How do you read a story book to someone who can’t hear?

How do you read a story book to someone who can’t hear? Or teach someone to read who can’t speak? 

Sometimes it takes a couple of people who’ve grown up with the challenge to provide the solution, and in this case, two wonderful and deaf mothers who wanted to see sign language and deaf characters in children’s story books. And what do you do when you can’t find any on the shelves? You write and publish your own!  

We spoke to authors Kerrie and Jen from Tall Giraffe Publishing to get some background on their book and it’s importance to the deaf and wider community. 

First of all, what is Auslan?
Auslan stands for Australian Sign Language. It is an actual and visual language with its own grammar rules and syntax, and uses hands, arms, body movements and facial expressions to communicate and convey meaning. It’s a wonderful and expressive language and is a native tongue for many Australians.

How do you depict sign language in a story book?
It involved hiring an extremely gifted, Deaf artist who understood the importance of facial expression, handshapes, and movement to depict a person signing each word or phrase. One of us uses  Auslan as our native language, so we were able to ensure that it followed the same grammatical syntax.

Where did the inspiration for a bilingual story book come from?
As a teacher, Kerrie noticed the lack of opportunities for Deaf children to enjoy the benefits of story time with hearing parents, which had a major impact on their literacy and language development. Parents needed a book they could confidently read to their Deaf child in their own language. Providing a bilingual book seemed to be the perfect solution for bridging both languages. For Jen, it was about passionately advocating Deaf children’s right to be represented in stories, without glorifying their hearing loss, and to recognise themselves and their language in a “normal” book. There was also the added understanding of just how special story time is between a parent and child. Our children are always looking for ways to connect and relate to the characters in the story, ask questions, and make connections to their everyday world. Stories play a huge part in a child’s language development and imagination. There’s been so much excitement and awe from the children as they read directly from the Auslan images. It has been amazing to watch the way they light up as they point to their favourite sign in recognition, and connect it to the story illustrations. Children are also able to independently read the book and follow the story just as if it were in English or French using Auslan.

Are these books just for deaf and hard of hearing children?
Initially, it had been for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, and Deaf/HOH parents for their children, but it has also become a cherished book to many children who are considered non-verbal. We had a parent film their daughter, who is non-verbal, reading her own copy of A Visit to the Zoo, signing out each signed image with confidence and clear recognition. It dawned on us that this girl was, for the very first time, independently reading a book. It’s so easy to take that for granted.

Your first title has been incredibly popular, what other titles can we expect?
We are currently working another book that is about a Deaf family gathering for lunch and a family surprise, with a focus on family signs. This book will be a little more entertaining, with fun interactions between family members. We hope it’ll start a conversation between parents and their children about their own family traditions, and things they like to do together. We have many story ideas, but are very reliant on fundraising to help us print these books as we are self-published.

If we wanted to learn more Auslan where’s the best place to start?
Expression Australia (formerly Vicdeaf) is an organisation that always promotes Auslan community classes to those eager to learn. Melbourne Polytechnic Institute also provides professionally recognised courses for those looking to learn Auslan and Deaf culture on a full-time or part-time basis. Some students go on to be qualified Auslan interpreters, or use their learned extensive understanding and skills in positions where they can use Auslan daily!

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We’ve been privileged to see the impact this book has had on a range of our customers, particularly those families looking to teach their children Auslan as a second language and the schools who’ve added it to their libraries as a step towards inclusiveness. Click here to visit the product page on our website to get your hands on one of these brilliant books and keep an eye on the Tall Giraffe website and Facebook page for the next book being released.