Thursday, October 09, 2014

New Publication (Cross-Over): Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman's Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption

Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman's Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption  by Gail Harris and Brandi Rarus with a foreword by Marlee Matlin
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: BenBella Books (October 7, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1940363225

Book Description
At just a few months old, Zoe was gradually losing her hearing. Her adoptive parents loved her—yet agonized—feeling they couldn’t handle raising a Deaf child. Would Zoe go back into the welfare system and spend her childhood hoping to find parents willing to adopt her? Or, would she be the long-sought answer to a mother’s prayers?
Brandi Rarus was just 6 when spinal meningitis took away her hearing. Because she spoke well and easily adjusted to lip reading, she was mainstreamed in school and socialized primarily in the hearing community. Brandi was a popular, happy teen, but being fully part of every conversation was an ongoing struggle. She felt caught between two worlds—the Deaf and the hearing.
In college, Brandi embraced Deaf Culture along with the joys of complete and effortless communication with her peers. Brandi went on to become Miss Deaf America in 1988 and served as a spokesperson for her community. It was during her tenure as Miss Deaf America that Brandi met Tim, a leader of the Gallaudet Uprising in support of selecting the university’s first Deaf president. The two went on to marry and had three hearing boys—the first non-deaf children born in Tim’s family in 125 years.
Brandi was incredibly grateful to have her three wonderful sons, but couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. She didn’t know that Zoe, a six-month-old Deaf baby girl caught in the foster care system, was desperately in need of a family unafraid of her different needs. Brandi found the answer to her prayers when fate brought her new adopted daughter into her life.
Set against the backdrop of Deaf America, Finding Zoe is an uplifting story of hope, adoption, and everyday miracles.

About the Author
Deaf since age six after contracting spinal meningitis, Brandi Rarus could speak and read lips, but felt caught between the deaf and hearing world--fitting into neither. When she realized you don't need to hear to live a fulfilled life, she became empowered and was chosen as Miss Deaf America. From signing the National Anthem at a Chicago Cubs game to speaking at corporate conferences, Brandi traveled the country speaking out for deaf children and building awareness of what it means to be Deaf. She married Tim Rarus, an advocate for Deaf people whose work inspired the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Together, they have paved the way to bring new technologies that promote equal access in communication. Brandi and Tim live in Austin, Texas, with their four children: three hearing boys and the youngest, Zoe, a Deaf girl they adopted. Today, Brandi and her family are tirelessly dedicated to ensuring all children find their rightful place in our world. Award-winning writer and teacher of the intuitive process, Gail Harris has experienced the joy of adopting a child. She brings her knowledge of the adoption process and in-vitro fertilization to this book, along with her ability to articulate from a hearing person's perspective what is fascinating about the Deaf experience. In the four years that it took to write Finding Zoe, Gail conducted more than 75 interviews to uncover. Gail is the author of Your Heart Knows the Answer and a featured blogger on several popular parenting blogs. She lives with her husband and son in Framingham, MA.

New Publication (Cross-Over novel)- Talk to Me: A Love Story in Any Language by Paul Simmons

Not explicitly an adolescent literature piece but perhaps suitable for a cross-over novel for mature teens.

Talk to Me: A Love Story in Any Language by Paul Simmons

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Second edition (August 22, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1500756342

Book Description
Despite being deaf as a result of a fireworks explosion, CEO of a St. Louis non-profit company, Noel Richardson, expertly navigates the hearing world. What some view as a disability, Noel views as a challenge—his lack of hearing has never held him back. It also helps that he has great looks, numerous university degrees, and full bank accounts. But those assets don’t define him as a man who longs for the right woman in his life. Deciding to visit a church service, Noel is blind-sided by the most beautiful and graceful Deaf interpreter he’s ever seen. Mackenzie Norton challenges him on every level through words and signing, but as their love grows, their faith is tested. When their church holds a yearly revival, they witness the healing power of God in others. Mackenzie has faith to believe that Noel can also get in on the blessing. Since faith comes by hearing, whose voice does Noel hear in his heart, Mackenzie or God's?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'El Deafo' by Cece Bell-- Review written for the Washington Post Washington Post
Review: ‘El Deafo’ by Cece Bell

(click above to be taken to the Washington Post homepage to read my review)

Children's author and illustrator's new book El Deafo is a memoir that covers some pretty serious issues that can be found in other autobiographies written by deaf and hard of hearing authors. If you're not familiar with graphic novels, don't let the layout and pictures mislead you; they can contain some heavy content. As always, I recommend that you screen the book before recommending it to a young person.

For more information about the author, visit her blog.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interview with Strong Deaf author Lynn E. McElfresh

To me this feels like a long-awaited interview and I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to share in the journey of this book.

Oftentimes, deaf characters hold only minor roles and readers do not experience the story from a deaf person’s perspective. This is not the case for Lynn E. McElfresh’s new novel, STRONG DEAF, which although tackles some of the difficulties between hearing and deaf individuals, is ultimately about two sisters, Jade and Marla, who struggle to find a place in each other’s lives. McElfresh, author of Can You Feel the Thunder? (1999), narrates the story from two points of view, Marla, the deaf older sister whom McElfresh may have modeled after her own deaf sister, and Jade, the hearing younger sister who sometimes resents feeling different than the rest of her Deaf family. Readers are invited along the sisters’ journey of family gatherings, school events, and moments of bonding that demonstrate how two girls can happily live under one roof. I look forward to recommending this to young people and the young at heart. 

The picture below is the one the author hoped would be used for her book jacket. She loves the picture and so do I! She writes, “I thought kids would like it. I wanted to say in my book jacket bio that signing is very helpful when snorkeling or scuba diving.” 

*********Read my interview below with author Lynn E. McElfresh*********

SP: What influenced your decision to include Deaf Characters who uses sign language in your book?
LM: The Golden Rule of writing is to write about what you know.
I grew up with a deaf sister and had lots of experiences with deaf people while I was growing up.  When I mention I have a deaf sister, people are always interested and have lots of questions. The original draft of the book was called Not Deaf, Not Heard. It was to be strictly from the point of view of a hearing girl growing up in an all-deaf family. The main crux of the story was to be that Jade (the lone hearing person in her family) would find and be re-united with her hearing grandmother, who she always assumed was dead.

My publisher thought this plot line was too far-fetched. I shared that I had considered writing the story as a braided narrative and he encourage me to rewrite the story from the first person point of view of both the hearing sister and the deaf sister.

I was very nervous about writing in the first person from a deaf person’s point of view. I’m very aware that being around deaf people is not the same as being deaf. I am not deaf. I am not part of the deaf community or deaf culture. To make up for that, I did lots of research reading everything I could get my hands on about CODA (children of Deaf Adults), sign language and deaf culture. I contacted you while the book was in rewrites to advise me on where I hit and where I missed the mark.

SP: Having a deaf sister, what is your experience with American Sign Language?
LM: My experience with American Sign Language is actually very limited. My sister was in an oral program (speech and lip-reading only) until she was 12. I also had a deaf foster sister for a year who was in an oral program and did not sign. At age 12 my sister left home to attend a residential deaf school. I was 16 when the family took a 6-week-long sign language course. Oddly enough, my sister and I never lived together after that. She came home in the summer and was miserable. She didn’t want to have anything to do with her hearing family. I had a summer job and was not home very much. I left for college two years later. Since then we have lived 1000+ miles apart and see each other once a year. Now that our mother has died and our father is in a care facility we see each other even less than that.

It was hard to maintain my sign language skills when I only used them once a year. However, six weeks before I would see my sister, I would get out my sign language books and practice every day. In the 1990s, I bought a video course and would practice an hour a day. It would be so much easier today with the Internet.

I love language so I loved creating my own descriptive grammar for the book. So lucky that my editor, Katya Rice understood what I was doing and edited according to the grammar rules, striving hard to stay consistent and still be understandable. You were also very helpful in this process.

SP: Would you discuss a bit of your process. How do you begin writing? What research did you do?
LM: The idea for this book hit me after my sister and her family came to visit us. My sister is married to a deaf man and has two hearing children. She confided that she’d almost married someone else, but his family was so different that she knew it could never work out. I asked how the families were different and she said that he was from an all-deaf family and he would never be able to understand what it was like to grow up being the only deaf person in a hearing family. Like her, her husband was from an all-hearing family. It was a better match.

Then she told me that she was like Harry Potter—that she didn’t know how magical she was until she went away to school.  She told me she didn’t think of me as family because I was hearing. Her real family was the deaf community. This perplexed me as she has two hearing children. Where did they fit in?

I began reading books about CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) and ran into a scenario where there was a hearing girl with deaf parents and a deaf sibling. She had one set of deaf grandparents and another set of hearing grandparents. When she was born, the deaf grandparents were sad because their hearing granddaughter could never really be a part of their strong deaf family. On the other hand, her hearing grandparents were thrilled as they finally had a “normal” grandchild. I thought that was an interesting premise. And as I said in #1 my publisher convinced me to abandon that plot line and switch to the braided narrative. I knew it was risky. I figured the deaf community would object to a hearing person trying to write from their perspective, but ironically most of the criticism for the book has come from hearing people who are aghast at the language, thinking by writing the way I do I’m trying to say that deaf people are stupid. To me this just exposes the reviewers’ ignorance.

SP: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book?
LM: I want readers to understand that the struggle between deaf culture and hearing culture isn’t some huge society or community struggle, but on the most basic level a struggle within families. Nine out of every 10 children who are born deaf are born to hearing parents. So 90% of the deaf population has two hearing parents…now here is the kicker…88% of those parents do not know sign language. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

That was certainly true in our family. My father never learned to sign. He had cut off two fingers with a table saw and the rest of his fingers were pretty stiff and inflexible. My mother probably thought she was signing, but she regularly only fingerspelled half a word and her signs were often wrong. Usually, she would give up trying to figure out what my sister was saying or trying to sign to her and pull out a piece of paper and conduct a conversation (or argument) by writing back and forth.

My older sister got a degree in Deaf Education, but that went wrong somehow in a way I don’t understand. She never got a job as a teacher of the deaf and refused to talk to my sister much when she came home for holidays. My brother is younger than my sister. He learned to sign when he was eight at the same 6-week class I attended. Once he left home, he didn’t come home as often as I did, so it was harder for him to keep up with his signing, not seeing his sister for years at a time.

For years, I campaigned for the family to sign whatever they said whenever my sister or her husband was in the room. To not sign was rude. I tried to set a good example. What happened instead was I ended up as the interrupter between my family and my sister and her husband. It was exhausting, especially since I was not that fluent of a signer. I thought this extreme effort on my part would have endeared me to my sister, but instead it only seemed to make her angry. She usually took out her frustrations on me, constantly telling me I was using the wrong sign and that I was stupid. I burst into tears one time after she left, because as she was going out the door she once again she berated me for being rude and stupid. I asked my mother why she was so mean to me and my mother insightfully said, “You are the only one she can be mean to, because you are the only one who understands what she is saying.”

On the other side of the spectrum, most deaf couples have hearing children. In the my reading, I was surprised to learn that most times, only one child became proficient at signing with their parents. I did not find this the case with my sisters’ children. Both can sign, but the younger of the two seems to be more proficient.

SP: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?
LM: In many ways, the story of Jade and Marla is the story of sisters who don’t get along. That happens in many families whether they are both deaf or hearing. I’ve learned in life that the golden rule is to treat people the way you want to be treated. But it never hurts to go a step beyond and treat people better than you want to be treated. And never, stoop to treating someone badly just because they treat you badly.

SP: Do you have any plans for a follow-up or future publications?
LM: This is my last novel. I developed a new writing passion. In preparation for my father’s 90th birthday, I spent a year interviewing him and doing research about his World War II experiences, resulting in a 237-page nonfiction work called Cornfields to Airfield. Suddenly, nonfiction seemed more riveting than fiction. Since that time, I’ve devoted myself to writing local histories, biographies and other historical pieces for a regional magazine.

SP: Anything you would like to add?
LM: Several reviewers criticized the book for not explaining deaf speak. I try not to resort to explainery when writing for younger readers, but respect them enough to know they can figure things out for themselves. Also, my publisher asked me to obtain a blurb from someone associated with the deaf community, which I did. You wrote a very nice blurb, which for some reason was not included on the book.

Strong Deaf won an international award for its uniqueness and creativity, while here in the United States it has not received much attention and what little attention it has received has not been all that positive. To me, that speaks to our nation’s view of differently-abled people, not as strong and capable, but victims needing to be protected and taken care of. I feel that all the characters in the book are strong whether they are hearing or deaf.

SP: I, personally, worried about Marla's chapters being written in ASL gloss because I felt that readers, deaf and hearing, might find it difficult to read; and, I agree that a Letter from the Author or a note explaining why you wrote it that way would have clarified but I also understand that the publishing process didn't go exactly as you wanted. I also appreciate that you stuck to your original decisions and didn't take my advice because you understood your target audience. In my Introduction to Literature course I use a short story and ask my students to respond to the techniques used to convey ASL which are similar to Marla's sections. The students are always divided. Some love it; some loathe it. I think my point here is that it comes down to personal taste. And although I'm not a fan, I still get a "voice" and a clear sense who Marla is.
Strong Deaf was selected as a White Raven Outstanding International Book for Children and Young Adults which is given to books that "deserve worldwide attention because of their universal themes and/or their exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design". I think that is a super big deal.

For more information about Strong Deaf, visit here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie Screening at Gallaudet University

Last night I attended the screening of No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie at Gallaudet University. Sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Theatre and Dance Program, the evening opened with Associate Professor and Chair of Theatre Arts Ethan Sinnott who briefly introduced the movie and shared that the screening would follow with a Q&A session.

SuperDeafy is the star of a popular children’s television show who dresses in blue with a bright yellow cape and green briefs. His hair is a giant Pompadour wig with two distinct pieces sticking out on both sides jokingly “for balance”. The emblem on the front of his chest is SuperDeafy’s name sign, a crossed double hand “I Love You”. He’s goofy and animated; the show focuses on teaching ASL along with a good dose of charades that children, deaf and hearing, adore. But SuperDeafy is a character played by Tony Kane (John Maucere), a handsome latte-loving idealist who blogs about local politics at night and sees the character he’s created as so much more than what the character has become.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Jacob is struggling with his parents' choices to remove him from the classroom that includes ASL where he has access to content and Deaf history only to place him within a mainstream program without an interpreter as a sort of tough love approach to learn how to lipread. As perhaps with other deaf characters in film, the mother can sign but the father cannot and because of this he is completely out of touch with his son and his needs.

At one point, Jacob walks down the school hall and looks into the classroom of his former peers who are discussing explorers. Jacob’s new classroom is discussing the same content but he sits silently unable to follow any of the discussion.  If you’re ever been a teacher, a parent, or even experienced this injustice yourself, you will be able to relate with Jacob who more than anything needs a hero.

SuperDeafy is who Jacob sees as his hero but really Tony, the man who plays the character, steps up to become the man we all need him to be for this kid and even for us; and, Jenny, Jacob’s teacher, who invites SuperDeafy to the elementary school Diversity Day is in many ways another hero in the story.

As a fan of comics, I appreciate how the film incorporates panels, captions, and dialogue balloons throughout. The movie is open-captioned but in a way that lends itself to the style of the production, not an add-on.  In a culture where many movie-goers complain about subtitles and captions as distracting, I see this decision as another smart choice made by the creators.

I was in a packed auditorium filled with young children. I laughed as much as they did. Does the film have a message? Well, sure. The message we received, “We have to believe in who we are. That’s the greatest super power of all”. The ending was perfection! I’m not going to spoil it for you but you WILL NOT EXPECT IT and if you’re anything like me you will be delighted. Sometimes the end truly is the beginning.

The film is the first time that a SAG commercial feature film is being executive produced exclusively by deaf executive producers and directed by a deaf director. Executive Producers Liz Tannebaum, Paul Maucere and John Maucere were in attendance for the Q&A session. They agreed that the goal of the film was both to entertain and educate. While they have many goals for the future of the SuperDeafy character, they emphasized that they made the film for fun.

No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie is smart and fun, and certainly worth viewing. Check out the website for other screening opportunities. I seriously need to figure out where I can purchase my own SuperDeafy doll!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Science Fiction series + New Book _The Fifth Vertex_ (August 2014)

Thanks to Kim Marie Nicols, a professional with experience in human services and educational programs working with individuals with hearing loss and who is fluent in American Sign Language, for contacting me about these books.

In July, she pointed me toward a Science Fiction series by A.C. Crispin and Kathleen O'Malley. The StarBridge series includes
“a terrific Deaf heroine whose deafness is an asset in creating a relationship with an alien race”. 
 She recommends that we check out Silent Dances (#2) and Silent Songs (#5) in the series and notes that we don’t need to read the first book in order to understand the premise… plus, that first book doesn’t include a deaf character.  

Kim just sent me an email this week about the The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman which she highly recommends.   

She writes,
“I am a huge fan of Sword and Sorcery fiction, and this book really delivers, faintly reminding me of The Belgariad series by David Eddings. In The Fifth Vertex, the lead hero, Urus, is deaf and fluent in 'Tradesign', a Gestuno-like sign language used throughout his world. Using signs also has a correlation to when he casts spells with his hands or looks at ancient runes on a vertex stone (one looks like the sign for 'open' and touching it brings him to another location). My only complaint is his amazing lipreading capabilities in multiple languages, especially when looking over his shoulder going up a dark spiral staircase. This is so farfetched from reality that it must be part of his magic - in the best of circumstances, only 30% of English words can be lipread. It is definitely a page-turner, with well developed characters and plot, and you won't want to put it down. Just be prepared for the cliff-hanger ending, since this is the first book in a series (which is still unwritten).”

Aside from reading novels, one of her others interests is collecting comics and cartoons pertaining to hearing loss. You can find some of these here:

Thanks Kim!

Friday, September 12, 2014

No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie Screening Next Week at Gallaudet University

If you’re close to Washington, D.C., Gallaudet University will be screening the award-winning film No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie September 17 and 18 with a special guest Superdeafy himself! This screening is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Theatre and Dance Program.

No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie opened at the Rome International Film Festival last week in Rome, Georgia and won the Shepard Award for innovative film-making.

SUPERDEAFY must reveal the man behind the cape to find true love and inspire a young deaf boy to believe in himself. The movie follows the evolution of this unique hero. A beloved character and role model, SuperDeafy has a worldwide following. He has been turned into t-shirts, posters and dolls… and now a movie. This film marks the first time in cinematic history that a SAG commercial feature film is being executive produced exclusively by deaf executive producers and directed by a deaf director. The film will be 100% open captioned every screening.

The film is rated PG and is subtitled.

Tickets are free and open to the public and can be reserved at (Wednesday, September 17) and (Thursday, September 18).

If you're not in the Washington, D.C. area, check out the website for other screening opportunities.


Tugg's Overview Video
No Ordinary Hero - Tugg Informational Video from Hilari Scarl on Vimeo.