Monday, December 31, 2007

New Books- to be released in 2008

The Sign for Drowning: A Novel
by Rachel Stolzman
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Trumpeter (June 10, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590305876

The story is of a girl who witnesses the death of her sister by drowning and later develops the belief that she can communicate with her sister through sign language. As an adult, the character Anna adopts a deaf foster child.

Deaf Actor in There Will Be Blood

Gallaudet Student, Russell Harvard will be acting in the film, There will be Blood, released on December 26. Harvard plays the role of H.W., the "adopted" son of an oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis). The film is set in the California frontier at the turn of the 20th century. Plainview is a silver miner who hopes to make his fortune in oil. When his son becomes deaf due to an accident near the oil derrick, the father "abandons" his son on a departing train. He most likely sends H.W. away to a school for the deaf.

There Will Be Blood is based on the novel Oil! (1927) by Upton Sinclair.

To read more about Harvard, see the article in Inside Gallaudet. For more information about the film and to find out if it is released in a theatre near you, visit

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Books for Christmas

In Mary Riskind's Apple Is My Sign (reprinted 1993), there is a scene when Harry is going home for Christmas break and he forgets his hat on the train. He goes back to retrieve it and instead of quickly and quietly leaving the train he stomps his foot to gain everyone’s attention and signs “I’m going home for Christmas vacation. Merry Christmas”. He waves to the passengers. Many of the hearing people wave back to him (Riskind, 75-80). That passage resonates with me this Christmas as I'm preparing to take my own train trip. Unlike Harry who chatted with his friend Agnes, I'll probably have my nose in a book!

Here is a book that you may want to pick up for Christmas:

A Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas (Chicken Soup for the Soul)-- first mentioned on this blog on September 8th
by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: HCI (October 15, 2007) ISBN-10: 0757306462
Includes the selection "The Sound & Spirit of Christmas Through theEars of a Deaf Woman" beginning on page 235.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is membership to a professional organization on your 'To Do' list?

I have been invited to serve as the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) State Representative for Washington D.C. As one of the State Representatives, my goal is to spread the word about ALAN and to recruit at least 10 NEW members.

Why not become a member of the leading society dedicated to the study of Young Adult Literature? When you become an ALAN member, you receive a subscription to the journal The ALAN Review (that's three issues!), not to mention joining one of the largest and most active professional organizations devoted to young adult literature. Membership dues are only $20.00 per year!!! One of my favorite sections in The ALAN Review called Clip & File reviews newly published adolescent literature books. ALAN supports books with deaf characters enabling me to publish an article in their Summer 2007 issue and featuring book reviews with deaf characters including Jacqueline Woodson's 2007 novel, Feathers.
The ALAN website includes tons of book recommendations and a book club! On the third Wednesday of the month, there is an online discussion of young adult books with experts in the field and authors.
For Membership details and more information about ALAN, visit

Deaf Character book published in Italian

Stephen J. Cutler and Jodi Cutler Del Dottore's 2007 publication RALLY CAPS will be published in Italian. Jodi's announcement on her blog today is filled with excitement not only because she is becoming an international author but because her son Jordan, the inspiration for the adolescent book, will finally be able to read a book in his native language Italian. Perhaps Jordan will write the forward to the Italian version!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

articles about Paul Rowe, author of The Silent Time

I just finished reading this book and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. The deaf character, Dulcie, is not the main character but a strong secondary character whose storyline is weaved throughout the entire book. Dulcie attends the Halifax School for the Deaf in the early 1900s, similar to the author's late mother, Elizabeth Rowe (readers learn this in the acknowledgements section). I'm writing a review of The Silent Time for the journal of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. In the meantime, here are two articles about Paul Rowe. And yes, an interview with Paul Rowe is definitely on my Christmas List!
The Muse, Memorial's Student Newspaper
Paul Rowe's discussion of his mother’s enrollment into the Halifax School for the Deaf and his new book, The Silent Time.

Newspaper covers Rowe's Book Release Party
One of Rowe's release parties for his new book

Presentation based upon my research

I have had several requests for copies of this presentation which is based on my doctoral research. This version was presented to a Children's Literature class.

Presentation Deaf Characters

SlideShare Link

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What I'm Reading...

Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School (April 2004) by Gina Oliva
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
224 pages

When Gina Oliva first went to school in 1955, she didn't know that she was "different." If the kindergarten teacher played a tune on the piano to signal the next exercise, Oliva didn't react because she couldn't hear the music. So began her journey as a "solitary," her term for being the only deaf child in the entire school. Gina felt alone because she couldn't communicate easily with her classmates, but also because none of them had a hearing loss like hers. It wasn't until years later at Gallaudet University that she discovered that she wasn't alone and that her experience was common among mainstreamed deaf students. Alone in the Mainstream recounts Oliva's story, as well as those of many other solitaries.
Oliva combined her personal experiences with responses from the Solitary Mainstream Project, a survey that she conducted of deaf and hard of hearing adults who attended public school. Oliva matched her findings with current research on deaf students in public schools and confirmed that hearing teachers are ill-prepared to teach deaf pupils, they don't know much about hearing loss, and they frequently underestimate deaf children. The collected memories in Alone in the Mainstream adds emotional weight to the conviction that students need to be able to communicate freely, and they also need peers to know they are not alone.

Wait for Me by An Na
Reading level: Ages 9-12
192 pages
Publisher: Puffin Reprint Edition (September 6, 2007)

Mina appears to be the perfect daughter. She is bound for Harvard, president of the honor society, a straight A student, helps out at her family's dry cleaning company and takes care of her young sister, Suna (since their mother isn't such a nurturer). During the summer before her senior year in high school, Mina appears to be responsible. She has conjured up so many lies that lead her mother into believing in Mina's fabricated life. In reality, a family "friend", using that term lightly, has taught her about stealing from the family's business. Mina's perfection turns out to be a life of lies. The character, Suna, is "hearing-impaired" and uses hearing aids.

New Books

Moods of Silence: Reflections in Verse and Prose through a Deaf Poet's Eyes
by Willard J. Madsen
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
Pub. Date: November 2007
ISBN-13: 9781425788032

Willard J. Madsen, Professor Emeritus, Gallaudet University, is known for his acclaimed poems, You Have to be Deaf to Understand (1971) and NO! (1978). To read an excerpt from his book, click here.

Inside Gallaudet--Author and Peace Corps volunteer Josh Swiller opens dialogue

While I already covered this presentation in an earlier post, this article includes student and faculty perspectives regarding the presentation as well as the roundtable discussion (which I did not attend) that you may find interesting. Josh mentioned to me that he was coming back to Gallaudet next year but I was not aware that his book had been selected as the summer reading text for the 2008 Honor's Program.
(This was posted on Gallaudet's website December 13th. )
Inside Gallaudet: Author and Peace Corps volunteer Josh Swiller opens dialogue
Josh Swiller, a New York-based writer, teacher, and social worker, spent two years in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer among black mamba snakes, raging hippos, and murderous village elders. As an oral deaf person who had never felt a part of either the deaf or hearing world, Swiller found a place where hearing status was irrelevant--other needs were far too pressing.

Deaf since the age of 4, Swiller communicates mainly through speaking and lip-reading but learned sign language when he studied at Gallaudet in the early 1990s. When hearing aids stopped working for him, Swiller communicated mainly in sign language for two years before getting a cochlear implant. When Dr. Gina Oliva, a professor in the Department of Physical Education and Recreation, and graduate student Summer Crider met Swiller at the Annual Conference on Mainstreaming Students with Hearing Loss, which is sponsored by the Mainstream Center at Clarke School for the Deaf, they invited him to visit Gallaudet to share his Peace Corps experience and learn more about the University today. Swiller recently published a memoir of his experience, Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa, and has been traveling the country sharing his unique perspective.

Swiller’s November 27 visit to Gallaudet included a presentation of his adventures in the Peace Corps, a roundtable discussion on Gallaudet and the deaf community, and a film screening and discussion.

In his Peace Corps presentation, Swiller told a large group of students, faculty, and staff, that, in his experience, Africa was a place where deafness didn’t matter. He said he was attracted to the Peace Corps because he believed that he would find an intense experience--a place where deafness would have less significance--and he found it in a village in Zambia. “Africa was intense because the people there have so many real problems like poverty and death; deafness became a non-issue,” said Swiller.

This experience was a marked contrast to what he faced growing up. “My parents assumed I was slow before they found out I was deaf,” Swiller said. This was the beginning of a struggle with deafness that would last into adulthood.

Swiller explained that he spent his childhood reading as a means of connecting to the world around him and that he was constantly searching for meaning, trying to understand where he belonged. Deafness for Swiller was a feeling of in-between--being not quite here or there. “I thought I would find the answers at Yale University, but there, I felt lost and isolated,” said Swiller. He became a student at Yale before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated accessibility. He didn’t know any other deaf people or even that he had any rights as a deaf person.

But in Zambia, deafness allowed Swiller to bond with the villagers; the survival skills he developed growing up deaf allowed him to adapt more easily than the hearing volunteers. His quick learning of the Bemba language he attributes to intense lip-reading, though he credits his ability to make fast friends to his copy of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

Swiller also had two important pieces of advice for anyone in the audience with a yen to travel to Africa’s hinterlands: three pairs of underwear will last a person for two years, and never get between a hippo and the water.

The roundtable discussion, Swiller’s next activity, was planned by Crider and Oliva in consultation with several faculty members. It began by discussion of an idea posed by Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt: My Journey Back to the Hearing World. During his recent visit to campus, Chorost said that Gallaudet has the potential for “teaching the nation how to form and sustain healthy communities.” Swiller has made strong statements about changes he feels the University should make as a community. The roundtable enabled him to engage in an intellectual and respectful discussion with Gallaudet faculty, staff, and students about various perspectives on the kind of change needed.

That evening, Honors students explored another side of Swiller. They were invited to bring a friend to the Honors Lounge to munch on pizza and watch the 1993 film Little Buddha. The movie lent itself easily to discussion with its theological themes and thought-provoking quotes like, "To learn is to change." Dr. Jane Hurst, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, led a discussion about some of the themes arising in the movie, notably the differences between Christianity and Buddhism and the central concepts of Buddhism (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha). Swiller shared his journey as someone from a Jewish background who eventually spent four years as a Zen monk.

In answer to students’ questions, Swiller and Hurst were able to add explanations of Buddhism in practice. One student asked, "What is the role of emotion in Buddhism? In Christianity you have Jesus expressing anger and throwing tables, but I don't associate anger as an emotion expressed in Buddhism."

Swiller explained the idea of recognizing emotions without holding onto to them, acknowledging and accepting them but also letting them pass on. A telling example of detachment from ego and emotion was Swiller’s story of his Buddhist teacher's reaction upon arriving home and finding his house burning down. After a moment of watching the disaster, the teacher turned to the people with him and asked, "Does anyone have any marshmallows?"

Dr. Hurst likened the teacher’s reaction to the one she saw at a protest attended by Buddhist monks. A heavy rain started as they marched, which would have dampened most spirits. The monks, however, chose to laugh as they walked on.

From the challenges Swiller experienced as he struggled to find a niche in the deaf and hearing worlds and developed his religious beliefs to the trials of life as a college student, the themes of Swiller’s visit were readily applicable in everyone’s lives.

Dr. Hurst noted that while Swiller’s cultural and religious choices may have been different from the students’, a productive dialogue emerged. “They had a respectful discussion and asked perceptive questions about what is a foreign religion to many of them,” she said.

This will not be the last time Swiller will serve as a catalyst for discussion. His memoir is one of the Honors Program’s 2008 summer reading selections and he has been invited to present to the campus and meet with Honors students next fall. Those involved in the visit felt that Swiller offers an important experience and perspective on deaf life, and are eager to invite continuing dialogue.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deaf Author writes Children's Book

Tree Wise by Antoinette Abbamonte
Publisher: MidAmerica Publishing Company (click publisher to purchase this book)
Pub. Date: November 2007
ISBN-13: 9781424330430

This is a children's book that introduces readers to the world of Deaf culture. The story is about a boy who learns how to help his new friend and classmates understand more about deaf culture. A wise old tree teaches sign language to the children through games.

Thanks Anonymous. I didn't mean to ignore your comment... a bunch of messages just popped up this morning. Technology- sigh:)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Josh Swiller Interview

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa
(September 2007) by Josh Swiller
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks

Don't walk! Run to your local bookstore and buy this book. After having the book in my possession for weeks, I finally picked it up and read it within two days (I do have a job or I probably would have finished it within one). Josh Swiller is honest, witty, at times frightening, and most of all tells a great story. He's the kind of guy you want to sit down and have coffee with... and as I noted about his Gallaudet presentation, he does like coffee. The story is fast-paced and I am still out of breath. As a writer, he will pull you in to become part of this story. Can it really be a memoir? Wow! As a reader, there were times that I adored him and there were also times that I wanted to throw the book across the room because he really bothered me. Although I met him before reading the book, I still wasn't sure if he would survive his experience in Mununga. Sounds silly but you've got to read this book! It's a little travel narrative and a little Hemingway (without all the wives and the cats). I hope you love the book (and him) as much as I do.

Meeting Josh just wasn't enough! I had to have an interview about his book. Read my recent interview below.
SPW: During your presentation at Gallaudet, you began by saying there are three significant meanings to the title but then you didn't elaborate. I understand because you hadn't received your coffee just yet. Would you mind explaining the title now?

JS: Ugh, I’m embarrassed. The three meanings are 1) unheard as in deafness; unheard words and cues, etc. 2) unheard lives. We hear all the time about "500,000 people in the Sudan are refugees" or "1 million people in the Congo are on the verge of starvation" and with such huge overwhelming numbers the sense that these are unique and fascinating individuals gets lost. They become numbers, instead of people. 3) unheard moments -- mainly that there are so many moments of peace and grace and beauty that pass us by because we're focused on our complaints and worries and oh-how-life-is-unfair. You would think that the people in Mununga would be more wrapped up in such a mindset than anyone, but in fact they were more open to the joy of the day-to-day than anyone I'd met.

SPW: Would you have changed anything about your experience? I'm assuming you would have given Jere your address right then, but would you have changed how you reacted to Maba stealing the pencils?

JS: Hey, no one's perfect. And I think it was important to show that about myself -- if I was going to portray everyone with all their flaws than I had to be fair and share my own. So, yes, I hopefully would react more appropriately to Maba's misbehaving, but I'm sure I'd screw up in other ways.

SPW: Administration said that they made a mistake by sending you to Mununga and wouldn't send future Peace Corps volunteers there. Do you believe that being sent to Mununga was the right place for your journey?

JS: Sure. Where we are now is the sum total of every moment in our life. To wish for one step to be different is to wish for a totally different creation...and this is our only life, our only trip. Regret is useless. It was exactly the right place.

SPW: Do you have any plans to go back to visit?

JS: Yes. Unfortunately the Hollywood writer's strike has put a crimp in some plans to make a documentary of a return visit; but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get out there by April.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people (or the young at heart) who are reading your book?

JS: Live large. Live without fear; or better, figure out the things you are most afraid of and go right for them. Are you afraid of public speaking? Then that is because there is someone in you who has a lot to say and knows how worthwhile public speaking would be. Are you scared of talking to a certain someone? Then that is because that person means so much to you. Did something someone said hurt you? That is because you care about them so much. The things we fear most, we fear because we see so much of who we are and what we could be in them. All the more reason to go and conquer those fears.

Also, always, always, always, always have a sense of humor. As long as you can laugh at something you will be ok.

SPW: In the book and during your presentation, you state that "deafness" is irrelevant. In your story, when noise bothered you during, you turned off your hearing aids. Then, when you didn't have your hearing aids, you really missed sound. That doesn't seem like deafness is so irrelevant. At times, it seemed like a convenience. Would you mind elaborating on that?

JS: True, but I don't mean irrelevant in a practical sense. But irrelevant in the sense that in the long run, deaf or hearing makes no difference. They are really only .000001% of what makes us the spectacular beings we are.
For more information about the book and the author, visit Josh Swiller's website.

'Sweet Nothing in My Ear' Play to be Adapted for CBS

'Sweet Nothing in My Ear' Play to be Adapted for CBS
Playwright Stephen Sachs has adapted his play, Sweet Nothing In My Ear, for a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie set to air on CBS in April. Sweet Nothing in My Ear had its world premiere in 1997 at The Fountain Theatre, where Sachs is co-artistic director. The television version of Sweet Nothing In My Ear (click link for NetSignNews story), now shooting, is directed by Emmy Award-winning Joseph Sargent and stars Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Golden Globe winner Jeff Daniels.

In Sweet Nothing in My Ear, Laura, who is deaf, and Dan, who is hearing, are a young couple who have been happily married for nine years. Their son Adam was born hearing, but by age six has also become deaf. When Dan decides to pursue the possibility of a cochlear implant for his boy a divisive wedge is driven between husband and wife that threatens to shatter their marriage.

Deaf Character book to be Released in March 2008

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger (March, 2008)
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Dial
Hucky is a deaf character. He is a six-year-old orphan who uses sign language to communicate.
For a review of the book, visit Jen Robinson's Book Page
Thanks Jen!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I finished Josh Swiller's The Unheard this morning.... I'm still in shock. I have had the book sitting on my nightstand for weeks now. Deaf Character books end up trumping all other books.... but after his presentation at Gallaudet University, I devoured the book! I think it is one of the best I've read all year. Not one of the best with a deaf person or deaf character, but one of the best (period).

This morning I received Paul Rowe's The Silent Time. I'm already on the third chapter and I haven't even boarded the train.

The Silent Time by Paul Rowe (September 2007)
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Killick Press

In the early 1930s, the small independent nation of Newfoundland is entering a silent time, about to submit to a form of dictatorship in order to resolve its straightened financial circumstances. As a result, Dulcie Merrigan, a young deaf girl living on a remote shore is being denied her right to an education. Neither she nor her mother, Leona, can successfully contend with the political and economic forces that so drastically affect their lives. After turning in vain to her friend and political representative, William Cantwell, Leona realizes that the time has come to unearth her tragic past. Specifically, a stolen shipment of valuable postage stamps, a remnant of the painful silent time that she herself endured, lies hidden in a nearby wood. Will they hold the key to Dulcies last chance for liberation and education?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Books with Jewish Deaf Characters

In honor of Hanukkah, below are two books which include Jewish Deaf Characters. Happy Reading!

Resistance (2005) by Janet Graber
Hardcover: 138 pages
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books

Reading Level: Grades 7-10.
In German-occupied Normandy, France, fifteen-year-old Marianne worries that her mother is exposing the family, especially Marianne's deaf younger brother, to great danger by volunteering for more perilous assignments in the resistance movement . They are hiding and nursing an Englishman in their woodshed when the local German colonel decides to lodge one of his soldiers in their home.

The Silent Hero (1994) by George Shea
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Grades 3-5

The true story of a young Deaf French boy, Pierre, who rescues a British pilot and helps him back across enemy lines during World War II. Thirteen-year-old Pierre witnesses the December 1940 downing of an Allied airplane by Germans near his home in St. Claire, France. With great difficulty, he manages to rescue the American pilot, Jim Rush, and hide him from the Nazis in a secret room under a woodshed until he can be safely returned to England. Based on a true event, Shea's book vividly portrays life in occupied France, with special emphasis on the activities of the French Resistance. Although classified as nonfiction (no sources are cited), the text reads like an adventure story. The short chapters and a relatively easy reading level will make the book attractive to young history buffs and also hold the attention of older reluctant readers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From earthworms to Starbucks, Josh Swiller speaks to Gallaudet University

Just a quick note: Yes, Josh Swiller is a real life person, not a Deaf Character. I know that. With the picture below as proof, I didn't think he was a figment. But he is quite a character so this book is being included on this blog.
Josh Swiller made a fan out of me yesterday during his presentation “Deafness, Africa, and the Peace Corps”. After all, how can you not love a man who admits that he used to sleep through English class (but loved reading), ate fried earthworms in Africa (and said they tasted like popcorn), admitted that three pairs of underwear was all that was really needed during a two-year stay in the Peace Corps (frankly, he seemed more concerned about how many hearing aid batteries he would be bringing) and is full of sarcastic little comments and strange factoids (for instance, the former Zambian President Kaunda is an avid ballroom dancer and was a member of the audience for an episode on Dancing with the Stars)!

I’m not sure where to begin because I’m not sure he knew where to start. He sort of began by explaining the title of his book, The Unheard. He revealed that there are three significant meanings to the title but unfortunately he only told us one meaning after losing his train of thought. In his defense, his train (pun intended) arrived late and he showed up to the presentation just in the nick of time; there were some technology glitches that needed to be solved before his presentation could begin; and how could he begin his lecture without being promptly provided with a cup of coffee?!? Who can blame an un-caffeinated man for being a little distracted?

The “unheard”, he explained, refers to the cues that he, as a deaf person, missed. Not just “not hearing” but the missed conversations, the things that he as a deaf person just couldn’t catch or somehow missed. Josh (he seems casual enough for me to call him by his first name) explained that he never felt connected so he went to Yale in hopes of finding what he was missing. He didn’t find the illusive “it” at Yale. He said, “The more accomplished the professor, the worse their manners”. In a side note, I’d like to mention that I was the one who finally poured his coffee when no one else bothered to assist him. Following his logic, I must not be that accomplished. Nevertheless, he explained that he had professors who consistently would lecture with their backs to students while writing on chalk boards. This was not the best learning environment for an individual attempting to lipread.

After graduating from Yale, he went to Gallaudet hoping that once again and perhaps by being surrounded with other deaf people he would feel connected. Even after learning American Sign Language, he didn’t feel like he belonged. He explains, "To the hearing people, I was deaf; to the deaf people, I was hearing."

Josh said that he wanted to find a place so intense that deafness and belonging would be irrelevant... so he joined the Peace Corps. Because he communicates best in a one-on-one environment, the exact nature of the Peace Corps interview, his “deafness” never even came up. He was accepted, trained and then as part of a group of eight volunteers headed to Zambia. Josh shared that he was initially concerned about learning the language. After all, he was the only deaf guy, right. Yet, within the group of volunteers, Josh became the second-best language learner. And while some of the other volunteers just couldn’t make a connection with the villagers, Josh almost instantly made these connections. He believes that his “deafness was a benefit” because by being deaf he had learned to focus on people (for lipreading purposes); he had learned how to become an assertive communicator; and, because being deaf and having a younger brother and a cousin who are deaf, he “knew how to have a connection without words”.

While in Zambia, Josh learned how to run quickly (after all, he accidentally stepped on a black mamba, the second largest, venomous snake in the world); he learned how the villagers believed in witchcraft (when asked if he believed, he laughed and said “No” while simultaneously knocking on the wood table); and, he learned how to appreciate what is truly important in his life. During the rainy season, he said that approximately three people would die daily from diseases. Even Josh, who didn’t like to take his preventative pills, got Malaria and was told that for hours during his hallucinations he sang the dreidel song that he had learned in his childhood.

“Africans embraced each day with complete joy even though they got a raw deal”. This helped him put his own “raw deal” in perspective. He explained, “Having a sense of humor when things are at their worst is really important.” He joined the Peace Corps because they “get you outside of yourself”. When a student in the audience seemed hesitant about joining the Peace Corps because of all the differences, Josh said, “In Africa, you lose everything you know. It’s out the window!... that is a gift.” Now after the experience, he steps back during his day-to-day occurrences and asks himself, “How important is this?”

Another student who mentioned her concern about joining the Peace Corps was that when the volunteers came home they usually couldn’t find jobs. Josh smiled and said that three weeks after returning home he became a Zen Monk for a few years. When an audience member asked him to compare his feelings of his deafness before his Africa experience and about how he feels about his deafness now, he sipped his coffee and replied, “It’s an irrelevant word”. In Zen practice, he learned that what keeps us back is how we define ourselves. At the end of the day, we should drop the labels and ask, “Was I kind? Did I love well? Did I keep my heart open? Deafness is not that important… it’s how we’re open”.

The presentation was well-attended. Afterwards, I was able to chat with him for a few moments and secure a future interview with him. He signed with individuals in one-on-one situations but had explained when he began the presentation that for lectures he prefers to speak.

He was charming, witty, and because this blog is for a younger (and younger at heart) audience, I had to leave out the racy side comments (which only made me adore him more) because they just weren’t “PG”.

For more information about Josh Swiller or to buy his book, visit his website:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Joshua Swiller: Deafness, Africa, and the Peace Corps

Joshua Swiller, former Peace Corps volunteer and author of The Unheard: a memoir of Deafness and Africa will give a presentation tomorrow at Gallaudet University (12:20–1:20 p.m. in JSAC G-Area).

Swiller has openly shared his struggles with his identity as a deaf person, being raised with the oral method and having no connection with other deaf people except his brother and cousin. In his book, he describes that after graduating from Yale, he felt lost. He went to Gallaudet University hoping to find answers and learned sign language. He explains, "To the hearing people, I was deaf; to the deaf people, I was hearing." Continuing his search for himself, he joined the Peace Corps and worked in Africa.
I have already rescheduled meetings and appointments so that I am able to attend. I'll blog after the presentation.

I just added this YouTube video for those of you interested in Josh Swiller.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank you

Thanks a Lot! (1995) by Lucille R. Kraiman
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 86 pages
Publisher: Butte Publications

Although this book is over a decade old, its message is perfect for today. Main character, Jordan, is used to attending a school where he uses sign language. Now that he has moved to a new school where he will need to use speech, will he fit in? And, will he be included in the Thanksgiving play?

I want to thank you for visiting my blog. It has certainly been a wonderful year--bigger and better than I even expected. I have met so many wonderful readers and authors along the way. I am truly grateful.

For those of you new to this blog, here is a recap of some of the exciting features. First, check out the 100+ and Counting List which includes adolescent literature books with Deaf Characters that is now up to 165 books! I continually update this list but don't move the post from the February 17, 2007 date. You can find the list by scrolling down on the right to the section entitled Blog Archives. Here is the link as a quick reference. 165 (and counting) Adolescent Literature Books with Deaf Characters

Also, I am incredibly honored and lucky to have had so many great interviews this year. If you've missed them, here is a quick guide.

§ Tami Lee Santimyer--actress (November 14, 2007)
§ Eleanor Robins (November 14, 2007)
§ Janice Greene (November 3, 2007)
§ Anne Colledge (October 27,2007)
§ Megan McDonald (October 20, 2007)
§ J.G. Martinson (October 13, 2007)
§ Clint Kelly (October 6, 2007)
§ Jacqueline Woodson (September 29, 2007)
§ Sarah Miller (September 22,2007)
§ David Mack (September 15, 2007)
§ Jamie Berke (August 25, 2007)
§ Delia Ray (August 23, 2007)
§ Jodi Cutler Del Dottore (posted August 13, 2007)
§ Penny Warner (posted July 27, 2007)
§ T.C. Boyle (posted July 23, 2007)
§ Jean Ferris (posted June 30, 2007)
§ Ginny Rorby (posted June 23, 2007)
§ Jean Andrews (posted June 20, 2007)
§ Doug Cooney (posted June 18, 2007)
§ Lois Hodge (posted May 5, 2007)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview with Actress Tami Lee Santimyer, Star of Nobody's Perfect

Nobody's Perfect the musical, performed from Oct 19 - Nov 3, 2007 at the Kennedy Center, was based on the book by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney. I posted my experience as an audience member but since have had the opportunity to interview the star of the show, Tami Lee Santimyer. In honor of Megan and the play, this post has gone PURPLE and this blog has changed templates! (Don't worry, we won't remain pink and purple forever). Read my interview below.
SPW: First, you did a phenomenal job. I understand that you have your Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Linguistics. I'm curious how you became interested or got involved with acting.

TLS: I have danced and acted my whole life. I wanted to pursue acting as a profession but everyone told me to find something more practical because opportunities for Deaf actors are scarce. So I decided to study English Literature at California State University, Northridge. I admit the entire four years I was in college, I longed to get back into theatre, but with what, work and school I was consumed with, there was very little time to do theatrical work. Finally, at Gallaudet University, where I was enrolled for Linguistics, there was an audition flyer for Zoot Suit. I auditioned for it and landed the part of notable Alice Bloomsfield. It was during this time when I realized I had to pursue theatre regardless. Following grad school in 2005, I could not find any theatre work. I think, in part, because I was out of the theatre loop for so long and had not had any professional training. I figured the only way I could get acting opportunities was to do other kinds of work. So I worked as a translation coach and sign prompter (feed lines to actors during rehearsals). These jobs helped me build network and find more acting opportunities.

SPW: How does it feel to be the "STAR" of the show? At the same time, can you explain how it feels to become a 10-year-old for the play?

TLS: It is an honor to play Megan, a character developed by Marlee Matlin. I feel fortunate to play a character that exhibits strong qualities. Usually, deaf characters in television or plays are portrayed in a different light, but Megan is a strong-willed girl. I think that is why people responded to the show very well.
When I was told that the character was 9 years old going on 10, my initial thought was...what a challenge! But I was excited to take on the challenge. Playing someone very young brought back fond memories of my childhood. I thought traveling down the memory lane was bittersweet.

SPW: Did you have the opportunity to meet or work with Marlee Matlin or Doug Cooney?

TLS: Doug Cooney worked with us from the very start. He is a very talented writer. We worked in a setting that was freestyle, meaning everything was subject to change. For example, if some of the lines did not click, Doug would omit them or create new ones, or switch them around. We were lucky to experience the developments early on because we not only developed our character, but watched the story/play flourish on its own. Now it is a full-fledged play with plenty of laughs and touching moments, thanks to Doug's brillance.

Marlee Matlin did not work with us during rehearsals. However, she was in contact often about our progress. If Director Coy Middlebrook or Doug Cooney had questions about the story, they would contact her directly. For the most part, though, Marlee instilled in the faith that we would stay true to her story. It was on Opening Night of October 19 when she saw the show for the first time. She said, "I am blown away by the performance!" She was extremely pleased with it. That made us proud.

SPW: Do you have a favorite part or song in the play? (I'm particularly partial to "Hamster Panic" myself)

TLS: Actually, I have two favorites: the song "Fine with Nine" and the scene "Hamster Panic". "Fine with Nine" is a great song of defiance. When Alexis rejects the invitation to her 10th birthday party, Megan feels troubled. In the song, Megan talks about canceling the party and staying 9 her whole life, and that she would be perfectly fine with it. But underlying it all, she suspects the rejection has to do with the fact that she is Deaf. "Hamster Panic" is a fun scene where Megan, her three best friends, and Alexis go on a hunt for Zippity the hamster. The best part about this scene is the rap and the dance. Many children who have seen the show say they loved watching Megan dance. *laughs*

SPW: Will you describe your relationship or experience with the other actors. While they learned their scripts in ASL for the show, have any of the actors studied sign language outside of this performance?

TLS: I was lucky to work with a fine cast. Everyone was readily adept to learning new things, especially sign language. I was impressed with their willingness to learn. I think that made the entire experience a positive one.

SPW: Were there any obstacles or challenges that you had to overcome?

TLS: The biggest challenge I had was following the music. Most of the songs were intricate, meaning the sound notes were inconsistent. The actors who sang the songs were a combination of soprano and alto. So sometimes I could not hear the words. To resolve this, I had to identify all the major sound cues and time the length between them, and then figure out where to put in the signs. The sign translation was not a literal one.

SPW: Anything you would like to add?

TLS: The good news is that the Kennedy Center has decided that this show will go on tour in 2009-2010.
That is good news! I will keep checking the Kennedy Center news and once I know more, I will let you know more!

Interview with Eleanor Robins, author of Just Be Yourself

Just Be Yourself
by Eleanor Robins
Saddleback Publishing
ISBN-10: 1562547720

Saddleback Educational Publishing, Inc., established in 1985, is a distributor of educational books that offers High Interest curriculum materials for grades K-12, adult, and ESL students.

The students of Carter High return for their senior year. These books continue the stories from Carter High Chronicles and introduce new characters. Topics are involving and pertinent to young adult readers: romance, sports, friendship, exams, work, and family. In just 48-pages, even your least motivated readers can easily finish these novels!

In his senior year, main character Rick is attending a new school, Carter High. He really wants the other students to like him and thinks that he has a better shot making friends if he leaves his hearing aid at home. After all, he believes no one would want to be friends with a kid who wears hearing aids.

Once school has started, he makes a good friend Ed and even gets a chance to talk to the cute girl, Gail. Everything seems to be going perfectly until he begins ignoring Ed and Gail and then refuses to share his paper with the class when Mrs. Vance asks him. Is Rick just mean or has he not heard what his friends and teachers are saying? You'll have to read the book to find out.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the author of Just Be Yourself. Read my interview with Eleanor Robins below.
SPW: How did you decide to include a hard of hearing character who uses hearing aids in your story Just Be Yourself?

ER: I decided to include the character because I had taught students who used hearing aids and because I have friends who are hard of hearing.

SPW: What kind of research did you do in order to make the characters Rick, Ed, and Gail appear like real teenagers?
ER: I didn't do any special research, but when writing the book, I did think about the concerns, problems, and misunderstandings that some teenagers I know have had.

SPW: How did you become an adolescent literature author?

ER: When I was teaching, I had difficulty finding fiction books on this reading level for my students. I saw a need at that time so that’s why I began writing books for this age group.

SPW: What do you hope young readers will gain from Just Be Yourself and its characters?

ER: I hope they will realize that not wearing their hearing aids or glasses when they are needed could cause them to have problems and that those problems might have been prevented if they had worn their hearing aids or glasses.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

ER: Work hard in school and read a lot for fun. (I wish I had worked harder in school.)
For more information about Just Be Yourself and other Saddleback books, visit the publisher's website:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Books published in November

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson
by Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner
Hardcover: 312 pages
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (November 5, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0807831557

Junius Wilson (1908-2001) spent 76 years at a state mental hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, including 6 in the criminal ward. He had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge. But he was deaf and black in the Jim Crow South. Unspeakable is the story of his life. In addition to offering a bottom-up history of life in a segregated mental institution, Burch and Joyner's biography also enriches the traditional interpretation of Jim Crow by highlighting the complicated intersections of race and disability as well as of community and language.

Leading Ladies by Marlee Matlin & Doug Cooney
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (November 6, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0689869878
(first mentioned July 5, 2007)

Hoggee by Anna Myers
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (November 13, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0802796834

Howard Gardner is starving to death. All spring and summer, Howard and his older, more charming brother Jack worked as hoggees, driving the mules that pulled boats along the Erie Canal. In a misguided attempt to outshine his brother, Howard chooses to stay behind in Birchport for the winter to save his traveling money and send it home to his family. After his winter job falls through, Howard fears that he might not survive the winter. As desperate as Howard is, he is haunted by the sadness he sees in the eyes of Sarah (the Deaf character), the granddaughter of the man who keeps the mules. Even though she’s older than her two sisters, she never speaks, and she seems completely disconnected from the world.

The Spanish National Deaf School: Portraits from the Nineteenth Century by Susan Plann
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press; First edition edition (November 15, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1563683555

In nineteenth-century Spain, the education of deaf students took shape through various contradictory philosophies and practices. Susan Plann depicts this ambivalence by profiling a select group of teachers and students in her detailed history The Spanish National Deaf School: Portraits from the Nineteenth Century.Plann’s subjects reveal the political, financial, and identity issues that dominated the operation of the National School for Deaf-Mutes and the Blind in Madrid from 1805 to1899. Roberto Francisco Prádez y Gautier, the first deaf teacher in Spain, taught art from 1805–36; he also was the last deaf teacher for the next 50 years. Juan Manuel Ballesteros, the hearing director from 1835 to1868, enacted an “ableist” policy that barred deaf professors. At the same time, another hearing teacher, Francisco Fernández Villabrille, wrote the first Spanish Sign Language dictionary. In the 1870s, two deaf students, Manuel Tinoco and Patricio García, resisted the physical abuse they received and set the stage for the growth of a Deaf identity that opposed the deprecating medical model of deafness. Marcelina Ruiz Ricote y Fernández a hearing female teacher who taught from 1869 to 1897, combated the school’s sexist polices. The Spanish National Deaf School concludes with Martín de Martín y Ruiz, the most famous deaf-blind student from the Madrid school. Through these portraits, Plann has brought life to the major issues that defined education in nineteenth-century Spain, themes that have influenced the status of deaf Spaniards today.

Nobody's Perfect by Marlee Matlin & Doug Cooney
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Paperback Reprint Pub. Date: November 2007
ISBN-13: 9781416949763
(first mentioned on April 29, 2007. See Review)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Did you miss it???

Nobody's Perfect the musical, performed from Oct 19 - Nov 3, 2007 at the Kennedy Center, was based on the book by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney.

Fourth grade is not easy and after spending a year planning her "positively purple" birthday party, Megan finds herself at odds with new student Alexis. To Megan, Alexis has it all: beauty, brains, and athletics--she's practically perfect in every way. Though Megan tries to be nice to her, Alexis is anything but friendly, making Megan wonder, "Does she not like me because I'm deaf?" When they're forced to collaborate on a science project, Megan discovers Alexis's secret.

My friend Beth and I went on October 20th and really had a great time. She referred to it as "sickeningly sweet" but we both left signing and singing "positively perfect purple party".

The magic began before we even entered the theater. First, there was a stack of Leading Ladies books, the upcoming book by Matlin and Cooney- see my review-- on the table for purchase. Then, audience members received our own party invitations or Cue sheets (see picture top left) for the performance which were creatively chocked full of information about the play.

The play opens with Megan (played by Deaf actress Tami Lee Santimyer) sprinkling glitter on her birthday invitations. The set was definitely purple!
The play included American Sign Language, Spoken English and written English in two CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) systems. One was creatively placed under the table near most of the action and one was above the stage to the right. Unfortunately, some of the actors often moved in front of the CART system under the table blocking the script-- so while creative, it wasn't always effective (probably the reason for the second CART above the stage). CART was a necessity because most of the actors probably learned Sign Language for this performance in a way that was like choreography. They just moved their hands where they were told so at times it wasn't perfectly clear. And I'm not complaining just pointing out what I saw. It actually hurt my head because the actors would voice a sentence in English while simultaneously signing in conceptually accurate American Sign Language grammar-- not SimCom but actual ASL. Ouch, two languages at once. Again, they could do this because they weren't learning a language but learning the motion and movements. Don't get me wrong, I'm impressed! There is much more information on the website that explains how the actors learned sign language but I didn't know this until after the play.

There were some great teachable moments for the hearing children (okay, and adults too) in the audience who aren't aware of the differences between the hearing and Deaf World. The teacher, Mr. Morgan (Kip Pierson) stomped on the floor with his foot to gain the students' attention and then began to sign the science project lesson. While based on the book, the performance was only an hour and parts of the book had to be cut and altered. While I'm usually "boooo" about changing a book, the integrity of the story wasn't changed at all. The changes were subtle including: Megan's teacher signing instead of her having an interpreter; and, the way the hamster project was conducted at Alexis' house versus Megan's-- Matt was allergic in both the book and the play but there were slight variations, etc. I did tear up when Justin, Alexis' younger brother with autism, signs instead of speaks his first word (okay, so I'm a sap!). And, I couldn't have loved the Hamster Panic rap "Oh, no! Where is Zippity?" any more. I was hysterical along with other young and adult audience members.
The play is based on an American adolescent book where we require happy endings! That being said, will Megan find purple balloons in time for her positively perfect purple party (with purple pizza and all)? Will Alexis come to the party? And, will Alexis and Megan become friends? If you missed the play, there is still time to review the website (below) or read the book:)

For more information about the play, visit the fantastic website: Here, you will find interviews with the authors and the actors in both English and ASL, view parts of the play, and learn how the directors designed the set, etc.
"A NEARLY PERFECT MUSICAL!Youthful gusto and a generous heart. Outstanding production values and top-notch cast. An infectious score... three-and-a-half stars!"- The Washington Times

"PRE-ADOLESCENT ANGST, WITH HARMONY...Nobody's Perfect delights with comic numbers and an excellent young cast. The songs are not only catchy but also infectiously performed. Bright 'n' lively!"- The Washington Post

Sunday, November 04, 2007

author Ginny Rorby's message regarding Washoe

This morning Ginny Rorby, author of Hurt Go Happy, sent out a message to her fans, "Dear sweet Washoe died, but she was one of the few lucky chimps whose life was full of love instead of pain". Washoe, the chimpanzee who grew up learning American Sign Language from the scientists who adopted her, dies at age 42 on October 30th after a short illness. (Click here for the NY Times article)

On her website, Ginny Rorby explains part of her inspiration for the book Hurt Go Happy came from a newspaper:
"In it was an article about Jane Goodall, who has dedicated her life to studying and protecting wild chimpanzees. On the same page was another story by the same feature writer, Bob Tutt. It was about Lucy, a chimpanzee raised as if she were a human child—a story that has haunted me ever since. Lucy is the real life Sukari. What happens to Sukari happened to Lucy. So, although this is a work of fiction, little of it is untrue.

All the chimpanzees that you see as cute babies in commercials, or in movies, or in circus acts end up grown and unwanted. If they were raised as Lucy was, loved and cared for, eating her meals at the same table as her “owners,” then the tragedy of being unwanted is compounded, more so because Lucy used sign language. She could communicate her feelings, her love, and her pain. The kindest thing we can do for chimpanzees is to protect them in the wild, stop using them in senseless commercials and stupid movies and stop locking them in small cages to use like hairy test tubes.

Our DNA is 98.4 percent identical to that of chimpanzees. You can help by supporting the people who are working to protect our closest relatives."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Deaf Character Author and Real Life Mom creates blog 'An American Mom in Tuscany: a Cochlear Implant Story'

In August, I interviewed Jodi Cutler Del Dottore, author of RALLY CAPS (2007) a book based on her family's life and her son Jordan who is deaf and wears a cochlear implant. Since then, Jodi has been busy compiling information and resources for other parents like her. Last month, she started a blog An American Mom in Tuscany: a Cochlear Implant Story: Jordan's journey in deafness with a cochlear implant - Tuscan-American Style. She has over a dozen posts already that include personal information about her family and inspirational stories about other families who share similar experiences. With all that blogging and being a mom, my only concern is when will she find time to write another book!?! It's always about the books for me;)

Interview with Janice Greene, author of Read My Lips

Read My Lips (2005) by Janice Greene
INTEREST LEVEL 6 to 12, Adult, ESL
ISBN-10: 1562547429
pages 32

Saddleback Educational Publishing, Inc., established in 1985, is a distributor of educational books that offers High Interest curriculum materials for grades K-12, adult, ESL and at-risk students. Janice Greene's book Read My Lips includes main Deaf character Lupe Herrera who has been sent to this particular police department as part of a job efficiency task force. The male detectives and officers are less than thrilled. They are rude, disrespectful and unfriendly. Lupe encounters sexism while working on assignment with the police department. She's almost ready to give up when she realizes that the cops could use her talents as a lip-reader to solve a crime. After demonstrating her talents to read lips, she is able to earn their respect and possibly find a little romance.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview author Janice Greene about her book Read My Lips. Read the interview below.
SPW: How did you decide to include a deaf character ? Have you met/ worked with any deaf individuals before?

JG: I've never spent much time with a deaf person, but my son is hard of hearing, and wears hearing aids.

SPW: Will you describe how you develop story ideas? What was your inspiration for Lupe?

JG: My inspiration for Lupe and "Read My Lips" was a 2001 film "Sur Mes Levres" ( In "Sur Mes Levres" the main character is a young woman who's able to read lips. She can understand what people say about her at a distance, and she can spy on them. I was very intrigued with that, and built the story around her capabilities.

SPW: How did you become an adolescent literature author?

JG: I'd been interested in writing and in 1982, a friend gave me the name of a helpful editor. I've been writing freelance ever since. I like writing for adolescents because they are so vulnerable, so wise and crazy and so alive.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

JG: No advice to anyone reading my stories. Just hope they like them.
For more information about the book or to purchase Read My Lips, visit:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Interview with Anne Colledge, author of Falling into Fear

Falling Into Fear by Anne Colledge
Paperback: 78 pages
Publisher: Back To Front (July 26, 2004)
ISBN-10: 1904529127

Anne Colledge was born in North Wales and educated in Cambridge. After thirty years in the field, she is a retired Deaf Education teacher. Her former students referred to her as “The Toy Lady” because her car was always filled with toys. Now, this Deaf author writes books for young people including the children’s book Northern Lights (2001). She is currently working on Playing Dead, a story about the First World War and her family.

Falling into Fear is the story of Catherine, a young deaf girl whose mother is seriously ill. Catherine and her brother Henry must leave their home for a while and stay with their grandparents. Oddly, Catherine slips back in time and experiences what live was like in the past. Gradually, she learns not to be frightened by these encounters even thought Catherine ends up in a war zone that is bombed, becomes a Roman slave and must protect a young child from wolves. These adventures help Catherine cope with her mother’s illness. Catherine isn’t the only Deaf character in the story. The story includes the Knowles family who are all deaf except the dog. James, the boy Catherine appears to have a crush on is fluent in sign language. The young characters also uses text messaging with their friends and a few of the characters wear hearing aids.

******Below read my recent interview with Anne Colledge***********

SPW: Will you describe how you develop your story ideas (particularly, the idea of time travel or falling into time)?

AC: I like to slip into another world for a time in my imagination and you can go anywhere for free! In North East England, where I live, there are 1,000 castles nearby. There are Roman Forts as well. In one there is a skeleton in the floor which gave me a fright, I felt as if I was being drawn into its eye sockets and falling, so that is why I called my book Falling into Fear because that is what happened to me.

When I was a child, sixty years ago, there was no television or computers. We just had the radio and books and we did have a lot of fun. The War was scary when we were bombed so I put that in the book as well. My father worked on the railways so we travelled a lot, often to the sea side, on the steam trains which rattled and hooted so we loved those journeys. It all goes into my books.

SPW: After being a teacher for thirty years, how did you transition into becoming an adolescent literature author?

AC: I enjoyed teaching deaf children very much and when I retired I missed the children so I joined a Canoe Club and when we were paddling on the rivers and the sea the children talked to me. Sometimes we laughed and sometimes they were worried, when their parents were divorced, or they had other problems. I began to put these into my books.

When I was teaching there were no books with characters who were deaf. I wanted deaf children to be the heroes so that is why I wrote the books.

I have always written but had more time when I left work to do what I always wanted to do.

SPW: Were your former deaf students your inspiration for your characters Catherine, James and the members of the Knowles family? Will you describe how you develop your characters?

AC: The characters are bits from my own grand children, deaf children I knew and people I have met.

Planning is not my strong point so I usually let the characters talk to me. It is like watching a film in my head and often the characters start arguing or behaving badly! The characters seem to grow as I write.

SPW: What do you hope young readers will gain from your books and its deaf characters?

AC: I hope the children who are deaf will use the characters as role models. It was a bit sad in a school I was visiting when a girl who is deaf asked me, "Could a deaf person write a book?" We have to say, "Yes," and put the books in their hands for them to read.

Formerly deafness was rarely mentioned in literature or if it was it was usually older people who were deaf, and it seemed to be regarded as a big problem. We have got to redress this.

I hope hearing children will gain an insight about what it means to be deaf and how small changes in how they treat deaf people can make all the difference.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

AC: I hope they will enjoy them and talk about them. More adults are doing this now through Book Clubs. Reading is an open door and can be done anywhere.
For more information about Anne Colledge and her work, visit:
To purchase the book,

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Interview with Megan McDonald, author of American Girl's Changes for Julie

Changes for Julie
(American Girls Collection)
by Megan McDonald
Reading level: Ages 9-12 Paperback: 104 pages
Publisher: American Girl (September 2007)
ISBN-10: 1593693540
(first mentioned on this Blog September 8, 2007)

Changes for Julie is the last in a series of six historical books that take place in the 1970s. The book set includes: Meet Julie; Julie Tells Her Story; Happy New Year, Julie; Julie and the Eagles; Julie’s Journey; and Changes for Julie.

Joy, a new deaf student at school who uses sign language and lipreading to communicate, has trouble understanding what her teacher is saying when the teacher writes on the board. Julie understands what it is like to be new so she writes her new friend a note to Joy to tell her what was said. Unfortunately, there is a no note-passing rule in the classroom and Julie is sent to detention where she has to write ridiculous sentences over and over again. Determined to change the rules for detention and the system itself, Julie decides to run for student body president. Her choice for vice president is Joy. The two girls face several challenges. For starters, they are fifth-graders and the class president has always been a sixth grader; they are running against the most popular guy in school; and Joy isn't so popular. In fact, some of the girls in her grade say that "she sounds so weird when she talks" (p.28) and that her speech "sounds like she's inside a fishbowl" (p. 45). Will Julie compromise her principles? Will she win the election? Will sign language save the day? You've got to read the book to find out!

Megan McDonald is the author of numerous children's and young adult books, including the popular Judy Moody series. From her website, you will learn that she has two dogs, two horses, and fifteen wild turkeys; she begins writing her books on napkins; and, when she was a child, she collected bugs, toothpicks, scabs and Barbie doll heads. Now that she is an adult, she lives with her husband in California. She has a B.A. in English and a Masters in Library Science. Despite her busy schedule and book tour in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, I was able to interview Megan McDonald about her recent book, Changes for Julie. Check out the interview below.
SPW: How did you decide to include a deaf character who uses sign language? What kind of research did you do in order to make the character Joy appear like a real deaf adolescent and be historically accurate in the content?

MM: When I was growing up in the 1970s, my mother, a social worker, worked with kids with disabilities, some of whom were deaf. She was a great advocate for these children, and believed strongly in raising awareness about such disabilities. As a result, I grew up learning to have empathy, treat people with disabilities kindly and fairly, and not be afraid of kids who were "different" from me. In retrospect, disability rights was an important issue in the 1970s, and I felt strongly that this should become a theme of one of the Julie books. Research helped me to set Joy's deafness in historical context, and I did consult sign language manuals to help me with signs I could not remember from experience.

SPW: In the book, you describe some of signs that Joy and Julie use in sign language in great detail. How were you able to describe such signs? Did you take a sign language class, consult with someone, or learn from a book?

MM: From the time I was in high school, I tried to learn some sign language so I could hold conversations and sing songs etc with the kids my mom worked with. When I got to college, I took some classes in sign language. I went on to work in public libraries, where I often had the opportunity as a librarian to tell stories in sign for deaf children. And I had a friend who was deaf who worked at the library---even though she signed REALLY fast, she was very patient with me and my finger spelling, and we'd often laugh over funny mistakes I made when signing. When I was finished with the manuscript, a consultant did read and give feedback with an eye toward accuracy.

SPW: Has Joy appeared in any of the other American Girl books? Do you have plans for her character or any other deaf characters in future books?

MM: Since the character of Joy Jenner was not introduced until Book 6, she doesn't appear in any of the other Julie books preceding this one. I don't have any specific plans for another deaf character, but I find signing such a beautiful and appealing language, that you never know. Maybe Judy Moody will learn sign language one of these days.

SPW: What do you hope young readers will gain from Changes for Julie and its characters?

MM: I tried to realistically portray reactions to Joy. In other words, I did not shy away from showing that kids can be hurtful and unkind to someone with a disability such as deafness. My hope is that reading about such a character raises awareness and humanizes them so that kids don't have to be afraid of such differences. As in the story, once kids get beyond the "disability" and see the real person, true friendship can result.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

MM: My hope and aim is that readers will always be able to see themselves in a character or story they are reading about and identify with my characters. If readers are able to journey along with Julie, they will expand their minds and imaginations and world, alongside of my character. I hope kids will take away from my books the idea that they have it within them to rise to any challenge, no matter how difficult.***************************************************************************
For more information about Megan McDonald, visit
To learn more about the American Girl collection, visit
If you are in the New York area on November 16 (3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.), bring your book and attend Megan McDonald's book signing at American Girl Place, 609 Fifth Avenue at 49th Street, New York, NY 10017 (Free and open to the public).