Someone I love very much is hearing impaired. When I met this person, I thought he was the only person I knew from the deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH) community. Because reading and sharing books is such a huge part of my life, I immediately set to work looking for books and stories including characters from this community. My search produced heartbreaking results. There were excruciatingly few stories that either centered on the deaf or hearing impaired experience or that even included characters wearing amplification devices (like hearing aids or cochlear implants) or speaking ASL. Any stories I did find seemed to only speak of a terrible fever that left the character unable to hear. How scary!
Like buying a new car and then seeing that same make and model everywhere, I started to notice members of the DHOH community all around. For the first time, I noticed people wearing amplification devices in my school, in stores, walking down the street, all over! WHERE were the books that included this community?
In 2020, Candlewick published a picture book written and illustrated by members of the DHOH community. I was thrilled to find this own voice story called Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and illustrated by Polly Dunbar.
In this story, grown ups and friends realize that Bear might not hear what they’re saying.
Dad Bear takes Bear to the audiologist where his hearing is tested and after looking at the audiogram (results of the hearing test), Bear needs to see a lip reading specialist and gets fitted for hearing aids. The adjustment isn’t an easy one. Now everything is LOUD and “everything sounds like robots.” Bear gets tired and frustrated.
These descriptions, from the hearing test process to the frustration with new devices, match my second hand experience of the transition to wearing hearing aids. The cover of the book has a large, smiling Bear wearing bright blue hearing aids. The image is beautiful. For these reasons, this book is an important one in my personal and professional libraries.
However, the book isn’t perfect. Bear thinks others keep asking, “Can bears ski?” Readers have to infer that they’re actually asking, “Can you hear me?” It’s confusing. Additionally, I think the book would be even better if the characters were humans and not animals. How much more powerful would it be to have a large cover image of a smiling child wearing hearing aids? I look forward to a time when anyone can easily find a book with an image of someone “like me” on the cover, no matter what “like me” means to that reader. This book brings us one step closer to that place.