862
Publisher: Fire and Ice Young Adult Books; First edition (May 7, 2015)

Book Description:
Does she stay and possibly get shot by her crazed father or run into the storm of the century, Hurricane Katrina?

Marguerite Aucoin has no choice but to run! Like the fiction heroine she writes about, a teen named Toots Gentry, Marguerite must be brave, despite the fact she’s lost both hearing aids and is virtually deaf.

Amand rescues Marguerite from the swirling bayou waters. At his home, she awakes but doesn’t speak, writing her name, Toots Gentry. With time, he learns her secrets, and discovers someone’s trying to kill her. But’s he’s fallen in love with Marguerite and is determined to protect her.

Fence near Hurricane Katrina Memorial
I purchased Until I’m Safe last month and was pretty excited about it for a few reasons. For starters, the main character 17-years-old Marguerite is an African-American deaf character. Aside from Jacqueline Woodson’s secondary character Sean in Feathers (2007) and Kief Hillsbery's Radboy in War Boy (2000), I haven’t found any more African-American characters that are deaf in adolescent literature. And, Marguerite is the first female African-American deaf character that I’ve ever found in adolescent literature!

Hurricane Katrina Memorial
Another reason I was excited about this book is that I visited New Orleans in April and then again in June this year. Both times I visited the Hurricane Katrina Memorial. The memorial is located in a cemetery that was originally opened by Charity hospital in 1848 and was known as Potter’s Field since it was historically used for the poor, unclaimed bodies and those suffering from various epidemics (e.g. yellow fever). These individuals were brought to Charity to be buried in unmarked graves and at times of great illness that overtook the city, the individuals were buried in mass graves. Estimates vary about how many are actually buried here. The range includes between 100,000 and 150,000 souls. This is also one of the few New Orleans cemeteries where all are buried underground, as opposed to above ground mausoleums. Four years after the hurricane, the Katrina Memorial was built on the site of this hospital. With this addition, Charity Hospital now includes several tombs, which hold the remains of those individuals who were not identified from the hurricane in 2005. Having this experience really added to my reading of the novel.

Hurricane Katrina Memorial, New Orleans
In Until I'm Safe, Marguerite is an oral deaf character who uses hearing aids. She uses lip-reading to communicate and explains, “Mama and Daddy never believed in me learning sign language” (p. 149). The story begins at the beginning of Hurricane Katrina and Marguerite’s seventeenth birthday. After a serious family situation which I won’t go into detail about because I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, her sister Desia encourages/demands that Marguerite leave the house to seek help from their uncle.

Along the way, Marguerite loses her hearing aids and meets a lab she names Patronus (Marguerite takes Latin in school and knows that this means *protector*). Just when Marguerite thinks she has reached help she realizes that her uncle, like most others from the neighborhood, has evacuated New Orleans. She continues on her journey when even more disaster happens. Two kind souls rescue her but because she is scared and uncertain whom to trust, she gives the name Toots Gentry, a fictional character from the stories she writes and publishes in Teen Ink Magazine. She also says that she’s deaf instead of hard of hearing and pretends that she’s unable to speak or follow what the family is saying. Because of this, many of the characters communicate with Marguerite through writing.

The story is full of surprises and adventures. It also includes a bit of voodoo which adds an interesting plot point to the story. There is also a love story that doesn’t get too racy but as always if you’re recommending this book be sure to read it first.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview YA author Jane Grace. In the picture you can see her with her own dog named Summer. I completely forgot to follow-up and ask questions about Patronus but it seems Ms. Grace is a fan of pups!
Summer & author Jane Grace

**********Read below for my interview with Jane Grace**********

SP: What inspired you to include a Hard-of-Hearing character like Marguerite in your novel?
JG: Those of us who watched the drama of Katrina unfold on TV saw the looting and rescue, mayhem and miracles. But I wanted a heroine that walked just outside that line of Katrina, near but not in the immediate situation. Therefore she flees the New Orleans area, headed for safety. However it's not enough to put your heroine in danger; she must have other odds to overcome, fears to face on a personal level. As a teacher, my junior high students often included deaf or hard of hearing students. I have no idea just when the thought came to me that my heroine Marguerite should be such a young woman. But once the idea was born, the whole novel plot fell into place. 

SP: What research did you do to make the character believable?
JG:  I read about those with hearing impairments and recalled the accommodations we did for my students. My editor has a hard of hearing daughter and she advised me on a few points…To be honest, at any point where I wasn't certain how my character should act, I recalled one of my deaf students who had an interpreter and one of my hard of hearing students who often waited too long to get new batteries in her aids so we endured a class of squeaks and mechanic sounds until she did. As for making a seventeen year old girl believable, I not only worked with 13--15 year olds but my students in high school next door often visited. So developing the personality of a 17 year old came a little easier than it might for someone else. 

SP: What research did you do in connection with Hurricane Katrina?
JG: Here I had to do a lot of research to make my time line correct. I studied weather events and wind as well as sea levels. I contacted a reporter who worked in Morgan City during Katrina and got her first hand insight into conditions there. Any mis-directions or mis-information in the story related to Katrina or the Morgan City community are entirely mine. I live 100 miles inland from Galveston Island in Texas where Hurricane Ike entered in 2008. I've lived in the path of hurricanes all my life. 

SP: What do you hope that readers will take away or learn from Until I’m Safe?
JG: First of all, that a person is often stronger than he or she thinks, disabled or not. Being brave often involves nothing more than creativity and patience. Second, safety is where you find it, not where you think it might be. Once you feel safe, your heart will let you know. I want readers to see how those of varied ages and backgrounds can grow into a family, even if there's no blood connection. And last, love means fighting on another day or ending your days in a sacrifice willingly given. Love keeps a person safe. 

SP: What advice do you have for young readers?
JG: If you enjoy reading, keep doing it! The more you read the better you become. If you love to write stories, even little short ones, then keep doing that. The more you write, the better you become. If you enjoy doing something positive and creative then continue, for some day you may share your passion with others. 

SP:  Anything you'd like to add?
JG: Writing this story became a labor of love. I still smile at all the right spots and cry at those that touch my heart. I can only hope the reader enjoys the story as much and comes away mindful of those who can't hear, how they must adapt to a world that hears. In other words, it takes all of us to make the world go around. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Review of Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom by Sheena McFeely

Last September, Manny Johnson, one of the creators of, contacted me because co-founder and wife Sheena McFeely had determined to write a picture book loosely based on their two daughters. At that point, they were working with an illustrator so the book wasn’t yet ready to review.

The book came out in May 2015 and after seeing the interview on DeafNation, I went ahead and posted a quick blurb about Shay& Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom (2015) by Sheena McFeely (Author), Casie Trace (Illustrator).

Shay& Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom  (May 15, 2015) by Sheena McFeely (Author), Casie Trace (Illustrator)
Hardcover: 28 pages
Publisher: The Mansfield Press (May 15, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0996278508
ISBN-13: 978-0996278508

I was fortunate enough to read this book today and let me tell you, they had me even before the first page!

Mirror, Mirror
On the Wall.
You are beautiful.

Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom shares the story of two young girls who are playing dress up and make believe with their friends. When Shay figuratively steps out of the box of princess land, her friends don’t see her behavior as very princess-like. Shay doesn’t understand why she must be confined to imaginary balls and royal gowns when her imagination has the power to make her a brave warrior! But then, how will she ever fit in if she no longer wants to be a princess?

Mom to the rescue! Realizing that her daughters can be more, she must show them that they too can be scientists, artists, chefs, and even president! What in the world will Dad discover when he arrives home from his business trip with special gifts for the girls?!?

I love so many aspects of this book. First because of the nature of this blog, I should point out that readers should presume that all of the characters are Deaf. Some signs are used within the story but I enjoy how it is incorporated into the artwork instead of being an add-on. Of course, this isn’t a story about being a Deaf family with Deaf daughters; it’s a story about daughters and how they experience life.

I really appreciated how Sheena McFeely let the story unfold. It isn’t overly complicated just to be complicated. She added her own layer of complexity by allowing the characters’ concerns to be revealed. Shay really wants to be one way; Ivy wants to be another. The parents in the story embrace this. McFeely also added aspects that many young girls experience—the stress of having friends over; the stress of feeling different; and, even the stress of having one parent be away on a trip. She also added the close family connection—story time with Mom; the bond of sisters; and a Dad who is completely willing to take part in make-believe.

I’m not an artist so I will try my best to discuss the art even when I don’t quite know the technical terms. I enjoyed that it had depth. The artist Casie Trace added details to make the pictures feel detailed and rich. For example, on page 8 the colors she uses are bright but there is the subtle addition of a black sweater over Shay’s blue dress that is juxtaposed against the bright princess pinks and purples. On page 9, the artist adds images within the mirror that demonstrates her respect for this piece.

The story has the flare of Purplicious by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann except thankfully there weren’t any mean girls saying, "Pink is putrid!"; and, it also reminds me a bit of one of my favorite books, The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

It’s a great read and I look forward to future adventures of these sisters. Be sure to read my previous post where you can see an interview of the author including a link to the DeafNation interview (which includes captions for those not fluent in American Sign Language). 

To learn more about future publications, visit:

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

New Picture Book: Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom (May 2015)

Shay& Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom (May 15, 2015) by Sheena McFeely (Author), Casie Trace (Illustrator)

Hardcover: 28 pages
Publisher: The Mansfield Press (May 15, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0996278508
ISBN-13: 978-0996278508

This was part of a Kickstarter project.  
The book includes a Deaf family. 

Book Description:

The first book is about Shay & Ivy and their friends, at an imaginary ball in their bedroom, dreaming of being princesses. They all dreamt of riding horses, owning closets full of gowns, and dancing in royal castles. All girls, but Shay felt out of place. How was she to royally fit in if she did not want to be a princess anymore?

Determined as ever, Shay was going to find the answer. Shay & Ivy soon find out that their dreams go beyond a kingdom. The sisters began to visualize themselves as fearless pilots riding planes, scientists owning labs to perform experiments, and astronauts dancing among the stars.

From Amazon From the Author
What inspired the author to write this book?
  • Many things inspired me to write this book such as raising my two girls, seeing tons of princess-related items in the girls' aisles at toy stores, and meeting Wh [sic] so many exceptional women. I felt it was time to bid farewell to the kingdom we live in and explore beyond the kingdom. 
What do the author hope that children will learn from this book?
  • Media and literature are powerful influencers so, it is critical to expose to our children to stories that are underrepresented. This book has a strong theme underlying of remaining true to yourself regardless of what the society or majority thinks. It is okay to not follow the crowd and walk alone. It's tough to do that, but when you do that...the rewards are ten times more rewarding.  As a Deaf person and an innovator, I've been through the road many times. Be bold, be who you are.
How did the author come up with the title Shay & Ivy Beyond the Kingdom?
  • Shay & Ivy are names of my two girls. Beyond the Kingdom is a metaphor that means many things to different people. Beyond the Kingdom is a barrier - something, be a situation or person or challenge, that's restricting us. We must find within ourselves the strength to go past that very kingdom. It also means another thing to me...Being a princess is almost every girl's dream, BUT we cannot forget our pilots, astronauts, scientists, and police who are women. Where are they in films? books? stores? The title Beyond the Kingdom gives the place for girls to explore past the kingdom to see what's out there. 
Why did the author pick those particular occupations in the book?
  • When I had my first daughter, I set up an event called "The Pearls" to honor Deaf women across America. Since the establishment of The Pearls, 42 Deaf women have been awarded as Pearls - in 2011 and 2014. They are movers and shakers in their fields. Be it an artist, politician, writer, business owner, founder/president, and athlete. Each one hold a pearl within themselves - layered, dignified, and strong. So, when I began to write Shay & Ivy Beyond the Kingdom, some of the Pearls came to mind. Moreover, I've also checked online to see which jobs that women are not large in number.  With these two in mind, that's how I came to selecting those particular occupations and putting them into this very book. 
About the Author
Sheena McFeely was born in Hong Kong to an Irish father and a Hong Kongese mother. Shortly after her parents' discovery of Sheena being Deaf, America called their names. Being the first in her family to go to college, Sheena graduated from CSUN with a BA in Visual Communications and will be receiving her MA in Sign Language Education this year.

Sheena is known for founding ASL Nook, an online hub of ASL teaching webisodes, that has received acclaims from families and schools everywhere. If not for ASL Nook, her first children's book "Shay & Ivy Beyond the Kingdom" would have never happened.
Click to play video from DeafNation