New children’s books come out everyday, but it’s rare that someone creates an entirely new way of storytelling. But the creator of a new version of The Princess and the Pea has come up with a book for the hearing–impaired that’s written in both English and American Sign Language. Creator Laurie Meyer is a long time American Sign Language interpreter.
When she couldn’t find any books in ASL, she decided to create her own –– if you can call it a book. It’s really something new. The text of the book is in English, and it comes with a companion DVD. What you see on the DVD are rich, colorful illustrations and an expressive ASL signer telling the story visually, while you hear the English narration. What makes Princess and the Pea so new is the fact that the ASL story is told by a native speaker and not translated. Meyer is energetic and passionate about ASL. And she’s completely convinced her books, in the right hands, will make a difference. Patti Togioka says that’s because most deaf kids have hearing parents –– many who may have never even met a deaf person before. Some parents are told their kids won’t ever learn to speak if they learn ASL first. Totally untrue, Togioka says. “When they have something they can count on, they feel freer to explore in a second language.”
No one says learning German will make you less able to speak English, Togioka says, and it’s the same with ASL. Togioka: “Having access to a full complete language gives you the confidence and the linguistic skill to manipulate your second language. We find that with bilingual education; it’s no different with deaf children.” Meyer says what most hearing people don’t understand is that ASL is not English in sign form. It is truly a language all its own, and like any language has its own vocabulary and grammar. You can’t learn Spanish by memorizing some Spanish words or phrases. And just because you learn a few signs –– or even a lot of signs –– doesn’t mean you know ASL.
Try describing a painting using only facial expressions. You can’t do it. Just like hearing people use facial expressions AND spoken words, Meyer says, deaf people need a third dimension –– space. She says signing isn’t just about the shape you make with your fingers and hands –– it’s also the position of your hands and how they move through space that’s crucial. Meyer says most sign language books get it wrong. Laurie Meyer: “(The) palm orientation is always wrong, the movement’s always wrong, that’s how I learned it first and then I had to spend a lot of time unlearning everything I learned.” Since deaf people rely on sight to communicate, instead of hearing –– that third dimension of space makes all the difference.
“You cannot learn sign language at all from a two dimensional thing. Try it.” In addition to American Sign Language and English, Princess and the Pea is recorded in ASL and French, Spanish, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese. Meyer will soon have an entire series of books coming out which she calls ASL Tales.