Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hearing Loss in Children's Literature

When I first began working with students with hearing loss in 2005, I wanted to find pictures books featuring characters with hearing loss that I could read with my preschool students. I went to my local library, excitedly checked out a stack of picture books, and raced home to preview them figuring I’d choose my top two favorites to share with my class the next day. Wouldn’t the kids be excited to see characters with hearing aids in a picture book! As I read, I became increasingly disappointed. The characters with hearing loss were often portrayed as lacking in ability compared to the characters with typical hearing. The story lines were a weak attempt to educate the reader about hearing loss without any real plot. The language of the text was overly simplified and dull. There had to be better books out there!

Over the next few years, through Internet searches, interlibrary loan and conversations with a librarian friend, I found books that feature strong characters with hearing loss, normalizing the hearing loss and making it one theme of the book rather than the single focal point. I found books with rich narrative language and books with story lines that students with and without hearing loss enjoy. Although there are numerous picture books like this, I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you. Instructional texts (about visits to the audiologist or getting hearing aids or cochlear implants) have their place and can help students with hearing loss, as well as their typically hearing classmates, understand the amplification. In addition to instructional texts, books such as the ones listed below provide all students with an engaging plot and an integrated view of living with hearing loss.

Lakin, Patricia. Dad and Me in the Morning. Albert Whitman and Company, 1994.
Jacob and his dad wake up early one morning before the rest of the family for a special walk out to the nearby beach to watch the sunrise. The author incorporates hearing loss while focusing on the special father-son bond. Hearing loss is mentioned as Jacob puts his hearing aids on in the morning, speechreads his father in the house so as not to wake the family, and uses ASL at the beach to tell his dad that he wants to repeat this event.

Uhlberg, Myron. The Printer. Peachtree Publishers, 2003.
Told from the perspective of a young boy about his father, The Printer is the story of the father’s life working in a print shop. His feelings of isolation related to his hearing loss and bonds with fellow deaf workers are presented in a matter of fact manner. During a fire in the print shop, the father is the first to notice. He signs, “Fire!” to fellow deaf workers who then spread the message. Due to the noise of the printers, the hearing workers did not hear the fire or crashing wooden beams. In the end, the hearing workers learn to sign,“Thank you” so they can directly thank the father for saving them. The father is presented as the hero and respect from others is also acknowledged. The tone of the young boy is one of admiration for his grandfather’s deeds rather than pity for his hearing loss. One of my students loved this book so much that she chose to present it to her class!

Hesse, Karen. Lester’s Dog. Crown Publishers, 1993.
In this book, told from the perspective of a hearing boy, a neighborhood dog terrorizes the children. Corey is deaf but depicted as the braver and more thoughtful of the two boys. He leads his friend past Lester’s dog to rescue a kitten. On the way back, Lester’s dog is waiting in the shadows. The boys escape and Corey indicates that the kitten should be given to a lonely neighbor. In this way, the author subtly suggests that perhaps Corey feels the same way and so is able to relate without having to state this explicitly. Hearing loss is part of the book but not the focus. Corey’s hearing aid is mentioned when the kitten’s paw catches on it, and his limited auditory ability is apparent when the friend calls and Corey does not respond. The presentation is simple and clear. This book is really about a typically hearing boy who happens to have a friend with hearing loss.

Seeger, Pete . The Deaf Musicians. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.
This book tells the story of Lee, a piano player who loses his hearing. Upon losing his hearing, Lee is dismissed from the band by the leader, being told, “…who will listen to a deaf musician?” Not one to be discouraged, Lee learns ASL after seeing a flier for a class, comparing the rhythm and fluidity of the hand movements to that of music. Lee meets Max in the class, another deaf musician. Together with people that they meet, Lee and Max form their own jazz band. In the end, Lee runs into his former band leader and states, “Remember when you asked me, ‘Who will listen to a deaf musician?’” and the final page states, “Everyone!” in large colorful letters. This book sends the message that hearing loss may not be understood by others, but that should not stop a person from pursuing their dream.

Booth, Barbara D. Mandy. Lathrop, Lee & Shepard Books. 1991.
Mandy wears hearing aids and she communicates with ASL as well as spoken language. She loves to visit her grandmother and hear stories about her mother and grandfather, bake, and simply spend time together. During one visit, Mandy and her grandmother take a walk at dusk and grandmother loses a special pin that was a gift from her husband. They are not able to find it in the field. Late at night there is a storm. Although Mandy is afraid of the dark, she draws up the courage to go outside… and finds the pin! Mandy is the hero in this book but her act is about conquering her own fear of the dark just as much as it is about finding the pin. One of my fifth grade students particularly loved this book and wrote to her school librarian requesting that she buy it for the school library – which the librarian did! As part of her letter, she wrote,

This is a book about a girl with hearing aids and very sharp eyes.  When her grandmother loses a pin that Mandy's grandfather had given her grandmother for their 25th wedding anniversary, Mandy rushes out into the woods when her grandmother isn't looking.  It's storming but that can't stop her from finding her grandmother's pin.  In the end, she found it! This is a very good book that explains to people that aren't deaf what being deaf is actually like.  People who are not deaf and also people who are tired of being deaf should read this book.”

Stryer, Andrea Stenn. Kami and the Yaks. Bay Otter Press, 2007.
Inspired by a true story, this book tells the story of Kami, a deaf Sherpa boy in the Himalayas. Kami’s whole family must work in order to provide for basic needs and Kami is not excluded. Early one morning, the Yaks cannot be found. Kami sets off to find them despite the impending storm. Kami’s cleverness leads him to the Yaks where he discovers that one has been injured. His family is not able to hear his whistle over the loud thunder so Kami is forced to make the treacherous trek down the mountain to get help. Kami finds his father, but father is not able to understand what Kami is trying to tell him with his hands. Again, through his cleverness, Kami is able to get his point across and a team is able to rescue the injured Yak.  Kami’s cleverness is the focal point of the book rather than his hearing loss, and while he is presented as the hero, he is also shown to be a contributing member of his family and community through ordinary tasks.

What are your favorite picture books featuring characters with hearing loss?

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