Saturday, June 28, 2008

Interview with Meg Burden, author of Northlander-a fantasy novel with a Deaf Character

Northlander (Tales of the Borderlands) by Meg Burden
Paperback: 252 pages
Reading Age: 12 and older

Publisher: Brown Barn Books (October 24, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0976812681
In Tales of the Borderlands: Book One, readers learn that the land is divided into two areas-- the Northlands and the Southlands. Main character, Ellin is a young girl with distinctive hair that indicates that she is clearly from the Southlands. When she goes to assist her father in healing the Northland king, she faces prejudice, danger, and even punishment for using Southland magical healing power which is illegal in the Northlands. While in the Northlands, she meets members of the king's family, the princes of the Northlands including a Deaf Character named Finn.

I'll be honest, I was a little nervous when in the author’s email she mentioned that Finn was also telepathic; however, after reading the book and discovering that several of the characters in this fantasy novel share this same "power", I really enjoyed Finn's character. In my interview with author Meg Burden, she explains that she was a bit nervous about Finn being telepathic too. Clearly Sign Language is Finn's language of choice and his family members communicate with him in this way although he does use a little lipreading and his telepathy from time to time.

I was extremely invested in the well-beings of many of the characters by the end of the book and can't wait for the next book. And while the main character is a young girl, this certainly is not a 'girl's book'. Guys will like this one too especially since it is filled with action, mystery, and magic!

On her website, Meg Burden reveals that she has been writing most all of her life. She is a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy... and just check out the Star Wars skirt that she is wearing in her pictures. She sewed it herself! She clearly has many talents.
Lately it seems like so many of the authors I interview have spent a little time in Virginia....gotta love that:) Below, read my interview with Meg Burden. ********************************************************************************
SPW: What was your inspiration for including your Deaf Character, Finn?

MB: From the very beginning, when Northlander was just a short story for a writing class I was taking (the short story is now the first two chapters), I knew there were going to be five Northlander princes. When I was working on the characters, I decided that two in the middle would be twins, and one of them would be deaf. I think this is partially because I wanted the brothers to all be unique and different from one another, so giving them different physical characteristics was a good starting point.

Plus, in my writing in general, I like to have diversity in my characters. I think it’s important. And deafness (at least as far as I’ve noticed in books and films) isn’t something that seems to be portrayed very often. So, I thought I’d do what I could to change that!

SPW: Do you know any Deaf People or Sign Language?

MB: I don't know any Deaf People well. I've been interested in Sign Language since I was very young; I remember learning the alphabet when I was about seven, and then I took a class at summer camp a little later. I wanted to pursue it (and wanted to become an interpreter), but my school didn't offer any courses, and my life plans sort of went in another direction. I'd still love to learn to sign well someday, hopefully soon. I think it's a beautiful language, and the idea of speaking without speaking aloud is one that really appeals to me. I think part of that is because, as a writer (and because most of my friends are people I talk with online), I'm so used to expressing myself in silence that I'd like to be able to do so without, you know, typing words on a page.

On a somewhat related note, I should add that, even though I know about ten words in ASL, I fingerspell things constantly. I got into the habit of signing along to my internal monologue years ago to keep in practice, and now I do it sometimes without thinking! I cringe to think of the times I worked in retail, what any Deaf person might have thought to see me standing there, sort of inconspicuously signing things like, "My feet hurt, and I can't wait to go home." *laughs*

SPW: You've mentioned that you were concerned that you might not have portrayed a deaf character the way that you intended. Do you mind sharing your concerns and what research you did to make Finn's character like a realistic deaf person?

MB: One of my biggest concerns involved the point of view in Northlander. The novel is told from Ellin's point of view, in first person. So, in order to be true to her character, I had to have her make some mistakes (and wrong assumptions) where Finn is concerned, such as thinking that he wouldn't sign if he had an alternative. She also felt a little awkward about his deafness sometimes, which made me feel awkward writing those bits! So, I was worried that her in-character thoughts and reactions might be seen as ignorance on my part!

Another thing I was concerned about was having Finn be both deaf and telepathic. I did research deaf characters before and during the writing process, and one thing I saw was that it's annoying to some people (and to me, incidentally!) when a magical ability practically "erases" a physical difference or disability. And it's always been a pet peeve of mine, as a fantasy fan, that so many fantasy books have characters with a physical difference...and yet absolutely no means of adapting to that difference.

So, with Finn, I wanted him to be a deaf character who happens to be telepathic...not a telepathic character whose deafness is "pasted on" and only comes up when it's convenient. Deafness is part of his identity (not all, but part), but telepathy is just an ability he has.

SPW: I think on page 213 when Ellin fumbles her words and is corrected by the twins pretty much verified to me that you got it right. Then on page 232, Ellin's plan actually follows a type of narrative in American Sign Language storytelling where it is the language (specifically sign language) that saves the deaf person. This is more common in ASL stories but every now and then it creeps into English literature with Deaf characters—I believe that many readers will see that part of the story and read it with a sense of pride.

MB: But more important than all of that, you asked about what I did in order to try to write Finn as a realistic deaf person. The short answer is, I didn't set out to write him as a realistic deaf person--not in the sense that I think writing a deaf person is different than writing any other sort of person. I'm not deaf, but I’m not male, or forty-something, or tall, or even a sixteen-year-old girl, either. (Though I remember all too well what that last one was like!)

I set out to write Finn, first and foremost, as a realistic person, with realistic reactions and emotions and dialogue. As for his deafness, I tried to imagine what it would be like not to be able to hear, and how I would go about my day and interact with others.

It was a challenge, though, when writing from Ellin’s point of view. To her, at least at first, deafness is sort of unusual/exotic. She notices it. For Finn himself, though, it's just part of who he is. So, while Ellin might think that Finn wakes up in the morning and thinks, "Hmm, I'm still deaf today. That's difficult," that's really not how it is! The only opportunity I had, with Finn, was to show how easily he and his brothers communicate, and what a non-issue his being deaf is to all of them. So, I hope that came across.

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

MB: In so many ways, Northlander is about not judging people based on where they're from, or how they look, or how they may be different from you. So, I hope that readers will be encouraged to look beyond the surface. It's also a story about finding a place for yourself, and finding that where you fit in might be different than where you thought you would. I think a lot of readers can probably relate to that, and I like to think that Ellin's story might provide some hope or comfort to anyone who feels that they don't fit in somewhere. There are always new friends to be made, new places to belong, and sometimes it just takes awhile, or is found where you least expect it.

SPW: Can you tell me about your future plans... possible sequels including Finn?

MB: Right now, I'm hard at work on the sequel to Northlander, which is tentatively titled THE KING COMMANDS. Finn is a much more major player in this novel...and in fact, the point of view alternates between Finn and Ellin. (Though that's subject to change if the powers that be don't think a switching point of view works when I finish the manuscript.) I love writing from Finn's point of view. It's really nice to be able to show his side of things, and his thoughts, when his conversations with Ellin in Northlander were so limited because she didn't sign. And I love it because I get to show how comfortable he is with being himself and being deaf, things that I don't think came across as well as I would have liked in Northlander.

Writing Finn has been a challenge for me, though, I will admit—I keep having to go back and delete all of the auditory details I put in there without thinking! (I'm getting better about that, though.) I also have to pay attention to where everyone in a scene is, much more than I do when writing Ellin, so that I don't have Finn read the lips of someone who's behind him, or anything like that.

At this point, after THE KING COMMANDS, I believe there will be one more book in the Tales of the Borderlands series. TKC will probably be released next spring. And, other than that, my plans are to just keep writing! I have several other YA fantasy and urban fantasy books planned.

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

MB: Read, read, read. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to "grow out of" reading books for young readers, or sci-fi/fantasy, or comic books, or anything else. Reading is an escape and an adventure, and it's supposed to be fun! Reading lets us do things we can't do in our everyday lives, like go to fantastic worlds or live in the Old West or on the moon. A movie shows us, but a book lets us imagine it for ourselves and lets us feel it—and that's some everyday magic, right there.

SPW: Anything you would like to add....

MB: Here’s a tiny snippet from the rough draft of THE KING COMMANDS. This is the first time I’ve shared it with anyone in public! But this seems like a really appropriate place and time to give a sneak peek from Finn’s point of view:

Coll sets aside his cup and nudges him again. "Don't look so glum. You know I'd trust you with anything of mine, little brother," he says.
Finn has no choice but to laugh, which, he supposes, was probably the point. He lifts a hand to thank Coll but checks the motion when his brothers turn towards the door. Following their gaze, his eyes widen at the sight of Lord Tomas striding in, posture tense, graying moustache practically bristling.
Alaric rises at once to meet him, with Coll, of course, at his heels. With their backs to him as they speak, Finn waits until Erik joins him on the bench, still bootless. "What's wrong?"
Erik's face darkens. "More trouble with Southlings," he replies tersely.
"No. In Three Pines," Erik says, naming the nearest town. He swallows visibly as he raises his eyes to Finn's. "You know a lot of Southlings have settled there. Lord Tomas says there was a brawl at the tavern. A group of local young hotheads decided to give a Southling barmaid some trouble--"
"And all the Southlings in the place had something to say about it?" Finn finishes, wincing.
"Sounds like." Erik's lips press together as he glances over at them, and when he turns back, his hands curl into worried fists, briefly, before he speaks. "It's getting worse," he says, unnecessarily.
For more information about Meg Burden, visit her website.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Deaf Character in Cary Holladay's A Fight in the Doctor's Office, winner of the Miami University of Ohio Novella Competition

A Fight in the Doctor's Office by Cary Holladay
Reading Level: Adult
Paperback: 135 pages
Publisher: Miami University Press (August 2008)

It is Spring, 1967. Jenny Hall Havener, a young woman who has just been jilted by her husband, sets out from Washington, DC, with her wealthy parents on a combination vacation/husband-search. In rural Virginia, Jenny happens to meet an elderly black woman with a great-grandson, Benjamin, with whom Jenny is instantly smitten. She wants the little boy for her own, so much that she abandons her search for her husband and settles, then and there, in Glen Allen, Va., the community where Benjamin and his family live. Thus begins a tug of war between privileged, white Jenny, and impoverished, African-American Hattie Johnson, the child's great-grandmother.

Benjamin is the deaf character in this book and author, Cary Holladay states that "his deafness is integral to the story".

Holladay won the 2007 Miami University Novella Contest for A Fight in the Doctor’s Office. Holladay beat out more than 150 entries to win the contest, which is sponsored by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

On a personal note (since the story takes place in my neck of the woods)... it makes me a bit sad to remember when Glen Allen was actually considered 'rural'. My dad worked in Short Pump and I remember nothing but grass and trees aside from a few buildings. Now Short Pump even has its own tourism site. (sigh)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trailer for Teri Brown's New Book, Read My Lips

I just finished reading Teri Brown's new novel, Read My Lips. Look for an upcoming review of the book and interview with the author. In the meantime, I found this trailer for the book on YouTube. I think it does a nice job adding visuals to the pictures that I have already created in my head. Enjoy!

Deaf Crew Member on America's Best Dance Crew

This post isn't about a Deaf Character but it may be of interest to adolescents (and the young at heart). I love watching dance competitions. During this second season of America's Best Dance Crew, the Detroit dance crew A.S.I.I.D. (And So It Is Done), who is aspiring to be America's Best Dance Crew, incorporates diverse styles into every energetic routine. One of the crew's members, Joseph Antonio, who goes by Joooey, is profoundly deaf. On the first episode, Joooey explained that he can only hear some noises with the use of his hearing aid. "As a young child, Joey attended a school where sign language wasn’t taught; instead he learned to read lips" although he flashes up the ILY sign every now and then.

The next episode will air on Thursday, June 26 at 10 p.m. on MTV. For information on how to vote, click--> MTV.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Minor Deaf Character in recent Adolescent Fiction Book

There is a very minor deaf character (so minor that this book won't be added to my 100+ and Counting List of Deaf Characters). Interestingly enough, the main character Rusty's "special skill" lipreading is a significant part of the plot. "At school [Rusty] had fun reading lips and claiming that he had super hearing because of eating a secret root" page 2. Rusty learned to lipread from Edna (deaf character) who was his nurse who read to him while he was ill. Edna attended "a special school in Boston where she was taught to read lips" page 2.

Rusty Son of Tall Elk (2008) by Charles H. Bertram
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Dna Press

Product Description
An innocent game of cowboys and Indians becomes a reality for 10-year-old Russell Weaver when he is captured by Cheyenne Indians in this historical adventure novel. “Rusty” is a bright, red-haired, freckled-faced farm boy from a German-Irish Midwest family, and when Chief Walks Fast sees Rusty’s red hair, he adopts the boy. The chief has a daughter of mixed ancestry with fire red hair, and believes it will be strong medicine to raise a boy and a girl with this unusual trait. Rusty’s new sister is one inch taller, one year older, and none too pleased about this new rival to her status. Rusty must prove himself to his new sister, make a place for himself in his new family, and adapt to an entirely alien way of life. He discovers a talent for storytelling, and becomes expert in making slings and javelins. Little by little, this pale stranger becomes assimilated into his new tribe, and at age 12 he undergoes a traditional vision quest and vows to stay with the Cheyenne until the age of 16.

About the Author
Charles H. Bertram is a retired special education teacher and the author of The Stone Bear.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Interview with author Elizabeth Boschini and illustrator Rachel Chaikof of Ellie’s Ears

Ellie’s Ears, released on May 1, is an informative picture book that shares the story of Ellie, a deaf girl with bilateral cochlear implants, in Mrs. Clark’s third grade class at Mulberry School. When new student Sam arrives, he has never met anyone with cochlear implants and proceeds to ask Ellie a series of questions.

Ellie is a spunky character who shares her “life” story as only a third-grader can. She describes her past about using hearing aids and her cochlear implant surgery, and talks about how her parents struggled to make the right choice for her.
The storyline was cute, witty, and not at all preachy. Sam asks the silliest questions. When asked if aliens visited the school and would Ellie be able to hear them, she brazenly responds, “I could hear them, but I don’t speak Alien”.
There are more serious aspects too. In a flashback scene, the Ear-Nose-and-Throat doctor explains to Ellie’s parents about the “many different ways they could help [Ellie] learn to communicate” and that the cochlear implant was just one of their possible choices. Readers will see that Ellie is a well-adjusted child but also how Ellie’s parents struggled to make the right decision for their daughter and how even after their choice, there was “hard work” involved with “special teachers”.
The illustrations really added to the story. The audiologist wore a ‘cochlear implant awareness’ t-shirt; after surgery, both Ellie and her stuffed animal had bandages; and, multicultural characters were added throughout the book. I particularly liked how Ellie had two pigtails but during the flashbacks to her “youth” she had only ponytail on top of her head. There are great pictorial representations so that young children can follow along; I can see how this book could be used for a whole family to understand the procedures for surgery.
I LOVED the ending with Ellie’s response to the overly inquisitive new boy but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
In the afterword, Elizabeth and Rachel include a letter to parents and teachers that reads that many children are “redefining what it means to be ‘deaf’ in the 21st century” and that this story is just one example.

Below, read my interview with author Elizabeth Boschini (pictured left), a student pursuing a degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Texas Christian University, and illustrator Rachel Chaikof (pictured right with some ice cream), a bilateral cochlear implant user and student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. *************************************************************
SPW: Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for main deaf character Ellie and her story?

EAB: “Ellie” is a combination of many different people. She is a little bit like I was in third grade – talkative, quirky, and outspoken. She is also much like many of the children with CIs I have known – confident, self-assured, and unashamed of her deafness and her cochlear implants as just another facet of the many things that make her a special and unique little girl. Ellie is not ashamed of her deafness. It is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her, and I think that’s a really admirable attitude.

RC: In addition to Elizabeth's response, some of the scenes in the story are based on my life as a cochlear implant user. For example, my parents first made their decision to get me a cochlear implant when they met a girl at the hearing and speech center who was deaf but was hearing with a cochlear implant. Thus, the scene where Ellie's parents meet Megan is based on that little segment of my life. Another example is the scene where Ellie cries when she hears for the first time with her cochlear implant. When I heard for the first time with my cochlear implant, I cried too.

SPW: What inspired you to write this book?

EAB: I was inspired to write this book because there is a real lack of children’s literature that addresses the realities for listening, speaking deaf children with CIs today. There are lots of great books for deaf children who sign and/or wear hearing aids, but much of the cochlear implant literature is from a very clinical point of view. Books about the cochlear implant surgery are great, and they’re a big help in the preparation process, but there’s just not a lot out there that deals with “life after activation.” Reading about “when I got my CI” is great – but where do you go from there?

More importantly, though, I wanted to write this book for the children I work with, so that they could have stories featuring characters “just like me!” Initially, I was just going to sketch up some stick-figure illustrations, print off the text on my computer, put it in a binder, bring it into the classroom, and leave it at that. Rachel added in her talents with the illustrations, and Ellie’s Ears as a real, live book was born! The fact that it’s become so much bigger than my initial expectations continues to amaze me! It’s exciting on a personal level, yes, but what’s even more rewarding is the fact that children with cochlear implants in the mainstream have something to add to their libraries that validates their experiences and helps to give them positive self-esteem.

RC: Since I was the illustrator, I'll talk about what inspired me to do the illustrations. Since I'm a cochlear implant user who was raised with hearing and spoken language as my means of communication, I always wanted children to have a character in a piece of literature to whom they can relate. Thus, when Elizabeth proposed the idea to me, I was VERY EXCITED and immediately said that I'd love to work on this project with her, as not only was it going to give me more opportunities to educate people about cochlear implants and give deaf children with cochlear implants a character who is "just-like- them,' but also, it was an opportunity to get a head start in an art career as a college student who attends an art school.

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

EAB: I hope that anyone who reads will be inspired to learn more about cochlear implants and listening and spoken language options for children with hearing loss. The face of deafness is changing, and the book shows what is possible for deaf children with appropriate early intervention services if their parents choose this path. I hope that it will give children with hearing loss a positive role model and a good example of how to explain their hearing loss to others in a way that focuses on their strengths and abilities, and reinforces the concept that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being deaf and/or wearing assistive listening devices.

RC: While this book is about giving deaf children with cochlear implants a character who is "just-like-them," it is also about educating various readers about cochlear implants. As a cochlear implant user, I am constantly explaining to people about cochlear implants because I've come across many people who have never met any cochlear implant users prior to meeting me. Once they notice the devices on my head, they question me about them. Their questioning never bothers me because they are curious, and they have the right to learn about cochlear implants. It was an opportunity for me to create awareness. Thus, I can relate to Ellie as she has to explain to the new student about cochlear implants. This book is one way of creating awareness of cochlear implants and educating readers about them since I feel that the general population knows less about cochlear implants than many other medical devices, such as prostheses for missing limbs.

SPW: Can you tell me about your future plans... possible sequels for Ellie's character?

EAB: Rachel and I definitely have more up our sleeves than just Ellie’s Ears! Because Ellie’s Ears is written more for a 1st-5th grade audience, our next project, called Happy Birthday to My Ears, will be written for children birth to five years old. It describes a little boy’s first year of hearing with his cochlear implants through rhyme. All of the different sounds associated with each holiday and season are discussed, and we’re even creating a very special “Happy Birthday to My Ears” song to celebrate “hearing birthdays”! It doesn’t end there. There are many more great things coming from EaR Books, so we’ll definitely stay in touch!

RC: Elizabeth and I have both discussed continuing this project, and so I do foresee that there will be many more books published in the future.

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

EAB: Be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished! Share your talents with the world. Having a hearing loss is just one part of what makes you a unique and special person. There will always be people out there who say, “you can’t,” and it’s up to you to show them that YOU CAN!

RC: Some deaf children like my younger sister go through a stage in their lives of questioning themselves, asking why they are different from children who hear normally. Ellie is a girl who has lots of confidence in herself, so much confidence that she is not afraid to discuss her deafness with other people. Thus, I hope that young people see Ellie as their role model and learn that it's OK to be different from everyone else, and sharing their stories about being different is a positive experience as it helps spread awareness of what makes them different, such as wearing CIs or being deaf.

SPW: There are some individuals who are quite resistant to the use of cochlear implants for deaf children. Ellie's Ears presents cochlear implants as one of many "options" for deaf children. You've included information about the positive feedback that you've received about the book. Could you elaborate on that feedback and perhaps talk a bit about your target audience for the book?

EAB: While Rachel and I both espouse a listening and spoken language approach to deaf education, our intention for Ellie’s Ears was to create a book that celebrated the experiences and the everyday realities of deaf children who listen, speak, and live in the mainstream, not to promote any one particular “agenda”. We were, in effect, “preaching to the choir.” I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, I just want to provide positive information about what I see everyday in my work with deaf children whose parents have chosen for them to learn to listen and talk, many with the help of cochlear implants. Those children deserve a “voice” in d/Deaf literature, too, and I’m honored and humbled to be one of a growing group of authors who provide it.

Rachel and I decided from the beginning that we would not profit a single cent EaR Books, the company we formed. Instead, all profits from Ellie’s Ears and any subsequent productions will go to charitable organizations that benefit children with hearing loss. However, I have been repaid for my efforts many times over by the amazing support we have received from parents and professionals invested in the lives of children with cochlear implants. We have received emails from schools, public libraries, and individual families from over six foreign countries and all around the United States, expressing their gratitude for a book that finally puts into words what their children experience everyday. It has been priceless.

RC: In addition to Elizabeth's responses, I'd say this book is for all kinds of audiences. Besides giving deaf children who have cochlear implants a voice in a piece of literature, it is also to educate a wide range of audiences about cochlear implants since there are many people who are not aware of this technology. It is also to educate children who have no disabilities that children with disabilities are just simply people, and they are no different from any other children.

SPW: Anything you would like to add....

RC: I'd also like to mention my website, Cochlear Implant Online http:// an informative website on cochlear implants and Auditory-Verbal therapy. Elizabeth and I blog on a regular basis on this website to share my experiences as a cochlear implant user and Elizabeth's experiences as soon-to-be an AV therapist/oral school teacher. We also post the latest research, articles, and any other information that we can provide on cochlear implants and Auditory-Verbal. We'll also be posting news on EaR Books on this website.

SPW: Thanks ladies! Ellie's Ears is available for purchase at

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oral Deaf Character in Recently Released Teen Novel

Read My Lips (June 2008) by Teri Brown
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Ages: 14 and up
Grades: 9 and up
ISBN-10: 1416958681

Product Description
Popularity is as easy as a good secret. Serena just wants to fly under the radar at her new school. But Serena is deaf, and she can read lips really well-even across the busy cafeteria. So when the popular girls discover her talent, there's no turning back.
From skater chick to cookie-cutter prep, Serena's identity has done a 180...almost. She still wants to date Miller, the school rebel, and she's not ready to trade her hoodies for pink tees just yet. But she is rising through the ranks in the school's most exclusive clique.
With each new secret she uncovers, Serena feels pressure to find out more. Reading lips has always been her greatest talent, but now Serena just feels like a gigantic snoop...
To read the first chapter, click here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Deaf Main Character in New fantasy novel for ages 12 and older

Northlander (Tales of the Borderlands) by Meg Burden
Paperback: 252 pages
Reading Age: 12 and older
Publisher: Brown Barn Books (October 24, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0976812681

Product Description
The debut novel of a young American writer creates a world of fantasy, where the land is divided into two-- the Northlands and the Southlands. Ellin, a girl from the Southland, is forced to go with her physician father to heal the Northland king, even though Southlanders are despised and feared throughout the cold country. Ellin must find a way to battle both the people from the North and then her own people, the Southlanders, to survive in a icy and hostile land.

I just ordered this book. The author Meg Burden explains that one of the main characters is deaf; he and his family members use sign language; and sign language is an important part of the book's plot. Once I read the book, I'm hoping to ask more questions in an interview.