Recommended Reading: The Words in My Hands by Asphyxia

The Words in My HandsThe Words in My Hands by Asphyxia
Summary: Part coming of age, part call to action, this #ownvoices novel about a Deaf teenager is an exploration of what it means to belong. Set in an ominously prescient near future, this is the story of Piper. Sixteen, smart, artistic, and rebellious; she’s struggling to conform to what her mom wants–for her to be ‘normal, ‘ to pass as hearing, and get a good job. But in a time of food scarcity, environmental collapse, and political corruption, Piper has other things on her mind–like survival. Deaf since the age of three, Piper has always been told that she needs to compensate in a world that puts those who can hear above everyone else. But when she meets Marley, a whole new world opens up–one where Deafness is something to celebrate rather than hide, and where resilience and hope are created by taking action, building a community, and believing in something better.

Set in Australia a few decades into the future, this compelling novel presents a world where most of the population is dependent on Organicore, a food substitute that has improved nutrition and eradicated cancer and other diseases, but at the cost of estranging the population from so-called “wild food” – and possibly introducing other health problems. In the midst of this we meet Piper, a deaf teen who has grown up as an oral deaf person, relying on hearing aids and speechreading to get by. When the economy tanks and there are shortages of everything – including Organicore – Piper and her mother rent out their house and move into a tiny guesthouse, conserving the little power that is left to them. Piper meets a handsome CODA (child of deaf adult) named Marley and through him is introduced to Auslan (Australian Sign Language) for the first time. As she falls for Marley, she meets his Deaf mother and learns about growing things in the earth and growing a sense of identity and language in her soul. Piper lives out what Deaf educator Gina Oliva calls the “MET DEAF WOW” moment that so many orally educated deaf young adults experience. (… ) She begins to understand that she is not alone and there is a whole community of people like her, with deep connections and ease of communication. As she becomes more engaged in their world, her confidence grows and she joins the wild food revolution, converting the public space on her street into a thriving community garden. Interspersed with Piper’s drawings, the text pulls the reader in from the first page. Unlike many books with deaf (and Deaf) characters, The Words in My Hands never glosses over the relentlessness of the struggle for communication in the hearing world, and how much of that burden usually falls on Piper. When Piper is forced to rely on speechreading, the reader is shown the nonsense that she gets from the other person’s lips and sees in real time the work she has to do into order to construct meaning. The readers also gets to experience the blossoming of communication alongside Piper as she learns Auslan and comes into her own Deaf identity. An extraordinary book on many levels.

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 Reading: SHOW ME A SIGN by Ann Clare LeZotte

I just finished reading an Advance Reader Copy of Show Me a Sign by Deaf author Ann Clare LeZotte, and I couldn’t wait to tell the world about it! The book comes out March 3, 2020 from Scholastic, but you can preorder it from IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. More information and my complete gushing below!

Show Me a SignShow Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
Summary: Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there – including Mary – are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage. But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability.

The history of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language has fascinated me ever since I first devoured Nora Groce’s seminal ethnography Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard (Harvard University Press). Not only was MVSL one of the building blocks of American Sign Language, but the history of Martha’s Vineyard showed a wonderful example of what can happen when everyone has equal access to communication.

Ann Clare LeZotte brings the island community to life, and – no doubt because she is a Deaf ASL user herself – sidesteps the awkwardness that hearing authors often bring to showing signed interactions on the page. The result is a story that flows as naturally as the signs off the hands of deaf and hearing islanders alike – a story of a tight-knit community where everyone is valued, and the intrusion of the outside hearing world that only sees deaf islanders as specimens to study. LeZotte managed to incorporate lots of historical information – about the history of the island, about the early history of deaf education in America, about sign languages themselves – without ever letting the facts overwhelm the story and characters. What impressed me most, though, was the way the author wove in marginalized voices that, in most historical fiction like this, would have been overlooked – the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, the black freedmen on the island, the fact that the early schools for the deaf were segregated. This too, is done with a deft touch, as protagonist Mary reckons with the way the larger hearing world views her and her community, and learns how her own people have marginalized others. Anyone who dismisses this book as “niche” is missing out – in fact, it’s a big-hearted adventure and family story that will provoke reflections and discussions about intersectionality from writers and readers alike.

As an ASL interpreter, librarian, and book reviewer, I have reviewed a LOT of books about ASL and Deaf Culture over the years. There have been a lot of “well, at least now there’s a book on this topic….better than nothing, I guess.” So to have this book to recommend, that’s THIS good, AND by a Deaf author…all I can say is:

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Book News!

My newest book, She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World releases today from Familius Press! Co-authored with my dear friend Manuela Bernardi and illustrated by Kathrin Honesta, this book is one I am so excited to share with readers of all ages!

This unique nonfiction picture book highlights 14 women who raised their voices and changed the world! Learn about heroes such as Dolores Huerta, Dr. Maya Angelou, Suzan Shown Harjo, Dr. Temple Grandin, and Malala Yousafzai – and hear their inspiring words in their own voices at the touch of a button.

“A chorus of voices for justice and change, diverse alike of identity and cause.” Kirkus Reviews

Purchase by March 31, 2019 and get a free prize pack! Click here to claim yours!

Purchase links:

Order signed copies and support Deaf Camps, Inc.’s scholarship program!

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Join me tomorrow, Saturday, March 2 at 2 PM for the launch at Books with a Past in Historic Savage Mill! We’ll be celebrating Read Across America and Women’s History Month with my co-author, Manuela Bernardi, who will be Skyping in from Brazil for the occasion, and Karen Leggett Abouraya, author of Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words. We’ll have giveaways, crafts, games, and cupcakes!

Review: The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin


The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin.  Illustrated by Jez Tuya.  (Albert Whitman and Company, 2017)

William Ellsworth Hoy has long been a hero of the Deaf community – a record-setting baseball player who played for multiple National League teams and changed the way that baseball was played. Churnin’s approachable text and Tuya’s expressive illustrations take readers along with William’s struggles to be taken seriously by the hearing world – which, in the 1880s, didn’t believe a deaf player could amount to much. William proves the critics wrong through determination, grit, and talent, and soon teams and fans are clamoring for him. Many biographies of Hoy get hung up on his nickname, “Dummy”, which was a common term applied to deaf people at the time, but Churnin wisely keeps the focus on Hoy’s accomplishments throughout the story, saving such details, with contextualizing comments, for an informative afterward. A timeline of Hoy’s life offers more details for baseball lovers.

Coming soon: an interview with the author!

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!