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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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