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Literary Insights: Must-Reads for Understanding Deaf Culture

Interested in Deaf culture? Read this article and find list of amazing books to gain more insight into the amazing world of Deaf culture!

Molly Glass
Author:
Molly Glass
Literary Insights: Must-Reads for Understanding Deaf Culture
Molly Glass
Molly Glass

Molly, a Deaf mom of two CODAs, lives with her hearing partner of almost 14 years in the scenic Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Profoundly Deaf since 18 months old, she enjoys writing about the lived Deaf experiences and advocacy. In her free time she reads, and is very slowly working on authoring her first book.

Literature courses are a rite of passage in many schools. Many of us have experienced slow painful progress through Hamlet or Shakespeare, with language no longer used today. While literature shows us how people lived in history, we can also see how different cultures currently live. One such culture to be aware of is the Deaf culture. 

We will explore different books that both Deaf and hearing people will enjoy – whether you’re a child or an adult. Literature on this topic can give insight into the human experience and trigger empathy. Reading can be a form of relaxation, and help improve our vocabulary and language skills while modeling lifelike situations.

Deaf Kids & Literacy

A group of young children sitting on a brick wall and reading books.
A group of young children sitting on a brick wall and reading books.

As many Deaf kids struggle with language deprivation, they need to have access to children’s stories in ASL. Many Deaf children grow up to be bilingual in ASL and English, but they are different languages, and ASL provides more visual access. There are both books targeted to Deaf and hearing children with Deaf characters and books in ASL format. We will look at both.

Books in ASL

A very popular source of ASL stories is Rocky Mountain Deaf School based in Colorado. Jeni Jackerson, one of their storytellers, has a large fan following. You can find a variety of stories on their YouTube channel RMDSCO.

The American Society for Deaf Children has an exhaustive list of ASL stories in its directory. This list is organized by title, topic, age, and holidays. They also have tutorials on how to read a children's book in ASL which is useful for educators and parents alike. 

Texas School for the Deaf’s own State Outreach Center also has an ASL Storytelling Library, available to anyone interested. 

iTV offers approximately 140 signed stories to choose from, available in both ASL and BSL options.

Also, you can check out this book Chester’s Way signed by the Deaf actress Katie Leclerc. 

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Print Books with Deaf Themes

Books in print are also available for d/Deaf and hearing youth that address themes of sign language, hearing loss, deafness, culture, and advocacy. 

Deaf Child Crossing

Cover image of book Deaf Child Crossing.
Cover image of book Deaf Child Crossing.

This book written by Marlee Matlin is targeted at ages 9-13 years old. The themes explore the struggles of Deaf and hearing friendships. It is available for purchase on Amazon

El Deafo

Cover image of book El Deafo.
Cover image of book El Deafo.

A graphic novel, written by Cece Bell, aimed at ages 7-10 years old. It shows a superhero wearing a hearing aid and saving the world. Available on Amazon

The Silence Between Us

Cover image of book The Silence Between Us.
Cover image of book The Silence Between Us.

This book, written by Alison Gervais, was named the Teacher’s Pick for Young Adult (YA) category. The book themes show the struggle of a deaf student being mainstreamed in a hearing school. The age level is aimed at 13 years and older. Available on Amazon.

Hurt Go Happy

Cover image of book Hurt Go Happy.
Cover image of book Hurt Go Happy.

Written by Ginny Rorby, this book illustrates the story of a chimpanzee who learns sign language – and a Deaf girl who befriends the chimpanzee. Aimed at ages 10-14 years old and available on Amazon

Song for a Whale

Cover image of book Song For A Whale
Cover image of book Song For A Whale

Another award-winning book, this novel written by Lynne Kelly, shares the struggle of a deaf girl who is mainstreamed. She learns of a whale who struggles to communicate and wants to befriend it. Aimed at ages 9-12 years old and available on Amazon

I Deaf-initely Can, Rhett The Heeler

Cover image of book I Deaf-initely Can
Cover image of book I Deaf-initely Can

Written by a Deaf author, Karlie Waldrip, this book shares the story of a deaf dog who is adopted by a Deaf girl. Young elementary children will enjoy this story and its accompanied illustrations. 

Books for Deaf or Hearing Adults

From memoirs, to biographies, to fiction there are a lot of options to choose from. Take a look at a few below. 

The Butterfly Cage

Cover image of the book The Butterfly Cage
Cover image of the book The Butterfly Cage

A compelling memoir written by a Deaf author and former teacher Rachel Zemach sharing her experiences teaching in a mainstream school with Deaf children. Covers themes of language deprivation, Deaf education, and the journey to a Deaf identity. Available on Amazon

The Sign for Home

Cover image of the book The Sign For Home.
Cover image of the book The Sign For Home.

This novel written by Blair Fell covers the story of a DeafBlind man who falls in love and attempts to find the woman who got away. Available on Amazon

Resilient Silence

Cover image of book Resilient Silence.
Cover image of book Resilient Silence.

Written by Deaf author Peter Quint, this suspense novel follows two brothers, one hearing and one Deaf, as theynavigate the loss of their father together. Peter Quint also has a supplementary study guide to help readers understand more about Deaf culture. Available on Amazon.

True Biz

Cover image of book True Biz.
Cover image of book True Biz.

A Goodreads Choice, this book written by Sara Novic is a novel that covers fictional stories of Deaf students at a Deaf institute. It explores themes of injustices, civil rights, and daily struggles. Available on Amazon

Deaf Utopia 

Cover image of book Deaf Utopia.
Cover image of book Deaf Utopia.

A memoir by Deaf American’s Top Model, Nyle DiMarco. It shares his journey of being Deaf in a multigenerational Deaf family and his roots before becoming an actor and advocate. Available on Amazon

The Invention of Miracles

Cover image of the book The Invention of Miracles.
Cover image of the book The Invention of Miracles.

This book details the history of Alexander Graham Bell and his largely felt impact on the Deaf community. It tells the untold story of his efforts to suppress the spread of sign language as we know it today. Written by Katie Booth and available on Amazon

Other Books to Explore:

  • Mom Dad Not Hear, by CODA Mickey Carolan
  • I’ll Scream Later, by Marlee Matlin
  • Sounds Like Home: Growing up Black and Deaf in the South, by Mary Wright
  • Deaf Like Me, by Thomas Spradley
  • Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption, by Brandi Rarus

There are numerous more stories than we can mention in this article. As you read about Deaf characters and culture, you will learn how to create unity and understand the collective impact we can have on each other in positive ways. As a Deaf person, you will feel seen and learn how to advocate for yourself. Hearing readers will discover how to be the allies we need. Keep reading to contribute to a more inclusive and compassionate world for us all. 

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