I read nearly half of the book on my train ride home and got starred at by fellow passengers for laughing… and maybe snorting. The main character, Aldo, is funny and weird. I can’t imagine anyone not laughing throughout. And although witty, Aldo is a typical adolescent. He makes up words and phrases and sometimes uses nouns as verbs (i.e. He sign-languaged… and, Englishy things).
Deaf Character Danny is the new kid in school and I loved that Karla Oceanak let him be just as sarcastic and devious as the hearing characters. Danny communicates through ASL, texting, and a little bit of lipreading. He uses an interpreter for his classes and some of the other characters learn sign language because of him. Danny is probably cooler than the other characters but that is because of his Justin Bieber-ish hair rather than his deafness. I will defend Aldo and say that he too is pretty cool but in a nerdy way. I say that because like his friends he plays D&D (Dungeons & Dragons). Considering I date a 42-year old Dungeon Master, Aldo is pretty awesome in my book.
I understood all the signs the author described and I liked that Danny wasn’t super nice to Aldo (i.e. calls him a loser and I think STUPID in ASL) which is perfect because it shows he's a typical adolescent!
Since I mentioned my initial concern for the title, I will point out that the use of dumbstruck is explained on page 124. It has everything to do with the plot (that I’d rather not give away) and nothing to do with Danny or his deafness. In fact, the label “deaf and dumb” is explained to be archaic and even what it originally meant (i.e. the multiple meanings of dumb).
My favorite quote is on page 84. One character Goosy explains, “Life is mostly in the doing, anyway, not in the having. Besides, not everything we do in life deserves to be on display, Aldo.” What a great lesson for young people (and old) in this age of social networking sites and total disclosure. “Most things are destined for the junk pile.” With that, Aldo focuses on what is important.
Be sure to look at the D Gallery at the back of the book and the page with "Other Handy Signs".
******Check out my interview with author Karla Oceanak and look for Dumbstruck in stores on October 1st.***** (RIGHT: author during her middle-grade years)SP: Aside from the Alphabetical focus on the letter D, how did you decide to include a deaf character?
KO: The Aldo Zelnick books take their theme from the title. We try to come up with a fun and evocative word for the title...then I challenge myself to create a plot that resonates with the title. The word “dumbstruck” stirred images of Aldo and his first crush, but it also made me think about what it means to be able to communicate. Introducing a deaf character helped me explore that idea.
SP: What type of research did you do for the book to make your characters realistic? Your Acknowledgments mentions that you worked with Cathy Bowles a teacher of the deaf?
KO: Cathy Bowles is a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing at a center-based program at McGraw Elementary here in our local school districit—Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado. I contacted Cathy, who has been a teacher for the deaf for 18 years and before that was a freelance interpreter and university-level interpreter, after I had decided to include a new deaf character in Dumbstruck. Cathy is hearing but in addition to her work, has many deaf friends and is connected with the deaf community here in Fort Collins. I always do lots of reading and research for my books, and in this case I also wanted to talk to someone who works with deaf children. It was important to me to accurately portray Danny. I didn’t want to pander to him, but I also didn’t want to make any big missteps. I observed several times in Cathy’s classroom, and I also asked Cathy lots of questions. She suggested I watch several documentaries, which I did. She was also gracious enough to review the manuscript and suggest small but important changes here and there. I want to thank her for making me feel comfortable writing a character that at first seemed a bit daunting to me.
SP: Several of the illustrations include signs and you actually explained a few in the text. Do you know any deaf people or have you learned American Sign Language?
KO: My earliest memory of ASL is from grade school. A classmate of mine was a hearing girl with two deaf parents. She taught us to sign the alphabet and made me aware of different ways of communicating. Later I studied Spanish and French, and of course I love English. I guess I’m just enamored of languages in general, including sign language (although I haven’t studied it). I don’t know any deaf people, but perhaps I will meet some as a result of this book.
SP: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book?
KO: My passion is keeping kids reading. I want them to realize that reading is fun—not a school chore—so that they’ll become lifelong readers. So as with all my books, my biggest hope is that they’ll find Dumbstruck fun to read! I also hope that they’ll learn to have empathy for people who may not be like them. After all, we’re all the same inside.
SP: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?
KO: Reading is your ticket to whatever you want to do in life. Did you know that when you read, your brain develops new pathways and physically changes? The more you read, the better your language skills become and the better you can communicate with others. But what’s really amazing to me is that the more you read, the more developed your brain gets, and that helps you with every single thing you do in life. If you think you’re not a reader, it’s just that you haven’t yet found the right books for you. They’re out there. Keep looking, keep reading, and ask your teachers and librarians for help.
SP: Anything you would like to add....
KO: Thanks for introducing Dumbstruck to the deaf and hearing communities via your blog! Besides being a bit of a smart-aleck , Danny is quite cute...so I look forward to seeing how many girls out there, like Aldo in Dumbstruck, develop crushes of their own.