PERHAPS ONE PROOF of a minority come into its own is its appearance in children's literature. If so, the handicapped have made it at last. Books for children about children who are handicapped are beginning to be commonplace. Only a few years ago they were rare - good ones, extremely rare. What most of them purport to do is inform the reader about a particular disability. The best one aim to help children understand not only what makes life with a disability different, but what makes it not so different after all. Three recent books on deafness achieve that aim with varying degrees of success.
The lovely photographs in Anna's Silent World by Bernard Wolf do more than the text to make it clear that although Anna's world may be a silent one, it is basically not much different from that of her hearing friends. The photographs relay that message well; the text is almost unnecessary, though it does impart information. Through it we learn what a profound hearing loss means in terms of decibels; we follow Anna through audiological evaluations, on into therapy sessions with her speech pathologist, and we see her working with wrist vibrators and amplifiers. But the photos also show Anna at play, at school, at dance class with body aids bulding under her leotard, at home with a friend, and at last opening presents on Christmas morning with her dog, cat and family about her.
Our curiousity about the disability, about what happens to Anna that's different, is satisfied; we have learned that it takes time and effort on the part of professionals who must help her, of teachers who must teach her, of parents and friends who must help her understand and he understood. But all in all Anna's silent world is a child's world.
For those who want children to get some sense for the ups and downs of life with a hearing impairment, Yes, I Wear a Hearing Aid by Claire Blatchford is the book to get. Mrs. Blatchford, speaks from experience and tells us what it feels like to become deaf at age six (after a bad case of mumps), to find the world suddenly quiet, to have people seem "far away," to get hearing aid in adolescence, to hate it, to feel "funny-looking" with the long cord coming out of her ear, glasses on her nose, braces on her teeth. But years ago by, the "brick" grow lighter, the embarrassment fades, and the disability becomes less handicapping. The child becomes a woman, a bride, and a mother who can her her baby cry, thanks to her hearing aid. Expressive illustrations convey the struggle involved but also the joy of adjusting to her disability .
The reader may not be quite so reassured by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson's I Have a Sister. My Sister is Deaf. The book focuses on what the deaf child cannot do. Although children at some point in their lives need to be made aware that some disabilities are indeed irreversible and that they do have unavoided tragic implications, this little picture book is heavy with them.
I have a sister who will never hear the branches scraping against the window of our room.
She will not hear the sweet tones of the wind chines I have hung up there . . .
When my friends ask, I tell them
I have a sister who watches television without turning on the sound.
I have a sister who rocks her dolls without singing any tune.
I have a sister who can talk with her fingers or in a hoarse, gentle voice.
But sometimes she yells so loud, our mother says the neighbors will complain.
True to life such characteristics may be the oddity of the deaf child is what comes through loud and clear, and that is not a useful message for young readers. The handicap is the same as that described in the other books, but one's reaction to it is not. In Mrs. Peterson's book deafness is isolating and alienating in the others it is a problem which people do something about. We can walk in Anna's shoes through her silent world. We can feel a 12 year old's frustrations with her hearing aid, glasses and braces, and we can fully share he final triumps as a grown-up in Mrs. Blatchford's book. In both books we get information which explains what is unfamiliar about life with a disability. More important, we get a clear sense that we share the same world, whether silent or full of sound.