Monday, May 26, 2008

Upcoming Deaf Character Novel: An Interview with Rachel Stolzman, author of The Sign for Drowning

I read often and I can honestly say that there are only a few books that I feel as though I just can not put down. This book was one of them. I read it in just two sittings and nearly missed my stop on the train! It is hard to believe that this is Rachel Stolzman’s debut novel. The Sign for Drowning will be released on June 10 2008 by Trumpeter.

The novel incorporates growth and healing as readers learn of main character Anna who witnesses the death of her sister by drowning in her youth. As her childhood family appears to fall apart, Anna develops the belief that she can communicate with her sister through sign language. As an adult, Anna becomes a teacher of the Deaf and adopts a Deaf foster child named Adrea; yet, much of the pain and loss Anna feels as a child is carried into her adult life. The story includes the struggles of parenting, adoption, and how best to educate a deaf child. One of the main story lines includes Anna and Adrea traveling to France to a school for the deaf that has developed a new technology for deaf people.

Anna, Adrea and numerous other characters in the book use American Sign Language to communicate (and French Sign Language when they visit France). This is the perfect read for teachers of the Deaf, especially for hearing teachers who often question whether or not they belong in the field. The character Anna captured many of the feelings that I have had as an educator in the field of Deaf Education.

Rachel Stolzman studied American Sign Language and worked with Deaf adults in New York City while writing her novel. I've included a recent interview with her below. This is such a great novel to kick-off summer reading... but I warn you, I had a really difficult time putting it down. This book has become one of my favorites!
Reading Level: Ages 15– Adult
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Trumpeter (June 10, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1590305876
SPW: How did you decide to include deaf characters who use sign language in your novel?

RS: Sign language has always attracted me as a beautiful, fluid language. My novel opens with an eight-year-old, Anna, witnessing the drowning of her sister. In the months following this loss Anna discovers sign language and she links the silence of being underwater with deafness and sign language. Anna comes to imagine that she can communicate with her lost sister through sign language. As I got deeper into the story the connection between these two things continued to expand for me: the silences of grief and loss, the limitations of language, and the new ways people find to communicate.

SPW: Will you explain your experience learning American Sign Language?

RS: I took classes at the American Sign Language Institute in Manhattan for two years while I was getting started on this novel. My teachers were deaf; they were very welcoming and really got the students excited about communicating. Humor was a huge part of their teaching style and I remember having such a good time in class. But what furthered my knowledge even more was working at Fountain House with numerous deaf people, and being around sign-interpreters everyday. There, I learned so much about Deaf culture, and the difference between Sign English and ASL, and some of the controversies over language within the Deaf community-- themes that I tried to portray in the book.

SPW: Was there anyone who inspired Adrea's characters?

RS: Actually, yes. I had already decided that Anna would fall in love with and adopt a deaf girl; then one day my deaf co-worker showed me a picture of his three-year-old daughter on the beach at Coney Island. She was making the sign for water. After that, his beautiful daughter became my mental image for Adrea. She came to life for me and was probably the easiest character to write- I loved her.

SPW: What type of research did you do for the book to make your characters realistic? I hope you say that your publishers paid for a trip to France!

RS: Ha, I would love to say the publisher sent me to France; although very supportive, my publisher, Trumpeter came along much later. Again, I’d say getting to know lots of deaf people was the best education. I’ve heard amazing stories about how families learned to communicate, and ways that they failed too, that all fed my imagination. I also read a number of books about the history of ASL and about Deaf culture. The book I found most useful and interesting was Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.

SPW: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book?

RS: As a storyteller, my first goal is creating a story and characters that people will connect to and be moved by. It is my deepest hope that the book provides a positive and truthful representation of Deaf community and Deaf life. I would like to offer hearing people a glimpse of the richness of Deaf culture and the beauty and self-sufficiency of ASL as a language. The most gratifying responses I’ve gotten are that the book does ring true and people saying that they learned something about deafness or have become interested in ASL.

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

RS: It took many years, from start to finish, to write this book. And over the years I heard many “no’s” before I finally found a home for the book. If I could share with young people a lesson learned from getting this book written and re-written and eventually published, its persistence. Many dreams take a long time to nurture, we must keep at them.

SPW: Anything you would like to add....
RS: Thank you for interviewing me and for your interest in the book. I would welcome responses from any of your read

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Upcoming Books with Deaf Characters

T4 (September 22, 2008) by Ann Clare LeZotte
Reading level: Ages 9-12
112 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
It is 1939. Paula Becker, thirteen years old and deaf, lives with her family in a rural German town. As rumors swirl of disabled children quietly disappearing, a priest comes to her family's door with an offer to shield Paula from an uncertain fate. When the sanctuary he offers is fleeting, Paula needs to call upon all her strength to stay one step ahead of the Nazis.

Deaf Sentence: A Novel (September 18, 2008) by David Lodge
Reading Level: Adult
304 pages
Publisher: Viking
Funny and moving by turns, Deaf Sentence is a witty, original and absorbing account of one man’s effort to come to terms with deafness, ageing and mortality, and the comedy and tragedy of human lives.When the university merged his Department of English with Linguistics, Professor Desmond Bates took early retirement, but he is not enjoying it. He misses the routine of the academic year and has lost his appetite for research. His wife Winifred’s late-flowering career goes from strength to strength, reducing his role to that of escort, while the rejuvenation of her appearance makes him uneasily conscious of the age gap between them. The monotony of his days is relieved only by wearisome journeys to London to check on his aged father who stubbornly refuses to leave the house he is patently unable to live in with safety.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Myron Uhlberg shared tales of his Deaf Heroes (his Parents) at the International Reading Association Convention

Myron Uhlberg has a self-deprecating nature that is both humbling and humorous. During his presentation, I laughed, got teary-eyed, and felt nostalgic as I watched the 75-year-old CODA discuss his life and the legacy of his parents, Sarah and Lou Uhlberg. It was an absolute honor to attend his presentation and to meet with him afterwards.

Myron was born in 1933 to parents who “just happened to be deaf.” Myron never thought of his parents as “disabled” or “handicap” but recalls how they were discriminated against. In one instance, as a 6-year-old CODA, Myron recalls the insensitive remarks one man made to his father. On the street, a man tried to gain Myron’s father’s attention. When the man perceived Lou as ignoring him, he approached him in anger. Lou immediately signed to Myron to interpret what was being said. Myron explains that the man’s face turned from ignorance to shock and then to disgust as he uttered, “You Dummy!” and stormed off. In his book Dad, Jackie and Me, Myron explains that he began to understand the connection between Jackie Robinson who endured numerous racial taunts and his own Deaf father who experienced a similar type of prejudice throughout his life.

Myron always saw his father as a hero and shared this perspective through his book, The Printer, the story of a deaf printer who saves his co-workers with the help of sign language during an emergency at the newspaper printing plant. Myron bubbled up with pride explaining that during the Great Depression, his father held a Union job. Myron’s household, despite his father’s income, was the first family on their block to buy a television.

When Myron’s parents were married, he explains that Deaf people were discouraged from having children. This was true for his parents; however, as Myron says about the will of Deaf people in his parents’ generation, they knew their hearing parents were ignorant and regardless of what was said, they had children anyway. To show they were good parents, Myron always had the best clothes to begin the school year. Myron explains that his parents didn’t have much money but Lou and Sarah’s children would always get the best clothes and the newest shoes. His dad wasn’t cheap; he liked quality.

Although he is an author of picture books (and an upcoming memoir), his books are for both young people and adults. He published his first children’s book at 66-years-old. He remembers an educator saying that there are no deaf heroes in children’s literature and he wanted his father to be that hero.

Although Myron writes about his father in The Printer and Dad, Jackie and Me, it is his mother who appears in his book Flying over Brooklyn, about the snow fall in 1947. The snow is a metaphor for silence. In his book, “All sound was muffled.” The main character who flies over Brooklyn can not hear a thing and must rely on his other senses.

Although I have received numerous requests in the past to broaden my blog to children’s literature, I have remained stubborn and insistent that this blog (especially my 100+ and counting list) is a place for adolescent literature. That being said, Myron Uhlberg, his picture books, and his stories about his parents have absolutely stolen my heart. This summer I will be expanding my blog to include both picture books and children’s literature. We can also look forward to Myron’s upcoming memoir, The Sound of All Things.

The International Reading Association (IRA) Convention was huge! I was able to see Walter Dean Myers and Jerri Spinelli in a single day and aside from Myron Uhlberg’s presentation, there were two other presentations that focused on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Readers including: Susan Fullerton’s Self-Correction and Early Literacy Processes: A Comparison of Deaf and Hearing Readers; and, Barbara Schirmer and Laura Shaffer’s Research Poster Session, Strategies for Teaching English Language and Struggling Learners Guided Reading Approach: Application to Deaf Students.

The IRA is supportive of including Deaf issues but to do so the Special Interest Group needs members. You all know that I am a huge advocate for professional organizations. This is how we keep our collective voice in the forefront of research and the advancement for our Deaf Students. Members of this SIG investigate new and innovative reading methods, examine current research and technology, and provide a discussion forum for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. Michele Gennaoui (picture right with Myron) of the St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in NY is the contact person for this SIG. The regular individual membership is only $36.00 which includes the bimonthly newspaper Reading Today. You can now join the SIG without any annual dues! IRA also provides Sign Language Interpreters for all of the hundreds of sessions at the convention. When you register for the convention, simply make the request while you are selecting the presentations you would like to attend. It is that simple. I strongly encourage you to join!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Maya, Clinton, and now Gustav??? Deaf Characters in Comics

Tonight on Marvel Database, I came across a category listing of Deaf Characters including Maya Lopez (whom we know and love... or at least I do), Clinton Barton (yeah, yeah, yeah... I know) and then Gustav Krueger a.k.a. The Rattler. I was pretty excited that 1.) there is a category and 2.) there was a character whom I didn't recognize and 3.)I'm actually able to list a few more deaf and/or hard of hearing characters. I read Gustav/The Rattler's bio (which actually cracked me up)...he has a bionic tail that generates sonic vibrations used to create shock waves and/or disorient others.... but there isn't any explicit mention of him being Deaf.... Someone obviously has placed him in the category for a reason. Anyone familiar with this character?
I think my favorite line from the biography is this one.
"He was very popular with the ladies...." (you're welcome to follow the link to read the full description)