10 Great Picture Books About ASL and Deaf Culture

December 3-10 is Clerc-Gallaudet Week, honoring the birthdays of two visionary leaders in the field of American Deaf Education who were born in December: Laurent Clerc on December 26, 1785 and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet on December 10, 1787. Check out this previous post for more information about Clerc and Gallaudet, including program and lesson ideas.

Today we are honoring Clerc-Gallaudet week by sharing our 10 favorite picture books/series about American Sign Language and Deaf Culture:

heart glow1) My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language by Emily Arnold McCully. (Hyperion, 2008)

This moving nonfiction picture book presents what is essentially the “creation story” of Deaf Culture in America. McCully keeps the focus on young Alice, the girl who lost her hearing during a bout of spotted fever at the age of 2, and, by virtue of being the daughter of a wealthy doctor and philanthropist who happened to live next door to minister Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, inspired the advent of deaf education in the United States, and with it, the conditions that spawned American Sign Language.


hands and hearts2) Hands and Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli. New York: Abrams, 2014.

On the surface, this is a simple, lyrical tale of mother and daughter spending a day at the beach, but every bit of it is built around the things their hands do: waving hello to the waves, digging in the sand, making a tent, and even being “Yak yak hands/yak yak fingers/telling as we run/out the gate down the path.” It’s a subtle reference to mother and child signing, and indeed, each page is accompanied by illustrations teaching a relevant sign such as RUN, WATER, or SUN. Amy Bates’ dreamy illustrations make this a sweet, gentle tale of family togetherness.


 catalogsummary3) Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series by Dawn Babb Prochovnic (Abdo Publishing Group)

There are sixteen volumes and counting in this storytime-ready series. Each focuses on different topic, from animals to food to school signs, and introduces basic American Sign Language through a fun rhyming story and colorful illustrations.


4) The Moses books by Isaac Millman (Farrar Straus & Giroux): Moses Goes to a Concert (1998), Moses Goes to School (2000) , Moses Goes to the Circus (2003), Moses Sees a Play (2004)

school  circusplay  concert

These excellent picture books incorporate basic sign language instruction into stories of a little boy named Moses, who is deaf. The illustrations are child- friendly and clearly depict the signs, which are related to the story. Of special note is Moses Goes to School, which offers a look at everyday life in a school for the deaf.


printer5) The Printer by Myron Uhlberg (Peachtree, 2003)

This unique picture book presents the tale of a deaf printer who, through the use of American Sign Language, is able to communicate with other deaf printers over the roar of the printing presses, and save their hearing counterparts from a fire.


dad6) Dad and Me in the Morning by Patricia Lakin. (Whitman, 1994)

Early one morning, when it is still dark, a young boy wakes to his special alarm clock. He puts on his hearing aid and his clothes, then goes to wake his father. Together they walk down to the beach. Jacob cannot hear, so he and his father sign or lipread or just squeeze each other’s hands. This poetic story is beautifully illustrated in glowing watercolors.


wall7) The Garden Wall by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes. (Charlesbridge, 2006)

Tim is taken aback when he learns that his new neighbor is not only a girl, but is also deaf. When he is assigned to work with her to perform a fable at school, he’s nervous – but as he gets to know Maria, their performance of “The Hearing Country Mouse and the Deaf City Mouse” comes together, and they become friends. This story introduces some basic sign language as well as information about the technology used by Deaf people.


abc   1238) The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin (Dial Books, 1991) and The Handmade Counting Book by Laura Rankin. (Dial Books, 1998)

To celebrate the expressiveness of ASL, artist Laura Rankin presents her striking interpretation of the manual alphabet and numbers 1-20, 25, 50, 75, and 100. Here, the hand that signs “V” holds a valentine, “I” points to delicate icicles, and “O” dangles a shining ornament, and ASL number signs are paired with beautifully drawn objects.


secret9) Secret Signs: An Escape Through the Underground Railroad by Anita Riggio. (Boyds Mills Press, 1997)

In the mid-1800s, Luke and his mother help support themselves by making panoramic eggs of maple sugar. When a man bursts into their home and accuses them of hiding slaves, Luke’s mother denies the charges–although she is planning to meet her contact on the Underground Railroad that very day. With his mother held at home, Luke, who is deaf, must use his resources and creative talents to help make the connection.


letssign10) Let’s Sign! Every Baby’s Guide to Communicating with Grownups by Kelly Ault. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

In three short stories that introduce useful signs to use with the youngest children, babies communicate and play with their caregivers. This book is a great addition to baby or toddler storytimes.


Creating a Diverse Book Collection

From Lee & Low Books’ blog, The Open Book:

“It’s not easy to create an inclusive book collection. Whether you’re a librarian creating a collection for an entire community, a teacher creating a collection for your classroom, or a parent creating a collection for your children, choosing books that reflect the diversity of human experience can be a challenging job.

That’s because creating a diverse book collection is about more than just making sure X, Y, and Z are represented. It’s not a matter of ticking off check boxes or making sure quotas are filled. For those committed to doing it right, building a diverse book collection requires contemplation, research, and awareness. But the rewards are great: a truly diverse collection of books can turn children into lifelong readers and promote empathy, understanding, and self-confidence.”

Check out the rest of this great post for actionable steps to creating real diversity in your collection: Checklist: 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection.

Happy Picture Book Month!

PBMBADGE-AMBASSADORNovember is Picture Book Month! This international literacy initiative, founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas, celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. Check out the Picture Book Month website, which features daily posts from “picture book champions” and has lots of great classroom and storytime resources!

To celebrate, here are some of our favorite picture book posts from here, there, and everywhere:

And some of our favorite picture book recommendations:

Recommended Resource: Including Families of Children with Special Needs

banks300Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. Revised by Carrie Scott Banks from the original by Sandra Feinberg, Barbara Jordan, Kathleen Deerr, and Michelle Langa.  Chicago, IL: Neal-Schuman, 2014.

The original 1999 edition of this book was a powerful resource for creating inclusive public library services; with the explosion of technologies and the intense changes in our society’s discussion of disability since that time, purchasing the updated edition is a no-brainer for any public librarian.  For those new to the idea of creating truly inclusive spaces, or those already doing it who want more resources, this is a comprehensive handbook that addresses the basics and beyond.

The authors begin by explaining what inclusion is; as they say, “children with disabilities are often segregated from their typically developing peers because of their ‘special needs’.”  They make a powerful case that this segregation has a negative effect on not only on these children, but also on society as a whole.  Aside from the fact that serving all users is essential to the library’s mission, providing inclusive services expands the library’s user base and creates opportunities for staff development.  The book outlines the various laws requiring inclusion and how they impact libraries, and explains how libraries can support people with disabilities and their families as an informal community support, through resources, referrals, collections, and programs.  But where it really shines is in its discussion of Universal Design for Learning – the idea that providing multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression allows more users to engage with material in a comfortable way, and that this should be the norm, not the exception.

The first five chapters focus on background information, but the remainder of the book focus on the nitty-gritty: evaluating current services, analyzing staff training needs, developing key areas of the collection, involving the community, using adaptive technology, and taking advantage of electronic resources. Suggestions are offered for adapting programs and services for children with specific needs, and each chapter features copious recommended resource lists for further exploration.  Those wanting to develop more specialized services will find guidance here for developing a toy lending program or creating a Family Resource Center within the library.  Appendices include a glossary, comprehensive index, and an extensive bibliography of additional resources.  A highly recommended resource for any public librarian who wants to make every patron welcome.

Start to Finish Story Time Lesson Plans from Dawn Babb Prochovnic

Dawn Babb Prochovnic, author of the "Story Time with Signs and Rhymes" series.

Dawn Babb Prochovnic, author of the “Story Time with Signs and Rhymes” series.

Last week, Kathy’s “Stories By Hand” blog featured an interview with Dawn Babb Prochovnic, author of the “Story Time with Signs and Rhymes” series.  Click here for the interview.

We were so excited to learn that Dawn has a great series of “Start to Finish Story Time” posts on her blog.  Each of these lesson plans centers around one of her books, and includes suggested songs, rhymes, signing games, and reading activities to use with kids, all in a modular format that allows educators and librarians to select the materials that work best for their groups.

As Dawn says, “Each lesson plan incorporates ideas that are suitable for infant/toddler, preschool and/or school age audiences, and each program incorporates activities that promote literacy/early literacy and one or more of the six keys skills recommended by the National Research Council for preparing children to become readers when they enter school. Programs can last from 20 – 45 minutes, depending on what you include and who your audience is.”

There are 4 available so far, with the promise of more to come:
A to Z, Sign with Me


See the Colors

Wear a Silly Hat (clothing)

You may also want to bookmark this Summary Post, where Dawn will link to future installments.

op hat colors a to

Bookmark This Site: Storytime Underground

If we may quote a little Labyrinth-era David Bowie:

“Down in the underground (oh oh oh oh oh)
You’ll find someone true (down underground)
Down in the underground (oh oh oh oh oh)
A land serene (oh oh oh oh)
A crystal moon, ah, ah…”

OK, so maybe it wasn’t quite that transcendent an experience when we discovered the Storytime Underground website, but it sure made us run to the keyboard and type up this post to tell our readers about it!  The group’s passion comes across in its “Meet the Corps” page, which is less “about us” and more manifesto:

“This work is often underappreciated or disparaged by our fellow library professionals, but we at Storytime Underground know the truth: if you are out in the storytime trenches you are changing–and sometimes saving–lives with every fingerplay and feltboard. This is not an exaggeration. Literacy is not a luxury. To survive and thrive, a democracy needs a literate populace and we, the army of Children’s Librarians, are the front lines in the battle to deliver literacy to everyone…At the Storytime Underground our mission is threefold: We support each other, We promote each other, and We train each other.” Click here to read more.

A short list of things you’ll want to check out on the site:

  • Storytime University, where you can enroll for participatory, collaborative professional development.  (If you’d rather be referred to as a “badass ninja” than a “workshop participant”, this is professional development made for you.)
  • A great list of links, blogs, and other online resources, about programming for various age groups.
  • “Ask a Storytime Ninja”, a regular advice column where you can get real answers to your questions about literacy, storytime best practices, group management, and more.
  • Guerilla Storytime, the radical, participant-focused in-person trainings conducted by the ninjas (with ideas shared on their blog).
  • Advocacy Resources including links to research, sound bites, and stories from real library users.

But don’t take our word for it!  Go check out the site and soak up all the great ideas!

Signing Fun at the Baltimore Book Fair


Bring the whole family this weekend for the Baltimore Book Festival, an exciting 3-day celebrating books and readers!  The festival will take place at the Inner Harbor this year.  There will be lots of great activities for readers of all ages, and you’ll get to meet lots of authors in person – including Kathy MacMillan, co-author of the Storytime Magic series and author of Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together.

Here’s where the signing fun will be going down:

Friday, September 26 at 11 AM: Little Hands and Big Hands storytime for children ages birth-6 and their grownups at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Children’s Stage (located near the Maryland Science Center).  ASL Interpretation will be provided.

Friday, September 26, 4:30 PM: Little Hands and Big Hands author talk at the Bicentennial Plaza Authors’ Stage.  Learn about the myths and realities of signing with young children in this interactive presentation!  ASL Interpretation will be provided.

Friday, September 26, 12 PM-8PM: Visit me in the  Bicentennial Plaza Authors’ Tent between to purchase a signed copy of Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together and enjoy some hands-on sign language crafts!



Getting Started with Baby Storytimes

We love this round-up of great resources for Baby Storytimes over at jbrary.com – and not just because our latest book, Baby Storytime Magic, is first on their recommended booklist.  (Though that does prove their impeccable taste!) Whether you are new to storytimes for babies or looking for ideas to expand you repertoire, you’ll want to bookmark this great post:

From Last Minute to Legendary

I had a great time last Thursday presenting my brand-new workshop, “Last Minute Lessons”  at the 52nd Annual Early Childhood Education Conference.  Participants were challenged to come up with creative lesson plans in response to emergency situations – all with limited materials.  Check out some of the wildly creative things they did with waterlogged books, paper goods, and the contents of their pockets and purses.  One thing’s for certain: if I am ever stranded on a deserted island, I hope it’s with a group of these resourceful early childhood educators!

Lacing card made with an index card, hole punch, and the string from a conference badge.

Lacing card made with an index card, hole punch, and the string from a conference badge.

Found objects for each letter of the alphabet.

Found objects for each letter of the alphabet.

Sheep and fence made from clothespins, index cards, and cotton balls.

Sheep and fence made from clothespins, index cards, and cotton balls.


Farm animals made from a file folder, paper cups, clothespins, cotton balls, and pictures cut from a magazine.

Farm animals made from a file folder, paper cups, clothespins, cotton balls, and pictures cut from a magazine.

Caterpillar made from soda bottle and crepe streamers, Chrysalis made from plastic cups, Butterfly made from napkins and a plastic fork.

Caterpillar made from soda bottle and crepe streamers, Chrysalis made from plastic cups, Butterfly made from napkins and a plastic fork.


Numeracy activities: Number line using cardstock and sticky notes, Number box using a cardboard box and pennies.

Numeracy activities: Number line using cardstock and sticky notes, Number box using a cardboard box and pennies.

A simple activity for a lesson on sickness and health: place a piece of painter's tape on a card, then ask the children to color the card with a crayon.  Remove the tape to show how bandages protect wounds from germs.

A simple activity for a lesson on sickness and health: place a piece of painter’s tape on a card, then ask the children to color the card with a crayon. Remove the tape to show how bandages protect wounds from germs.




Sign This: “The Owl”

Did you know that August 4 is International Owl Awareness Day?  Celebrate with this fingerplay perfect for owl or nocturnal animal programs!

The owl is a creature of the night,

His great big eyes give him keen sight.

He looks to the left and to the right.

And hoots so softly through the night.

Watch this video to learn how to share this rhyme using American Sign Language:


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