Thursday, March 25, 2021

Brainstorm 238: Meets some Deaf People/Characters

This week I have some books featuring characters and real people who were/are deaf or have some hearing loss. Click on each title to see my full review and content notes for each book.

Always Inventing: a Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell by Tom L. Matthews

A biography of inventor Alexander Graham Bell illustrated with actual photographs and period paintings/artwork. Bell's wife was deaf and his contributions and work for the deaf community are inspiring.

Target Readers:

Biography Fans, Fans of Reads That Inspire, Nonfiction Fans, STEM Read Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony (Once upon a Masterpiece) by Anna Harwell Celenza, ill. by Joann E. Kitchel

A look into the life of composer Beethoven that highlights his slow descent into deafness and the composition of his Heroic Symphony.

Target Readers:

Picture Book Biography Fans, Music History Studiers, Fans of Stories of People Who Persevered, Music Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Charlie & Frog (Charlie & Frog, #1) by Karen Kane

Charlie's parents are always off working with some endangered species and leaving him with some caretaker or other. This time they've dumped him at his grandparents in the little town of Castle-on-the-Hudson where the cell phone signal is spotty and just about everyone in town speaks American Sign Language thanks to the Castle School for the Deaf which has been in the town for ages. During his trip to the library, Charlie meets Aggie, a little old lady who is Deaf and very distressed over something. All he can figure out is something about her messing up a secret that could result in destruction and she also signed the word for dead. Then two big, gruff men came in looking for her and she disappeared through a basement window leaving her knitting bag behind. The librarian is only so helpful with ASL, but she sends him to Frog who lives up at the Castle School for the Deaf. Frog is a budding detective on top of being fluent in ASL (she is Deaf, and her family runs the school). She quickly agrees to not only teach Charlie ASL but help him solve the mystery of Aggie. And as Charlie becomes more and more attached to the people in the town he starts brainstorming ways to bond with his grandparents so he can live with them full time instead of going to some strange boarding school while his parents do their animal rescue thing. Can he and Frog help Aggie? And can Charlie convince his family that he should stay in Castle-on-the-Hudson?

I really love that this book doesn't just talk about characters learning and using ASL, but it shows readers how to do many of the signs that Charlie learns. The end pages also include a full ASL alphabet guide and numbers 1-10. And each chapter begins with a drawing of how to do another sign.

Target Readers:

Contemporary Fiction Fans, Mystery Fans, Readers Wanting to Learn ASL, Friendship Story Fans, Middle Grade Readers

El Deafo by Cece Bell

CeCe Bell went deaf at age 4 after a childhood disease. She retells her childhood, dealing with her disability and feeling different, with some fictionalized events and a cast of rabbit characters.

Don't miss the author's notes in the back of this graphic novel! She does a fantastic job of clarifying the broad range of experiences for people who are deaf, and also how much of this is a true story and what she tweaked for the tale.

Target Readers:

Biographical Fiction Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Middle Grade Readers

I Have a Sister, My Sister Is Deaf by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson

A little girl introduces her sister who is deaf and all the things she can and can't do, what she likes, and ponders the perks and down sides to her sister's condition.

This book is several decades old now, but it is still a great introduction to kids to what deafness means, and that people who are deaf can have full and vibrant lives. The only thing that really dates the book are the monkey bars they play on.

Target Readers:

Sister Story Fans, Slice of Life Story Fans, Picture Book Readers

Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, ill. by Jeff Stokely

The village of Hameln has a bad rat problem. The village's rat catcher is having trouble keeping up, and fever is starting to run rampant. When the mysterious young man with the flute waltzes into town with a tangle of dead rats on his staff, the village leaders are eager to agree to his demands in exchange for the riddance of the rats. The only person who really gets to know the young man is Maggie. Few take the time to get to know Maggie because she is deaf. But the young man finds her intriguing, and she basks in his attention. But they have very different ideas of how to deal with past wrongs.

I was enthralled with the depth of the story that Asher & Freeburg wove in this Pied Piper of Hamelin graphic novel retelling. It's not all that long, but there are some big questions about whether justice and payment for wrongs are more importance than forgiveness, and how greed and pride can literally tear apart and ruin a village. Then there's the question of whether or not senses are really needed to be the most perceptive person, and if romantic love is worth compromising your deeply held beliefs. So much stuff to chew on. The art is attractive too.

Target Readers:

Fairytale Retelling Fans, Fantasy Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Fans of Stories to Chew On, Young Adult Fiction

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Told as if from the perspective of his nephew, a biography of deaf and mute artist James Castle who grew up in Idaho.

This is a heart-wrenching read. The people around young James Castle didn't have the knowledge or the heart to help him in his disabled state (and he was a contemporary of Helen Keller, so the knowledge was out there). Eventually he was recognized for his utterly original artwork, of which there are many pieces. So there is a tiny bit of a happy ending to his story. But you may want to have an entire box of tissues on hand. Hopefully this will move kids to care for those who are pushed aside by others. Definitely read Say's note on the illustrating process and how he used mediums that Castle used.

Target Readers:

Picture Book Biography Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Art Lovers, Fans of Reads That Inspire Compassion, Middle Grade Readers

The Sound of Silence by Myron Uhlberg

An autobiography of Myron Uhlberg that focuses on his childhood in Brooklyn and what it was like to grow up hearing with two deaf parents.

This book is the young reader’s adaptation of Uhlberg’s autobiography for adults Hands of My Father. Uhlberg’s story is fascinating. Because of his parents’ deafness, he was forced to act as an interpreter between them and the hearing world and act like an adult in some ways from a young age. His younger brother also had epilepsy and required care that, especially at night, his parents wouldn’t be aware of. So he was part-time care taker of his younger brother, the bridge between his parents and the rest of the hearing world, and also a boy in the 40s and 50s who just wanted to be a boy. Uhlberg shares his stories with a good dose of humor and though he admits he sometimes got tired of the responsibilities forced on him, his love for his family also shines through.

Target Readers:

Autobiography Fans, History Fans, Family Story Fans, Middle Grade/Young Adult Readers

Soundless by Richelle Mead

High on a mountain top in ancient Asia there was a village. The village used to be connected to farmland and the lowlands until an landslide blocked the path. With that separation also came another gradual change, all the villagers slowly went deaf. Fei and all other living villagers have never known what it's like to hear, but they have adapted well and are satisfied. But now some of them are starting to go blind. On top of that, their one connection to the lowlands and food has started to demand more ore from the mines and is delivering less food. Most villagers say to accept things, but when Li Wei loses his father in the mines because of his failing sight and Fei's sister has to be demoted from an artist to a servant, both find the motivation to go confront the man who controls their food lines. Li Wei wouldn't have agreed to take Fei down the steep sides of the mountain in such a risky climb, but the truth is he needs her. No one has attempted the climb before because they couldn't hear the rock slides. And inexplicably, Fei has started to regain her hearing. Neither knows what to expect at the bottom of the mountain nor exactly how to save their village, but they must try.

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Asian Characters/Settings Fans, Chinese Mythology-Inspired Story Fans, Overcomer Story Fans, Clean Romance Fans, Stand Alone Fantasy Fans, Young Adult Readers

3 Bonus Books on my TBR pile featuring Deaf people/characters:

Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (Ruby Lu, #2) by Lenore Look

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Brainstorm 237: Great Wordless Books Part 2

As promised, here is the 2nd half of my favorite wordless book reads in the past 5 years. Missed part 1 or older Brainstorms about wordless books? You can find all that here. Click on the titles to see my full review and content notes for each book.

The Paper Boat: a Refugee Story by Thao Lam

A wordless picture book about a girl and her mother, and some ants, who escape war in a boat. It is really helpful to read the author’s note in the back of the book about how this is her own story of escape from Vietnam and how the analogy with the ants was one that came from her family too. (I would even recommend reading it to kids before reading the book.) This puts the plight of refugees escaping by boat into terms that even little kids can process.

Target Readers:

Tender Refugee Story Fans, Vietnam War Studiers, Art Lovers, Those Looking for Books by Vietnamese-Canadian Creators, Picture Book Readers

Red by Jed Alexander

Little Red Riding Hood is on her way to her grandmother's house when she encounters a wolf. The wolf seems to be trying to stall Red, but why? A clever twist on the original Red Riding Hood tale.

Target Readers:

Fractured Fairytale Fans, Prior Knowledge & Prediction in Reading Studiers, Animal Lovers, Fans of Surprises, Picture Book Readers.

Re-Zoom (Zoom, #2) by Istvan Banyai

A wordless book that has you reevaluate what you are looking at as each successive page zooms out and shows you more. This book has you asking the question, ‘How often do we need to take a step back and see the bigger picture to better understand the situation?’ You do need to pay attention to details to figure out how some of the pages relate to the previous one.

Target Readers:

Puzzle Fans, Perspective Play Fans, Those Looking for Books by Hungarian Creators, Picture Book Readers

A Sea of Love by Wilfred Lupano, ill. by Grégory Panaccione

An Italian fisherman sets out for a normal work day, but his net gets caught on the propeller of a bigger fishing ship and he gets pulled way off course. He faces just about all the trials a man lost at sea can face. Meanwhile, his wife is distraught and through various means figures out where she thinks her husband might be headed and sets out to find him. And her journey throws her just as many unforeseen perks as her husband’s trials. Can they find each other in the midst of a huge sea? It’s a look at a deep love, two wild adventures, and a challenge to take better care of the ocean, all wrapped up in one wordless graphic novel.

Target Readers:

Sea Story Fans, Humor Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Adventure Fans, Those Looking for Books by French Creators, Young Adult/Adult Readers


Sign Off by Stephen Savage

What do the figures on signs do when no one else is around at night? Taking a page from all the stories that imagine what book characters or zoo animals or museum displays do at night, this does the same thing with the images on signs.

Target Readers:

Imaginative Story Fans, Kids Learning Sign Symbols, Humor Fans, Picture Book Readers

Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Bad grades in math and trouble fitting in manifest as little monsters that are eating away at a little boy. He thinks he is the only one with monsters and cracks in himself, until his older sister shares that she struggles too. He admits his struggles, and then his eyes are opened to others struggling. A powerful wordless graphic novel.

Target Readers:

Graphic Novel Fans, Mental Health Story Fans, Kids through Teens Fighting Their Own Monsters, School Counselors, Teachers and Parents Wanting to Start a Conversation with Kids or Teens about Mental Health, Middle Grade & Young Adult Readers

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche

A little girl goes out and makes a snow rabbit. Her friend or sister is in a wheel chair and can’t easily go out, so she brings the rabbit inside to her. The rabbit starts to melt so they decide to try and take the wheel chair out in the snow. To their astonishment, the rabbit comes to life and it starts to grow. Which is a good thing when the wheel chair refuses to move and strange creatures start to close in on the girls. Gorgeous artwork!

Target Readers:

Winter Story Fans, Wheel Chair User Character Fans, Rabbit Lovers, Fantasy Fans, Art Lovers, Heartwarming Story Fans, Those Looking for Books by French Creators, Picture Book Readers

Spot & Dot (Spot the Cat, #2) by Henry Cole

Spot the cat is hot on the trail of Dot, the lost dog. Readers get to see if they can find Spot and Dot in each illustration, and also get to find out if the two will find their way back to their owners. 

Target Readers:

Black & White Art Fans, Hidden Picture Fans, Animal Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Stormy: a Story about Finding a Forever Home by Guojing

A wordless picture book about a shy, homeless puppy, and a kind woman who keeps trying to befriend the puppy, but isn't able to fully connect until a big storm.

Target Readers:

Dog Lovers, Animal Adoption Story Fans, Tenderhearted Story Fans, Art Lovers, Those Looking for Books by Chinese Creators, Picture Book Readers

That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares

A little boy starts building a tree house, but seems to be having issues. A curious new neighbor comes to his aid and the two find a new friendship and more color in their lives through the experience.

Target Readers:

Contemporary Fiction Fans, Those Studying the Use of Color to Convey Emotions, Kids Practicing Interpreting Facial Expressions, Friendship Story Fans, Treehouse Story Fans, Picture Book Readers

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

A little girl and a little wolf lost in the snow find and help each other. This is a sweet story of one act of kindness being returned for another act of kindness, even though the two parties are supposed to be enemies. The only words in this are onomatopoeia for the sounds the animals in the woods make, so I guess it is debatable whether or not it is truly wordless, but since there’s no dialogue or narration or anything I’m going to include it.

Target Readers:

Kindness Story Fans, Good Samaritan-ish Story Fans, Onomatopoeia Studiers, Winter Story Fans, Caldecott Winner Fans, Picture Book Readers

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Brainstorm 236: Great Wordless Books Part 1

Once upon a time, about oh…5 years ago, I did back to back Brainstorms on my favorite wordless picture books and wordless graphic novels. It’s been a while since 2016 so I think it is time for more great wordless books that have come out in the past 5 years, or at least come to my attention and our library shelves within that time. Wordless books are wonderful for many educational reasons (I listed several in those previous Brainstorms). And they are usually amazing works of art too. I also like how wordless books are more likely to be published in multiple countries (they only have to translate the cover and publication info), so they can introduce you to creators from other countries you might not otherwise be exposed to. If you are looking for a feast for the eyes and a workout for the brain, hunt down some of these titles. I have a lot of titles to share with you, so I’m going to split this into two weeks. I'm including summaries here; click on the book titles to see my full review and more info about each one.

Andrew the Seeker (Game for Adventure) by Lee Nordling, ill. by Scott Roberts

Andrew spots the monster he has drawn outside his window and sets out with his adventuring hat and a net to catch the creature. But the monster plays one serious game of hide-n-seek. Will Andrew ever catch it?

Target Readers:

Graphic Novel Fans, Humor Fans, Hide-n-Seek Fans, Lower Grade Readers

Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui

A series of pictures that display a before and after. It may be something that will change in a matter of seconds, like fireworks before they explode and their display in the sky. Or it could be something that will take many days or decades, like a cow in a field becoming a painting of a cow in a field, a well-kept house becoming a broken down relic, or an acorn and a mighty oak. From seasons to productions, they have one thing in common, one thing came before the other. This creative pair also has another wordless book Inside Outside. 

Target Readers:

Puzzle Lovers (some spreads take puzzling to figure out), Kids Learning about Sequence Concepts, Those Looking for Books by French Creators, Picture Book Readers


Door by JiHyeon Lee

A boy finds a key with a colorful bug beside it. In a world without color, the bug is captivating and the boy follows it to a door that the key opens. He suddenly finds himself in a world bursting with color and new creatures and languages. Afraid at first, he eventually finds friendship in this world, even if the languages are foreign and creatures he meets look strange.

Target Readers:

Cross-Cultural Explorers, Fantasy Fans, Adventure Fans, Friendship Story Fans, Those Looking for Books by Korean Creators, Portal World Story Fans, Picture Book Readers


The Farmer and the Monkey (The Farmer Books, #2) by Marla Frazee

The Farmer, who is obviously missing his little clown friend (met in the first wordless book in this series, The Farmer and the Clown), finds himself caring for a new visitor who has an overabundance of energy. The illustrations in this are hilarious, and for those who enjoy the Farmer's adventures in kindness, there's a 3rd Farmer book slated to come out in April 2021.

Target Readers:

Kindness Story Fans, Humor Fans, Monkey Lovers, Picture Book Readers


Flora and the Peacocks (Flora series) by Molly Idle

Flora is trying to dance with some peacocks, but the peacocks get jealous whenever Flora pays attention to just one of them. Soon, no one is having fun, but eventually they work things out. Strategic flaps help tell the story.

Flora has other wordless book adventures with flamingos, penguins, chicks, and an ostrich book with just a couple words.

Target Readers:

Social Skills Story Fans, Friendship Story Fans, Lift-the-Flap Fans, Bird Lovers, Dance Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Fly! by Mark Teague

Mama Bird thinks it is time for Baby Bird to learn how to fly so they can go South. Baby Bird isn't so sure about flying, but he does have other methods of transportation in mind. Can Mama Bird convince Baby Bird to try flying? It is amazing how much of a humorous conversation Teague conveys with just illustrations.

Target Readers:

Humor Fans, Bird Lovers, Those Looking for Stories about Trying New (Maybe Scary) Things, Picture Book Readers


I Walk with Vanessa: a Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët

A wordless story about a girl who witnesses another girl being bullied and comes up with a great idea of how to help, by walking with her to school. There's an adult discussion guide in the back of the book.

Target Readers:

Kindness Story Fans, Anti-bullying Story Fans, Inspirational Story Fans, Contemporary Fiction Fans, Those Looking for Books by French Creators, Picture Book Readers

Imagine! by Raúl Colón

A boy goes to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has an amazing day in the city when characters from several paintings come to life. He's then inspired to create some artwork of his own. Make sure you read the author's note in the back of this one!

Target Readers:

Art Lovers & Studiers, Fantasy Fans, Those Looking for a Picture Book Tour of New York City, Picture Book Readers

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn

A man peacefully protesting is unjustly arrested and thrown into prison by the opposition. The guards snatch away any letters he gets, but when word of his plight gets out, a flood of letters helps him get out of prison. The author’s note says that this is written in honor of Amensty International’s Write for Rights that helps get encouraging letters to people unjustly imprisoned around the world.

Target Readers:

Human Rights Story Fans, Symbolism Studiers, Fantasy Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Middle Grade Readers

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

Little Red Cat ends up on quite the chase after accidentally upsetting an alligator, a bear, a chicken, and a dragon. Their chase takes them all over the place, with each page highlighting something or an action that starts with the letter of the alphabet displayed. There's a guide for what each item or action was in the back of the book for those who like to check. This one is just begging to be a creative writing prompt.

Target Readers:

Humor Fans, Animal Lovers, Alphabet Book Fans, Picture Book Readers

Looking Down by Steve Jenkins

If you were an astronaut in space and zoomed in on one spot on Earth, what could you see? This book provides one possible perspective, with each page a little more zoomed in on one spot on Earth.

Target Readers:

Curious Readers, Kids Studying Perspective, Nonfiction Fans, Picture Book Readers