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!

Deaf History and Culture Resources

The Deaf Community in America: History in the Making by Melvia and Ronald Nomeland (McFarland, 2011).

A comprehensive insider’s view of the development of the Deaf Community in America, by two Deaf authors.

Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.  (Harvard University Press, 1988).

This excellent book, written by two Deaf authors, illuminates the tension between the Deaf and hearing views of deafness.  An essential primer for any student of Deaf Culture.

Inside Deaf Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries. (Harvard University Press, 2006)

The authors trace the significant moments in the history of the American Deaf community, illuminating the efforts of Deaf Americans of all backgrounds to rise above the oppression and coercion they have faced at every turn.

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard by Nora Ellen Groce. (Harvard University Press, 1985)

Imagine living in a place where everyone signed, whether they were hearing or deaf.  For over 200 years, that’s how it was on Martha’s Vineyard, where many of the people were deaf, and participated in every aspect of life on the island.

My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language by Emily Arnold McCully. (Hyperion, 2008)

This excellent nonfiction picture book presents what is essentially the “creation story” of Deaf Culture in America.  McCully keeps the focus on young Alice, the girl who lost her hearing during a bout of spotted fever at the age of 2, and, by virtue of being the daughter of a wealthy doctor and philanthropist who happened to live next door to minister Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, inspired the advent of deaf education in the United States, and with it, the conditions that spawned American Sign Language.

See What I Mean: Differences Between Deaf and Hearing Cultures, 2nd edition (DVD; Eye to Eye Productions, 2009).

Presented by Thomas K. Holcomb & Anna Mindess, this funny and entertaining video clearly shows the differences between Deaf and hearing cultures, with a little help from “Miss Deaf Manners” and “Miss Hearing Manners”.

Victory Week by Walter P. Kelley.  Illustrated by Tony L. McGregor. (Deaf Life Press. 1998)

In language accessible to younger children, a child narrator tells the story of the 1988 “Deaf President Now” movement at Gallaudet University, which resulted in the appointment of Gallaudet’s first deaf president.

The Week the World Heard Gallaudet by Jack R. Gannon. (Gallaudet University Press, 1989)

An inspiring photo-history of the historic Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet, which led to the appointment of the first deaf president in the university’s history.

ASL Resources for Elementary Students

All About Sign Language by Felicia Lowenstein. (Enslow, 2004)

With a high-interest format and full-color photos and illustrations, Lowenstein uses stories  of real deaf people, such as Helen Keller and Alice Cogswell, to introduce each chapter, and effortlessly weaves the fascinating history of American Sign Language into the narrative.  Setting it apart from many books on the subject, this one goes into the linguistic principles of ASL, using the five aspects of a sign not only to demonstrate sign vocabulary, but also to show that ASL is a real language.

The Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language. (Gallaudet University Press, 2014)

With colorful illustrations and easy-to-use organization, this is a great first ASL dictionary.

Learn to Sign the Fun Way: Let Your Fingers Do the Talking with Games, Puzzles, and Activities in American Sign Language by Penny Warner.  (Prima, 2001)

This book is packed with vocabulary, depicted in clear, kid-friendly drawings and organized into well-defined chapters, but it also gives a host of cultural information without  overwhelming young readers.  A section of simple sign language games at the back is of especial use to teachers.

Signing For Kids by Mickey Flodin. (Putnam 1991).

The first signing manual written for kids, this guide presents a host of signs in an easy-to-follow, large format.  Included among the subjects are the manual alphabet, pets and animals, food, sports, school, family and friends, money, and numbers.

Signs for Me: Basic Sign Vocabulary for Children, Parents, & Teachers by Ben Bahan & Joe Dannis (DawnSignPress, 1990)

With an informative introduction, clear organization, easy-to-follow line drawings, and illustrations for each concept, this book is a classic ASL resource.

Sing ‘n Sign Holiday Time with Gaia.  (Heartsong Communications, 2003)

Gaia Tossing leads a group of deaf, hearing, and hard-of-hearing kids in signing Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah songs in this spirited production, available on both video and DVD.  All content is signed as well as spoken and open-captioned, making the production completely accessible.  The DVD also features a “Training” section, where Gaia and Jonnie break down 14 songs and teach viewers the ASL interpretations, incorporating valuable information about ASL structure and how it differs from English.

You Can Learn American Sign Language by Jackie Kramer and Tali Ovadia. (Troll,

A great source of ASL vocabulary, with over three hundred signs arranged by theme in a high-interest graphic style incorporating color photos of real kids and snappy comic illustrations.