Sunday, October 19, 2008

Interview with Linda Kurtz Kingsley about her Children's Book SIGNS OF JAYS

((CORRECTION: the birds in the story are Scrub-Jays, not Blue Jays... the East Coast girl in me just came out))
Signs of Jays (October 2008) by Linda Kurtz Kingsley
Publisher: Jason & Nordic Publishers
Reading Age: 4 to 9

When narrator Pete and his mother rescue two abandoned Scrub-Jays, his friend Mike, who is deaf, and other deaf and hard of hearing students help take on the responsibility of caring for the baby birds. His mother explains that just like the students in her class who are preparing to mainstream, the jays are being prepared to mainstream back into the wild. This story is very much about bridging the communication between deaf and hearing children and how two boys overcome their barriers of communication to become friends.
The title holds a double meaning. While this is a beginning “sign” language book, Pete and Mike are waiting for a “sign” from the birds that they have raised and freed into the wild. The book includes twenty-four signs and beautiful watercolor illustrations of children using American Sign Language and wearing hearing aids.
****Read my interview with author Linda Kurtz Kingsley below*****

SPW: How did you decide to become an art teacher at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf?

LKK: Actually, I started out with the intention of becoming an illustrator. I come from a family of artists and my grandfather did covers for the Saturday Evening Post. I grew up a few blocks away from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf when it was in Mt. Airy. They advertised for an illustrator to draw educational material. I applied for the job and they talked me into taking a job at the school as their middle school art teacher. I was immediately hooked. I spent the next 3 years teaching art, being trained as an academic teacher of the deaf at the same time. The next 3 years I was an interpreter for college bound deaf students. I'm not deaf, but I am hard of hearing. I have about a 40 db bilateral censorial hearing loss that I've had since I was 30.

SPW: What prompted you to write Signs of Jays?

LKK: My first year teaching at PSD my roofer brother brought me a nest of starlings. He had to take the nest down to fix a roof and when he put it back, the mother did not return to the nest. I took the birds with me to PSD. The kids fed the birds during the day. At night, the birds came home with me. Eventually, they had to learn to be "mainstreamed" back into the wild. It was a great experience for my students and it gave me the idea for Signs of Jays which I wrote more than 30 years later.

SPW: Who is your target audience?

LKK: My target audience is deaf/hearing impaired students from preschool through about grade 4. I hope it will be enjoyed by older kids too. It is also designed to teach non-hearing impaired students about hearing impaired students they might encounter in school or the community.

SPW: What type of research did you do for your book? Will you explain your actual experiences taking care of orphaned birds?

LKK: I got a lot of help from our local wildlife center. Later, when I actually wrote and illustrated the book in California, I used California scrub jays instead of starlings, so I set up a bird feeder on my deck and took lots of photos. I already knew about the deaf and mainstreaming because by this time I was also a resource specialist working with mainstreamed students who were deaf, or had other impairments. My publisher circulated the book among many experts in the deaf community and they made suggestions.
Taking care of the birds was a little crazy. At first, they had to be fed every two hours. Later, when they started to fly, they got into all kinds of trouble like eating kids' food at lunch and pooping on peoples' heads. I remember once they landed on a hot wok when my husband was trying to stir fry a Chinese dinner.
(illustration from page 17 of Signs of Jays)
SPW: What do you hope readers will learn from this book?

LKK: I hope they learn that all people, disabled and not have the same wants and needs. We can all get along together.

SPW: What advice do you give to young, or young of heart who are reading the book for the first time?

LKK: Get out in the community and school and participate. Try new things. Don't be afraid if your voice sounds funny, or your body isn't perfect. No one will know how smart you are until you show them.

SPW: Do you want to add anything?

LKK: Never give up your goals. I had the idea for Signs of Jays more than 30 years ago. Today, at age 62, with rheumatoid arthritis, I finally achieved the goal I had as a five year old. It's never too late.
For more information about the author, visit Linda Kurtz Kingsley's webpage. To purchase the book, visit Harris Communications.

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