On Deafness, ASL, and Cattywampus

While I like to see Deaf characters in books, a few points in this book – especially the use of SimCom – felt awkward and forced.

Where do all my conversational essays come from? Reviews that have gotten far too long, of course. Yesterday my review of a novel called Cattywampus went up (or should have, I’m writing this well before posting).

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, learn to fingerspell your name or other words at http://www.scholastic.com/wonderstruck/signs.html

Overall I enjoyed the novel (see the review for more details) but the ASL aspect sometimes felt off in ways that were hard to describe. Talking about it took up way too much of the review, so here’s a separate post for those who wish to delve deeper into this aspect of the book. First I wish to give a major disclaimer that I personally am not Deaf nor Appalachian so it is very possible that I’ve gotten some aspects of this wrong. I do have deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing friends and family, and am familiar with, although not fluent in, American Sign Language.

If you are yourself or know of reviewers who discuss this topic from either of those standpoints, or from the intersex view which I don’t get into here but discuss in the main review (as it is a more major part of the novel) please share those reviews! Since Disability in Kidlit is now ended, I have been hoping for Sharon Pajka to review this book on her blog, but haven’t seen a post about it yet.

Continue reading “On Deafness, ASL, and Cattywampus”

Review: Cattywampus

“The weight of Delpha’s secret tugged at her gut, promising to rearrange her life nine ways to Sunday if she’d let it.” page 5

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 280 pages.
Lexile: 810L .
AR Level: not yet leveled

Delpha’s strict mother’s biggest rule is a total ban on magic. But as they sink deeper into poverty, Delpha is ready to break any rule to prevent more of her beloved grandmother’s treasures from being sold off as tourist souvenirs.

Since finding out she’s intersex, Katybird has desperately wanted magic to prove she’s the successor to her family’s magical traditions. When that longed-for Hearn magic doesn’t manifest as planned, she’s desperate for a magical fix – even from a McGill like Delpha.

Together the girls unleash a terrible curse – threatening not just their families, but the whole valley.

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo.
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Review: Sarai & the Meaning of Awesome

“… but our whole family lives in New Jersey now. So we are really, truly Americans – North, South, and Central!” page 7

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.
Scholastic, New York, 2018.
Realistic fiction, 108 pages.
Lexile: 690L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Sarai series.

Sarai Gonzalez is awesome.  She can do anything she sets her mind to, right?  But when her grandparents are about to lose their home, can she solve that problem?

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome cover resized
Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.

I absolutely adored this book and am looking forward to reading more in the series.  Sarai is like a modern-day, Latina Pollyanna without the syrupy sweetness.  She radiates positivity and a can-do attitude, but also makes mistakes and sometimes meets problems she can’t solve (yet).

A large part of my love for this book was due to the incredibly appealing artwork, which brings me to the biggest problem, which is that the artist is not appropriately credited.  Christine Almeda’s name appears only on the back cover and copyright page, and that in small print.  Since this is a book with two co-authors (teen Sarai on whose real life the series is based and experienced author Monica Brown), it would be easy for young readers to mistake the cover credits for author and illustrator.

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Web: Wampanoag

An apology, and a few sites to check out.

First, I want to apologize.  I’ve written in the past about the unique Deaf culture that formed on what is known to many people as Martha’s Vineyard, and even reviewed a book about it.  But it never occurred to me to also inform about the indigenous peoples of the area.

I’m sorry for my thoughtless erasure, and would like to point all my readers whether hearing, HH, or Deaf, to this website which will tell you a little more about some of the specific places on the island, their names and significance to the Wampanoag people.  Or this page tells more about the Aquinnah Wampanoag who lived on the island then and still live there today.

For young people, here is a video from Scholastic with some modern Wampanoag girls at the heritage site:

Here is another brief introduction for kids.  These resources are produced from the Wampanoag Homesite associated with Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.

The Wampanoag people are typically only mentioned by the rest of the country around Thanksgiving, and The Wampanoag Side of the Tale gives one woman’s opinions on the real story of the holiday.

Review: You’re Welcome, Universe

“I love watching Ma’s hands when she signs. Normally you just watch someone’s face while they’re signing, but I can’t keep my eyes off Ma’s hands.” p. 18

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner.
Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction YA, 297 pages.
Lexile:  HL610L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 9.0 points)  .

When a slur about Julia’s best friend is left defacing the gym for far too long, she takes matters into her own hands, only to be ratted out.  Now she’s navigating mainstream high school with an interpreter, trying to deal with friendship drama, her moms, and a growing tag war.

You're Welcome, Universe

So often in a book about a Deaf person or one that has ASL, it’s shockingly clear the author has no experience around a deaf or hard of hearing person.  For example, hearing authors often write Deaf characters as quiet.  While some Deaf people might not like to vocalize among hearing people, I’ve yet to meet a Deaf person who is quiet.

In contrast, it’s clear from Whitney Gardner’s writing that she has spent substantial time in the American Deaf community, and has an understanding of ASL.  Already on page 18, a character is stomping to get Julia’s attention, and the quote in the header comes from the same page.  Gardner’s characters are Deaf, but they aren’t quiet, and she reflects that in a way only possible after learning about Deaf culture.

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Web: Deaf History Month!

Some videos and links for Deaf History Month and hearing parents of Deaf children.

Welcome to the celebration of a month not many people know about!

First off, National Deaf History Month is not a month of the calendar year.  Instead, it is the month between March 13th and April 15th, which commemorates several important milestones in American Deaf History.

This is separate from the international sign celebrations.  In fact, the UN has chosen September 23rd, 2018 to be the first International Day of Sign Languages.  Most countries celebrate Deaf Awareness month or International Week of the Deaf in September.  In some areas, December is also an important month because of the birthdays of Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

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Review: Martha’s Vineyard Deafness

“The community’s attitude can be judged also from the fact that until I asked a direct question on the subject, most of my informants had never even considered anything unusual about the manner in which their deaf townsmen were integrated into the society.” p 51

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard by Nora Ellen Groce, foreward by John W. M. Whiting.
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985.
Academic nonfiction, 169 pages including notes, bibliography, and index.
Not leveled.

This classic work of American Deaf history shines a light on the isolated early community of Martha’s Vineyard, where a high rate of deafness resulted in normalization of sign language and an integration that the world could stand to learn from.

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Lang Martha's Vineyard

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, so was thrilled to be gifted a copy.

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Review: I Can Hear You Whisper

“I had never met a young person who was deaf or hard of hearing. At least so far as I knew.” p. 14

I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language by Lydia Denworth.
Dutton, Penguin Group, Random House, 2014.
Adult nonfiction/memoir, 390 pages including index.

This is the story of one mother who discovered that her third son was deaf.  Since she is a science journalist, this combines her family’s personal journal with research and interviews that she dove into in an attempt to better understand her son’s world.

I Can Hear You Whisper resized

I did purchase this book but at a steep discount since it had been remaindered.  While most of my Deaf culture/ASL reading has been from an #ownvoice or sympathetic viewpoint, I was curious as to how hearing people with no exposure to deafness or Deaf Culture react.

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Review: I’ll Scream Later

“In February of 1987 when I went on Nightline to discuss Gallaudet University’s controversial Deaf President Now movement, the show was captioned for the first time. Anchor Ted Koppel used most of the intro to explain to the audience about the captioning they would see – technically open captioning, since anyone could see it – interpreters they would hear, signing they would also see.” page 182

I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin, with Betsy Sharkey.
Originally published 2009 Handjive Productions, my edition Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2010.
Autobiography/memoir, 327 pages.
Not leveled.

Marlee Matlin is one of the few Deaf performers well-known to hearing audiences, but there are also many other aspects of her life and self.  She was catapulted to fame with a Best Actress Oscar on Children of a Lesser God.  Now twenty years later, she’s written a tell-all memoir about drug addiction, abusive relationships, and more.

I'll Scream Later resized

This was a book full of surprises.  I was moved by what an important part her Jewish faith has played in her life, especially how her childhood synagogue was fully inclusive as a hearing/Deaf worship space, with a signing rabbi.  How beautiful that her early use of language included a rich religious environment where she was able to learn about God through her own language, ASL.

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Sign: It’s NOT All the Same

Sign isn’t universal and English-speaking countries each have different versions of visual, signed language!

I’ve had an interest in sign language for a long time and have been (mostly informally) learning ASL for almost a decade.

wonderstruck-fingerspell-book-cropped
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, learn to fingerspell your name or other words in ASL at http://www.scholastic.com/wonderstruck/signs.html

One aspect that many people who aren’t aware of Deaf culture often misunderstand is that there are different types of sign, just like there are different spoken languages.

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