Children’s and Teen Fiction About ASL and Deaf Culture

The following resources are ones that I personally recommend and are not a comprehensive list of available resources on this topic.

Apple is my Sign by Mary Riskind. Houghton Mifflin, 1981: This historical novel centers around a 10-year-old boy who returns to his parents’ apple farm for the holidays after his first term at a school for the deaf in Philadelphia.

Deaf Child Crossing by Marlee Matlin. Simon and Schuster, 2002; Nobody’s Perfect by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney. Simon and Schuster, 2002; Leading Ladies by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney. Simon and Schuster, 2007: Award-winning Deaf actress Marlee Matlin draws on her own childhood in these novels about Megan and Lizzie, both deaf, and their hearing friend Cindy, and their attempts to navigation friendships, summer camp, birthday parties, and school plays.

El Deafo by Cece Bell.  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. Read Kathy’s full review at 

Emma Every Day series by C.L. Reid (Capstone):  This engaging series for beginning readers incorporates the manual alphabet into the story. The main character, Emma, is Deaf, uses ASL to communicate, and has a cochlear implant. Each story focuses on relatable everyday issues such as managing friendship and social situations, through the eyes of a Deaf child. The author, C.L. Reid, is Deaf-blind and uses ASL and a cochlear implant herself.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green. Pajama Press, 2017: This novel in verse by Canadian author Shari Green features a Deaf protagonist navigating her mother’s remarriage with the help of an elderly neighbor.

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. Delacorte, 2019: Iris is Deaf, and uses ASL to communicate. She shares a close bond with her Deaf grandparents. While processing her grief over the death of her grandfather, she learns about Blue 55, a whale who cannot communicate with its own species. Iris, who often feels alone in a sea of non-signing hearing people at school, feels a deep empathy for the whale and sets out to use her gadgetry smarts to create a device that will produce a song at Blue 55’s frequency – so that he will know he is not alone. The author is an ASL interpreter.

Gaps in Stone Walls by John Neufeld. Athenuem, 1996: In the late 19th century, hereditary deafness affected at least 1/5 of the population of Chilmark, a town on Martha’s Vineyard. Among this group is Merry Skiffe, an artistic 12-year-old whose peaceful life unravels when wealthy miser Ned Nickerson is murdered on a dark road and Merry finds herself among the four residents of Chilmark who have no alibi.

Probably the World’s Best Story about a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me by D. James Smith. Atheneum, 2006: Paolo O’Neil, 12, has one of those large families so full of love that they absorb stragglers without a thought. One of them is his deaf cousin, Billy, nine, who has been abandoned by his mother and become Paolo’s best friend. This riotous sequel to The Boys of San Joaquin (S & S, 2005) follows the boys through the summer of 1951 in their small California town. They take on a paper route, the family dog is kidnapped, they meet a strange out-of-town visitor, and Paolo inadvertently gets his first girlfriend. The main characters feel real, especially Billy, whose deafness is simply one aspect of his character. Each chapter title includes a description of an American Sign Language sign.

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill. Oni Press, 2019: This sweet, inclusive graphic novel features nonbinary protagonist Rinn, who has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village. When Rinn stumbles across a real dragon who has been in an enchanted sleep for eighty years, the adventure begins. Most of the villagers sign, which is depicted in both words and pictures.

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look and Anne Wilsdorf. Atheneum, 2007:When Ruby’s cousin Flying Duck emigrates from China to live with her, Ruby decides the best thing about Flying Duck is that she is a great new friend. BUT the worst thing about Flying Duck is that now, no one speaks English at home. Plus, there’s strange food on the table every night and only chopsticks to eat it with. And Flying Duck is deaf, and Ruby doesn’t know any Chinese Sign Language. Flying Duck introduces some basic Chinese Sign Language in the appendix.

The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan. Simon and Schuster, 1999: This tender historical YA novel centers around Marnie, a young woman forced to marry an older man to save her family from starvation. When her new husband dies in a fall, the villagers suspect she is a witch, and their suspicions grows when she befriends a another outcast who is deaf, and romance grows between them.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte. Scholastic, 2020;  Set Me Free by Ann Clare LeZotte. Scholastic, 2021:  Set in the early 1800s, these engrossing historical novels – written by a Deaf author – explores prejudice and racism through the eyes of 11-year-old Mary Lambert, who is deaf. Following her younger brother’s death, Mary lives with her parents in a close-knit Martha’s Vineyard town made up of both English and Wampanoag members. So many of the residents are deaf that the island has its own sign language, used by hearing and deaf people alike; this attracts a young scientist named Andrew Noble, who wants to discover the source of the town’s widespread “infirmity.” Set Me Free follows Mary as she tries to reach another deaf child who has been hidden away by her wealthy family, cut off from communication to hide a family secret. For discussion questions and classroom/programming activities related to the books, see “Discussion Guide: History, Perception, and Community in the Middle Grade Novels of Ann Clare LeZotte” by Kathy MacMillan, Scholastic, 2021.

The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais. Blink, 2019: Deaf teenager Maya attends a hearing school for the first time in her senior year of high school in a new town. As she navigates the challenges of attending classes with an interpreter, making hearing friends, and supporting her younger brother, who has cystic fibrosis, she explores her Deaf identity and how she wants to assert it in a hearing world. The author is Hard of Hearing herself and has worked in the Deaf community.

True Biz by Sara Nović. Random House, 2022: This is an adult book, but would absolutely be enjoyed by teens as well. This extraordinary novel tells the story of the CODA (hearing child of Deaf adults) headmistress and two Deaf students at a school for the deaf. Nović intertwines their stories, skillfully interjecting background information for readers about ASL, Deaf culture, and linguistics.

Unravel by Amelia Loken. Sword and Silk, 2022: This thrilling YA fantasy romance tells the story of 16-year-old Marguerite, who must save her kingdom from her evil uncle’s ambitions, all while hiding the fact that she is a witch who practices Skeincraft. As she faces each challenge, she grows in her identity and power as a deaf person.

The Words in My Hands by Asphyxia. Annick Press, 2021: Set in Australia a few decades into the future, this compelling novel presents a world where most of the population is dependent on a food substitute called Organicore. 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 meets a handsome CODA (child of deaf adult) and his Deaf mother and learns about growing things in the earth and growing a sense of identity and language in her soul. 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. The author, who is Deaf herself, shows Piper’s blossoming confidence and identity when she finds the Deaf community.

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017: Julia Prasad, a Deaf, Indian-American girl, gets expelled from a school for the deaf after painting graffiti over a slur about her best friend. As she navigates the difficulties of mainstream education in her new high school, she confronts the realities of friendship, the temptations of creating illegal street art, and the everyday challenges of communication with the hearing world.


See also:

“Read the Signs: Middle Grade Fiction Centering the Deaf Experience” by Ann Clare LeZotte. School Library Journal, January 8, 2020.: An overview of recent recommended middle grade novels featuring deaf and hard-of-hearing characters, by a Deaf author.

Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature: Run by Dr. Sharon Pajka, a professor at Gallaudet University, this list and blog gathers information about Deaf characters in children’s fiction.