Thursday, November 20, 2014

Invincible by Cecily Anne Pateron-- Review & Challenge!

In my interview with Cecily Anne Paterson, she explained, “I certainly didn’t set out to write a book about a deaf girl. It all came about because I needed a plot device...” I adored her first book, Invisible. Although a plot point, she offers a dynamic character; in numerous ways, my own inner 13-year-old can relate to Jazmine’s feelings of isolation and how those middle years of adolescence can truly be tough.

In her sequel, Paterson doesn’t need a plot device. Jazmine, a 14-yr-old girl who is deaf and fluent in Auslan, is an established character. When I review books with deaf characters, I highlight aspects connected to the character’s deafness and I notate aspects that I believe are realistic to actual Deaf individuals, not just characters in a book (e.g. does the communication appear real, etc.; and, I notice facets where I believe the author missed her mark. Looking over my notes, I’m noticing more about traditional character development and plot. I have passages that I enjoyed highlighted, which I plan to go back to refer. In fact, I only have one critical remark for Ms. Paterson but I feel I should save that until the end. You know, for suspense. She's been keeping me up late at night reading so I think it’s only fair for me to hold out for a few paragraphs.

In book 2, the days of being friendless and alone seem to be behind Jazmine. She has her best friend Gabby, her boyfriend Liam, and her “mum” whom she’s finally confiding in. But life happens and people change… and all of a sudden Jazmine’s paternal grandmother is in the picture. Book 2 tackles numerous relationships. Because of this, I actually think this book can be recommended to a wider range of readers. 

There is a return to the garden metaphor from book 1. Jazmine’s secret garden is growing and now she has a fellow gardener who is helping her. She’s also discovering that she likes vanilla ice cream no matter what Liam says! (Sorry y’all, while I love that Jazmine is following her own ice-cream-preferred- flavor-heart, I’m a bit on Team Chocolate with Liam… but really this is just an aside and now I want ice cream).

Miss Fraser is away so who in the world will Jazmine be able to confide in? There’s even significance in a boat! I’m not sure how Paterson packed everything in 233 pages. I finished the book within the hour and I’m excited, hopeful, and a bit sad. There are several predictable moments you’ll cheer on Jazmine but there are also some surprises. Dag, Ms. Paterson! Really? But, don’t worry; there is also an ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS section where she answers some of the really tough parts of the book and explains why she does what she does. But don’t read that until after you read the book!

I’m personally taking away quotes from various characters. Where have they been all my life? I’d love to note them here but I’m afraid they’re just too revealing… and I really think you should go out and read this book. She didn’t make me write this (twice). In full disclosure, I bought her first book and she gave book 2 to me as a gift (you can purchase this book as a digital download for $1.50 from Amazon!) I honestly feel this is one of the best books I have seen come across this blog. Ms. Paterson was so gracious that she even offered to be interviewed again. I appreciate that but I prefer to add my critical remark :)

In the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, Paterson writes that she never planned to write a sequel but she received letters from fans wanting one. That being said, I’m making a public request for a book 3. I’m sorry but I want to know what happens to 15-yr-old Jazmine. I don’t think we’re done with her story just yet. I’d love to see Gabby, Liam, family members, and even Angela back but more importantly, what’s next for Jazmine?!?

My slightly critical remark is more of an encouraging challenge. Throughout my research on Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature, again and again I find that readers prefer multiple deaf characters within the story. Not only do I want a book 3 but I want the third book in this series to include at least another deaf character.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Forthcoming publication INVINCIBLE by Cecily Anne Paterson

In September, I interviewed Cecily Anne Paterson regarding her novel, Invisible. In just over a week (November 26, 2014), the sequel Invincible will be released.

“When I was smaller I thought that at some point in my life I’d reach the top of the mountain. You know, the place where you’re finally happy. The night I got a standing ovation in the school play was the night I got to the top. The trouble was, no one ever told me that I’d have to hike back down.”

Finally, everything is going right for 13 year-old Jazmine Crawford. After years of being invisible, she’s making friends, talking to her mum and hanging out with Liam. But what happens when everyone around her changes? Will getting back in touch with her grandma help her cope or just make things worse? And who’s going to finally give arrogant Angela what she deserves?

Invincible
is the much-anticipated sequel to Invisible (2009), a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Book of the Year Award.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with D.S. Elstad, author of The Forest of Aisling

The Forest of Aisling (The Willow Series Book 1) by D.S. Elstad 
Publisher: Pepper Publishing; 1 edition (December 4, 2013) 
Print Length: 441 pages 
Reading level: YA Literature/ Teen Literature 

Willow Whelan began having mysterious dreams about a month before the story begins. Her mother, born on a reservation and part of the Lakota tribe of North Dakota, explains Ihan’bla, a ritual or vision quest that some Lakota have in the form of dreams. 

Of course, two months earlier Willow began attending a new school, The Santa Fe Fine Arts Academy, so there is a great deal going on in her life. All of this is seemingly put on hold when Willow travels to Ireland with her father to the funeral of the paternal grandmother she has never met. However, the dreams continue. Willow discovers forest of my aisling, “an Irish word meaning vision or dream” written in faded handwriting on family papers; she begins to realize that this isn't a likely coincidence. 

Willow meets her second cousins Quinn and Kelleigh and their friend, “the tall boy” Bram (Deaf Character) who readers later learn “lost his hearing when he was eleven after having meningitis”. He is also named after one of my favorite writers. Bram, who is fluent in Irish Sign Language, often communicates with Willow as most teens do through text message, writing, and even speech. A few of the other characters are also fluent in sign language but I don’t want to give away any surprises. I think readers will really enjoy this character. Bram is part of the adventure; the story isn’t about his deafness.  

There are apparitions, shape-shifting, Celtic mythology, what the characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer would call “The Big Bad”, secret pendants, atypical inclement weather and a bit of teen romance. All of these issues swirl around Willow as she and her family must uncover the mysteries of her grandmother’s death and why exactly the body doesn’t appear to be decomposing as it should. 

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. To write that there were surprises would be an understatement. I couldn’t want to discuss some of the topics with the author.  

Read my interview with D.S. Elstad below! 
************************************************************************

a caricature of D.S. Elstad drawn by the author's daughter
SP: What inspired you to include a deaf character that uses sign language? (especially Irish Sign Language which I have to admit I don't know anything about!)
DSE: The inspiration for Bram came from my experiences with my husband and his family.  My husband is hearing but grew up with deaf parents and a deaf brother and always felt like sign language was his first language.  When we met I had very limited contact with the deaf.  Right away I was welcomed into his family and encouraged to learn sign (which I’m still trying to master after many years!)  My husband and his mother were both teachers and were very passionate about bridging the communication gap between the deaf and hearing.  Their passion for the language and the beauty of the language itself impressed me so much that when I sat down to write The Forest of Aisling I knew I had to include a deaf character.  Since the story takes place in Ireland that led me to do research on sign language of that country.

SP: What research did you do to make your character and your deaf characters interaction with non-signing characters believable?
DSE: Research for interaction between the hearing characters and Bram was pretty easy.  My husband is involved in the deaf community and many times I’d go with him to different functions.  It always impressed me how many Deaf people would be willing to teach me sign and how patient they would be with my attempts at it.  When signing wasn’t working a pen and paper would do the trick.    Real-life attempts at communication were transferred to Bram because of those experiences.

SP: Without giving away any of the plot (this will be tricky), can you discuss Bram's special abilities?
DSE: Bram finds out mid-way through the book about a special ability he has inherited.  I wanted this to be more about who he becomes and less about who he is.  The ability Bram discovers about himself is something ancient and is only used during certain times.  I wanted to stay away from giving Bram an ability that compensated for his deafness and instead have his ability tie in directly to what he’s destined for.  It was important for me to get the point across that Bram not only accepts his deafness, he chooses to learn sign language and steers away from a cochlear implant because he believes being deaf is as much a part of who he is than any other quality he possesses.

SP: What do you hope that readers will take away or learn from The Forest of Aisling?
DSE: I hope readers will feel uplifted and entertained.  I hope they’ll be able to relate to the characters in the book and realize that no matter how different we may seem we are all very similar.  We have the same hopes and dreams and desires.  

SP: What advice do you have for young readers?
DSE: The best advice I’ve ever received and I’m sure many young readers have already heard is to read, read, read.  There’s so much great literature out there that everyone should be able to find a book/books that interest and inspire them.  Then after you’ve read a lot go ahead and write your own story.  We all have a story to tell and the world needs to read yours!

SP: Anything you'd like to add... such as maybe a bit about sequels?
DSE: There are three books in The Willow Series.  The first one, The Forest of Aisling, dealt with Willow’s Irish heritage and explored Irish Mythology.  Book Two, The White Cliffs of Owanka, follows Willow back home to New Mexico where she learns more about her Native American roots and the Legend of the Skinwalker.  The third sequel will bring the key characters together again for a final confrontation with sinister powers.   Book Three will also delve more deeply into deaf culture through Bram and a journey he must take.

Follow the link below to purchase:
 

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

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/review-el-deafo-by-cece-bell/2014/09/23/947aab00-402e-11e4-b0ea-8141703bbf6f_story.htmlThe 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.