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.


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