Award-Winning Books for Children with Hearing Loss

IMG_1154This week’s blog is written by Wendy Kupfer, who has a daughter with profound hearing loss. She searched for books in which children with hearing loss were characters but could find none, so she decided to write one. The book, “Let’s Hear it For Almigal” (Handfinger Press, 2102), was named among the best in family-friendly media and received the Mom’s Choice Award for Children’s books. Wendy grew up in Philadelphia and now lives in South Florida. Her daughter, Ali, is now a successful young adult.

Like all children, children with hearing loss need to be able to identify with the characters in the books they read. However, there have been almost no books that meet this need. Let’s Hear it For Almigal makes a wonderful contribution to help solve that problem.

 

By Wendy Kupfer

This journey began in 1977.  At 10 months of age, my sweet baby girl was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss and the very prominent doctors said she would never speak.  Thankfully, they were wrong! I have had the honor and pleasure of watching my beautiful daughter grow into a confident and capable woman, who happens to be a total chatterbox.

With my children grown and no longer needing my constant advice, I eventually realized that I needed to channel my parental guidance into something meaningful.  I was always an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing, but I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to do more to give back.

Several years ago I had the good fortune of working for the University of Miami Cochlear Implant Program as a development professional.  I fell in love every day with the little ones coming in to see the docs or to work with their Auditory Verbal Therapists.

As a grandmother, I wanted to share this experience with my three granddaughters. I began searching for children’s books featuring characters wearing hearing devices, which would also help them learn more about their Aunt Ali.

Would you believe, in a very large, two-story bookstore filled with millions of titles, I couldn’t find any…not even one!  Instead, I purchased the popular girly books to share with Zoey, Sofie and Blake…Pinkalicious, Olivia and, of course, Fancy Nancy. (I do love and recommend them all!

Searching online revealed a different story…there were SOME books featuring kids with hearing loss, but not nearly enough. I also discovered that dedicated audiologists, parents and therapists had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to self-publish many of these books. Why didn’t the major publishers publish them so they could look more like the most popular stories?  Why weren’t they actually located on the bookshelves of the brick and mortar stores? With over 3 million children in the United States having hearing loss, something was clearly wrong with this picture!

Enthusiastically I announced to my granddaughters, “Nana is going to write a children’s book about Aunt Ali, and it’s going to be hard-bound and big and beautiful, just like your Fancy Nancy books!” (I think we Boomers have a tendency to be just a little over-confident.)

Let’s Hear It For Almigal was never meant to be a primer on hearing loss.  My goal was to write a story that would nurture the self-esteem of deaf and hard of hearing children.  Our children need to see characters in the media that are just like them…adorable kids wearing hearing devices. I wanted to produce the book that I wished had been available for Ali when she was a little girl….a book that would remind children that what makes us feel different, is actually what makes us unique.

My hope was to write a story of inclusion that all children would enjoy….a book that would raise awareness of children with hearing loss and encourage kids to celebrate their differences.

I had no experience in this arena and absolutely no idea how to begin, but I’m proud to report that two years later, in May 2012 for Better Speech and Hearing Month, Almigal made her grand entrance.  (AG Bell was very gracious in hosting a Let’s Hear It For Almigal launch party at The Volta Bureau.)

Almigal enjoys being unique.  She proudly introduces herself on the first page, “Hi, my name is Almigal.  (Actually, my real name is Ali, but I prefer Almigal because I don’t know anyone else with that name.)”

Almigal is a spunky little girl with a BIG personality who just happens to be hard-of-hearing.  She wears cotton-candy pink hearing aids and her best friend Penelope wears grape-jelly purple hearing aids.  She has lots of friends, goes to ballet class, swims at pool parties and even gets into trouble with a time-out.

Almigal is very disappointed when her hearing aids don’t allow her to hear all the people in her life…“I need to hear every single sound in the whole entire universe!”  That’s when her doctor recommends a cochlear implant.  She is hesitant at first, saying “Of course, I was kind of scared.  I never went to a hospital before, but the operation was a piece of cake.”

Almigal has a little difficulty pronouncing cochlear, but is relieved that she can get them in her favorite cotton-candy pink.

When I read in the schools, the boys always want to know if Almigal’s mischievous poodle really ran away with her new pink implant.  The girls giggle when Almigal tries on all her favorite outfits with her cochlear implants to make sure she is still adorable.  They especially appreciate the end of the story because Almigal can finally hear her parents say, “We love you, Almigal” when they tuck her into bed for the night.

But Almigal is also very real and expresses real feelings. She says, “Some days I think to myself, ‘why don’t all my friends wear hearing aids?,”  And “Other days I feel left out when I can’t always hear what my friends are saying.”

This journey is also about supporting our children by educating their peers.  I truly enjoy the eager and mesmerized faces of the hearing students.  They have so many questions and are totally fascinated when I show them hearing aids and CIs.

But nothing could have prepared me for the emotions of receiving an email from a parent thanking me for writing this book and telling me what it has meant to their child.

Parents often relate stories of children taking Almigal to school so the teacher can share her with the class.  One mom said her daughter wants to be just like Almigal and the surprise on her face when she started reading and saw that Almigal was just like her!

There is humor as well.  Often when I leave a school the students send me thank-you notes or drawings.  Recently I received a beautiful message from a second grader thanking me for taking the time to come to his school to tell him about my daughter’s cochlear “EGGPLANTS”.  (Priceless!!!!)

Older kids ask how did Almigal get her name?  I explain that my daughter is Ali and she is my gal.  If you say Ali-my-gal fast, you get Almigal.

I am extremely proud that 5% of each sale is donated to organizations that support children with hearing loss and their families.  I hope that Almigal’s popularity continues to grow allowing us to grow these donations.

This adventure has truly been a blessing.  I continue to learn every day and I only hope that I can become even more of an advocate and an asset as time goes on. I am meeting and connecting with smart and caring professionals (like Jane Madell) as well as extremely dedicated parents.  It’s a privilege to continue on this journey.

 

About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 5 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.