Recommended Reading: SET ME FREE by Ann Clare LeZotte

cover of SET ME FREE by Ann Clare LeZotteSet Me Free

by Ann Clare LeZotte

Coming September 21 from Scholastic




In Show Me a Sign, Ann Clare LeZotte introduced us to Mary Lambert and the people of Martha’s Vineyard in the early 1800s, where nearly everyone signed and deaf islanders were fully integrated into the life of the island.  The Mary we meet in Set Me Free, three years after she was kidnapped and dragged to the mainland to be experimented upon, is warier and wiser. When she is offered the chance to tutor an eight-year-old deaf girl who seems to have no access to communication, she says yes, though she has no idea of the web of secrets and lies she will uncover when she leaves the island to go to the fine manor house. Mary relies on her wits and her own internal moral compass to communicate with the hearing people in the house, always determined to reach the girl – determined not to give up on her, even if her own family already has. Along the way, Mary must confront old friends and enemies, and reckon with the web of prejudice around her, even in her own family and history. LeZotte once again offers a nuanced picture of history, naturally incorporating characters of many backgrounds into the story and showing how the lives of the Wampanoag, black, and white characters are intertwined both on the island and the mainland. Mary remains both passionate and compassionate even as she learns greater patience for those whose minds have not been opened as much as her own. At a family dinner, Papa toasts Mary by signing, “To our Mary, in all her beautiful contradictions.” LeZotte’s work, in turn, shines a light on the beautiful contradictions in every one of us.

Find out more about Ann Clare LeZotte’s work at her website.

Recommended Viewing: The Sign Language Storytelling Series from Weston Woods

These excellent videos are perfect for both Deaf and hearing families!  Native signers Missy Keast and Manny Hernandez appear in front of the pictures and English text, telling the story on each page in American Sign Language.  Weston Woods, long known for its high-quality visual adaptations of picture books, applies its signature style to these DVDs, making them fully accessible for both Deaf audiences and hearing non-signers.  Each DVD also features:

  • optional English text on screen and English voiceover
  • a vocabulary section showing featured signs in isolation, arranged alphabetically by English translation
  • a 10-question quiz that assesses comprehension and memory
  • an optional read-along feature that highlights each word as it is spoken

Titles available in this series:

es Very Young Vol 1 DVDBig Al by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Yoshi: Big Al is large and scary-looking , so the little fish are afraid of him.Then he gets to prove what a good friend he can be!




s Very Young Vol 1 DVDBlue Burt and Wiggles by Derek Anderson: An unusual friendship develops between a bird and a worm, showing how common concerns lead to unusual friendships.




9780977097470_lgA Creature Was Stirring by Carter Goodrich: A little boy says that, despite what everyone thinks, he was the only creature stirring in the house that Christmas Eve.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDFive Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow: As soon as they say goodnight to Mama, five little monkeys start to jump on their bed. But trouble lies ahead.




s Very Young Vol 1 DVDGladys Goes Out to Lunch by Derek Anderson: One day Gladys smells something delicious and leaves the zoo to find out what it is…and the adventure begins.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDLittle Quack by Lauren Thompson: Splish! Splash! Splosh! Can Little Quack find the courage to join his brothers and sisters in the pond?




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDA Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman: Corduroy, a lovable stuffed bear, gets lost. After an all-night adventure he is rescued by his owner.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDThere’s Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer: A brave little girl captures a ngihtmare to show her parents that there really is something in the attic.







You Simply Must Meet ASL Nook!


If you are interested in signing with children, don’t miss ASL Nook!  Featuring Deaf adults Sheena McFeely and Manny Johnson, and two absolutely adorable little girls named Shaylee and Ivy, each short ASL Nook video features a theme, from school signs to patriotic signs to animal signs.  But instead of just the here’s-the-picture, here’s-the-sign approach that so many videos use, ASL Nook presents language in context, showing the adults and children interacting.  Funny, entertaining, and completely accessible to both hearing and Deaf audiences, ASL Nook is a game-changer in the world of signing with children. You can subscribe to receive updates when new videos are posted, or you can catch the videos on the website, or you can follow ASL Nook on Facebook. But whatever you do, don’t miss out!

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell named a 2015 Newbery Honor Book!

el deafoCongratulations to Cece Bell, whose graphic novel memoir of growing up deaf, El Deafo (Amulet Books, 2014) has been chosen as a 2015 Honor Book by the John Newbery Medal Committee of the Association of Library Service to Children!

To find out more about this charming book for middle-graders, click here to read my earlier review of El Deafo.


Review: ASL Tales

ASL Tales: RapunzelASL Tales: Annie's TailsASL Tales: The Princess and the Pea

ASL Tales: The Tortoise and the HareASL Tales: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Click on the covers above for previews of each story and purchase information.

ASL Tales proclaims itself to be “a new way of experiencing American Sign Language and English” and these engaging DVD/picture book sets truly deliver on that promise. Each DVD features a story told by a master ASL storyteller, incorporating illustrations from the accompanying picture book. Viewers can choose to engage with the story on many different levels – by watching the story in ASL only, in ASL alternating with the book illustrations, in ASL with voiceover and/or captions, or in multiple combinations of these options. Voiceover narration is available in 11 different languages – English, Cantonese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Spanish, Bosnian, French, and Portuguese – making this product an ideal learning tool for families from many different language backgrounds. The ASL storytelling itself is absolutely masterful, with native signers providing beautiful language modeling.

But where ASL Tales really stands out from the pack is its “ASL Clues” feature, which allows viewers to see each individual sentence of the story in slow motion, with relevant ASL grammatical features explained on the screen. These features include use of role shift, classifiers, nonmanual signals, directionality, and nuances of vocabulary – but you won’t see linguistic terms like these on the screen. Instead, you will find user-friendly explanations of the grammatical features that can be understood easily by all. The producers have pulled off quite a feat here – making big-picture language information accessible to a wide range of learners, while at the same time providing detailed, hands-on information about the nuances of the language that will aid even upper-level ASL and interpreting students.

This feature takes ASL Tales far beyond the typical list-of-vocabulary approach (though each DVD also features a useful video glossary of relevant signs) and helps viewers understand how to put sentences and stories together in ASL. The producers have created an incredibly flexible product that is both enjoyable and enlightening, one that can be enjoyed by hearing and deaf audiences alike, and one which manages to support written, spoken, and sign language development all at once. Bravo!

Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

el deafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell.  New York: Amulet Books, 2014.

Cece Bell uses the graphic novel format for her memoir of growing up deaf in a hearing family, with an appealing anthropomorphized rabbits standing in for people .  Born hearing, Cece became deaf after a bout of spinal meningitis at age four.  She traces her various adventures with hearing aids, using clever visual techniques to show the difficulties of speechreading and the many miscommunications that can occur.  In first grade, rabbit-Cece receives a new hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which both embarrasses her with its size and impresses her with its powerful capabilities – when her teacher wears the microphone that goes with it, she can hear what the teacher is doing all over the school , even in the bathroom!  But she struggles to navigate friendships with hearing children – er, rabbits – when she finds herself bouncing between extremes of bossy best friends who want to run her life and friends who are so afraid that they will hurt her that they drift away.  And gradually, she creates her alter-ego, El Deafo, her internal superhero who fights the demons of growing up using the power of the rosette on her undershirt and a giant dose of creativity and positive thinking.  Though the author came late to American Sign Language, she recognizes that her story of growing up as a successful oral deaf child is not a common one, and she shares important background information about deafness and ASL in her author’s note.  Engaging and visually appealing, this is a great read for middle-graders – or for anyone!

Learning American Sign Language Online

picture of computerLooking for a great site to help you learn American Sign Language, or to supplement an in-person class?  Here are three sites that fit the bill:

ASLOnline: Maintained by the University of Texas at Austin, this free online tutorial features three levels focusing on vocabulary and sentence structure in American Sign Language.  Instruction takes places through videos and written text.  The organization of the units mirrors the critically acclaimed Signing Naturally curriculum, making this site an ideal supplement to in-person classes.

ASL University: Maintained by Bill Vicars, this site features clear, well-structured lessons with a mixture of print information, video, and photos.  It also includes lots of activities for practice and an online ASL dictionary, making this a great stop for someone looking for a casual resource or a serious student looking for structured lessons.

Start ASL: This site offers three levels of free online ASL courses, as well as a fingerspelling course.  Students download a free workbook in .pdf form and use it to work through the video activities in each unit.  The free courses are quite robust, but the site also offers a more in-depth paid class option for those who want to access the courses free of advertisements, with the option to submit assignments for feedback and access additional material.

Got a great ASL instruction site to recommend?  Tell us about in the comments, or send an email to!

How to Communicate with Someone who is Deaf

  • Don’t assume that every deaf person speechreads. Speechreading is a very difficult skill to master, and many deaf people don’t find it effective beyond common phrases such as “How are you?”
  • Keep your face and lips visible.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Make sure the deaf person is looking at you before you speak, sign, or gesture.
  • Speak naturally. Don’t exaggerate your mouth movements or speak too slowly. And don’t shout!
  • Be careful not to stand with your back to a window or other light source – this makes speechreading and getting information from facial expressions difficult.
  • Offer pen and paper to write notes back and forth, but be aware that English is a second language for many deaf people. When writing notes, use short sentences and plain language, and avoid idioms and slang.
  • Repeat the question to make sure you understand.
  • To get the attention of the deaf person, tap his or her shoulder or arm or wave in his or her line of sight.
  • ATTITUDE is the most important thing! Most deaf people will appreciate your efforts to communicate.