This is not your school's summer reading list

Donna Jo Napoli

donnajo1.  How did you come to the story, Hands and Hearts?

I’m a linguist — which means I spend my day analyzing languages.  I’ve been working on American Sign Language and other sign languages for years.  In the process, I’ve become aware of how very hard it is for a deaf person to learn to read.  Imagine putting plugs in your ears so you can’t hear and then moving to Thailand and trying to learn to read Thai when you don’t speak it.  It’s astonishing to me that anyone can do it.

Now one of the things that children often tell me is that they like reading about different people but they also like reading about people like themselves.  If every book out there had only girl characters, or only tall characters, or only Christian characters, how would boy readers and short readers and Buddhist readers feel?

Not very many books have deaf characters.  So I decided to make a story about going to the beach — something we all love to do — but simply to have the characters be deaf.  Why not?  Everyone goes to the beach… why can’t a story about the beach have deaf characters?  Maybe this way little deaf children will be encouraged by books — after all, there are characters like them, right in that book.

2.  What makes your main character a strong girl?

She explores her world with joy.  She chases things and notices things and dances through it all.  She’s brave about swimming.  And she’s loving.

 3.  Finish this sentence, strong girls _________.

Strong girls can help weak girls… and weak boys; just take their hands and dance them dizzy.

4.  What are you working on next?

I’m writing a young adult novel set in Venice around 1500.  It’s creepy and mysterious and it’s driving me crazy.

 

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