CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 15 . . . . March 29, 2002
River of Hands: Deaf Heritage Stories is an anthology of four stories created by young Deaf authors and illustrators through a project of the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf. The purposes of this project were to increase the small amount of Canadian children's literature reflecting the Deaf experience and to provide an opportunity for new Deaf authors, storytellers, and illustrators to emerge. This book is the first of its kind for Canadian children's literature. The stories, "But" and "Zzzzzz" are traditional Deaf folktales passed down through generations of Deaf people in American Sign Language, but this is the first time they have been recorded in print. "A Fishy Story" and "Unlucky Charm"are original stories created by the authors. The authors' ages range between 12 and 17 years.
The primary goal of the stories is not to educate or inform others about being Deaf, but rather to introduce interesting characters, who happen to be Deaf, and show how they respond to funny events and challenging situations. In the process of the stories' doing this, the reader learns about features of American Sign Language, technical devices that Deaf people use, and differences between visual and auditory information. This awareness is facilitated by including explanatory notes following each story and "Did you ever wonder?" sections that describe historical facts about how Deaf people managed before devices were invented to provide visual access to doorbells, alarm clocks, and telephones.
Although each story is introduced with an illustration, the pages that follow are straight text. I feel that the stories would be better presented in picture book form with a mixture of pictures and text on each page. The actions and funny situations presented in the stories would be enhanced through illustrations, and this format would be more engaging for the age of the intended audience/reader. In several stories, the influence of American Sign Language (ASL) on the writing can be noted. For example, verbs are repeated in ASL to provide emphasis and in one story the character is "thinking and thinking and thinking." Other examples include the use of words to represent mouth movements that accompany signs, such as "CHA CHA" to indicate "huge," or "PAH" to mean "finally." I understand that the purpose of writing this way may facilitate comprehension by Deaf readers who use ASL or may introduce features of ASL to readers who are not familiar with this language; however, I do believe this may be confusing to readers who don't know ASL.
I would highly recommend this book both for Deaf and hearing children. The stories allow Deaf children to see the characters as role models and validate their own experiences through situations and events to which they can relate. The book also reinforces the notion that Deaf people can be authors and teaches them about their history and heritage. The value of these stories for hearing children is to increase their awareness of Deaf people, American Sign Language, and the role that vision and hearing play in our lives. These features would make River of Hands an appropriate resource for studies involving the senses as well as different cultures and languages.
The Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf is to be congratulated for instigating this project and making such a positive and needed contribution to children's literature.
Dr. Charlotte Evans teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and conducts research on the literacy development of Deaf children.
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