It's been said before, but it bears repeating: all children deserve to see themselves represented in books. This book list of children's books with d/Deaf and hard of hearing characters aims to help parents and educators find reading material that reflects the d/Deaf experience. There aren't enough books, yet, that do that, but these wonderful picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels all tell engaging stories without falling into the didacticism trap!
Most of these books center the deaf experience by primarily focusing on d/Deaf protagonists but some tell the story from the point of view of children who live with, or are friends with, d/Deaf individuals. Furthermore, some of the authors have first-hand experience as part of the d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing community, but not all (at least it was not specified in their biography).
Disclaimer: I am not Deaf or hard of hearing, nor do I have experience in the Deaf community. I welcome any corrections to my descriptions of these books or the Deaf culture experience. Please excuse me if I use d/Deaf incorrectly.
Further reading: National Association of the Deaf.
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Read aloud these children's picture books featuring diverse Deaf characters and experiences.
MOSES SEES A PLAY by Isaac Millman
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
I once had the great pleasure of seeing a performance given by the National Theater of the Deaf, and many theaters also provide interpreters during specific performances so non-hearing people can enjoy the magic of live theater. Moses is a student a a school for deaf children. After seeing a performance by The Little Theater of the Deaf, the class decides to put on a show of their own. Included in the book are wonderful descriptions of the performance action and how the actors use their bodies to convey meaning. In addition, the book is also written in sign language, and includes diagrams of signs, which teachers and parents can use to practice with their children. There are several books about Moses, for further reading.
MORE: Picture Books about the Theater
DAD, JACKIE AND ME by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Colin Bootman
A boy narrates his story, beginning with his love of baseball and listening to the Dodgers' games on the radio. His dad, who is deaf, has never showed much interest in the game but tells his son he'd love to meet Jackie Robinson. The pair head out to Ebbots Field. After the game, his dad starts to ask about baseball and even tries to play catch (but he has a hard time and drops the ball a lot). As the summer progresses the two of them follow the Dodgers and Robinson's progress closely until at one game, Robinson throws the ball in the stands to the father, and he catches it! The story makes a connection between the prejudice Robinson experiences and the exclusion the father feels. Includes author's note explaining his own deaf father's admiration for Robinson.
MORE: 17 Children's Picture Books to Teach Anti-Bias and Inclusion
DAD AND ME IN THE MORNING by Patricia Lakin, illustrated by Robert G. Steele
This is a calming story about the beauty of communicating without words. After he wakes up early and puts in his hearing aids, a young boy and his father walk down to the shore to watch the sunrise. The watercolor illustrations are lovely.
MORE: Picture Books about Mindfulness
KAMI AND THE YAKS by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illustrated by Bert Dodson
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Kami lives with his Sherpa family on the high slopes of the Himalayan mountains. Kami tends to the yaks, and he is deaf. One day he blows his whistle for the yaks, but they do not come. As a storm approaches, he finds the yaks, but one of them is injured. Kami runs back to fetch help. His father, unable to understand because Kami cannot use words, becomes upset that Kami has returned without the yaks. But Kami is not deterred and he communicates with gestures until his brother figures out what is going on and the three of them rush to rescue the yaks. Gorgeous illustrations!
THE DEAF MUSICIANS by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
When a piano man loses his hearing he has to stop playing with his fellow musicians at the jazz bar. Feeling discouraged, he signs up for classes in sign language at a school for the deaf. At the schoolm he and his classmates start having jam sessions. But instead of playing instruments they use American Sign Language! Then they take their sign language music to the subway and share it with others. An author's note explains the inspiration behind the book.
Early Chapter Books
These beginning chapter books featuring deaf characters are perfect for young, independent readers who are gaining reading fluency. They are appropriate for ages 5-9.
EMMA EVERY DAY (series) by C. L. Reid, illustrated by Elena Aiello
Emma, the cheerful 8-year-old heroine of this series is deaf and wears a Cochlear implant. She lives with her parents and older brother. In each book, Emma experiences typical events in the life of a third grader, like going on a field trip, spending time with her family and making new friends. These books are the easiest of all the chapter books on this list. Each book includes an ASL manual alphabet chart, ASL fingerspelling in the text, glossary of ASL words and talking points relating to the story.
MORE: Multicultural and Diverse Early Chapter Books
RUBY LU, EMPRESS OF EVERYTHING (series) by Lenore Look, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Ruby Lu is an excellent early chapter book series. However, it does not have a deaf main character. Ruby's cousin, Flying Duck, is visiting from China and Flying Duck is deaf; she suffered a burst eardrum when she was four-years-old. Ruby doesn't know any Cantonese sign language, but she's fascinated by her cousin's ability to read lips.
GYMNASTICS QUEEN (Kylie Jean series) by Marci Peschke, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning
As of this writing there are more than 25 books in the Kylie Jean series. In each book she starts a new hobby. Obviously, in this book she tries her hand at tumbling. One of her fellow gymnasts and new friend, Abby, is deaf. The story focuses on Kylie Jean's experience, not Abby's. This is a breezy book, but will appeal to kids who are starting chapter books.
In general, these middle grade books with d/Deaf characters are aimed at readers ages 8-13. The selections include contemporary realism, historical fiction, mysteries and even science fiction!
YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P. by Alex Gino
Jilly P. is learning about how society doesn't treat individuals equally and how she can be part of the solution. She befriends a fellow fantasy book fan, Profound, who is deaf and Black. When Jilly's sister is born deaf she starts to learn about Deaf culture and how her sister's whiteness makes her experience different than Profound's. Her Black aunt encourages Jilly to confront racism, even though her parents want to ignore racial tensions, both in the family and in society. Jilly is an eager student and is a positive role model for kids to learn how to support marginalized people. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Anti-Bias Books Middle Grade Books
SHOW ME A SIGN (series) by Ann Clare LeZotte
I loved this book. In 1805, Mary Lambert lives in a community where everyone speaks sign language and a quarter of the population is deaf. One day, a young man arrives in the village hoping to research the reason for the high rate of deafness. Mary narrates the story and her observations of the interactions between the English, Black, Irish, and Wampanoag peoples, as well as on racism, prejudice and ableism are perceptive and thought-provoking. The author's endnote gives historical background on the town of Chilmark and Martha's Vineyard are fascinating. Ages 9 and up.
EL DEAFO by Cece Bell
This popular graphic novel memoir narrated by Cece, who loses here hearing due to spinal meningitis. A very funny and charming book about the experiences, imaginings and wishes of a Deaf girl. Although the story will help hearing kids to see challenges of the Deaf, they will also see similarities. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Children's Books with Characters Who Have Medical Challenges
WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick
Selznick uses illustrations and text to convey two narratives. Ben was born deaf in one ear, and his story of his longing for his father is told through text. Rose is deaf, confined at home but dreams of becoming an actress. Her story is told through pictures. The stories are 50 years apart but when they come together at the American Museum of Natural History, kids will gasp in wonder. Ages 9 and up.
CHARLIE & FROG: A MYSTERY by Karen Kane
Charlie is staying with his TV-watching grandparents while his parents have set off (again!) to help save the world's rarest animals. Charlie feels ignored and abandoned. Then he meets Francine, aka Frog, who is a student at the local Castle School for the Deaf. The two becomes friends and set out to solve a mystery. I loved the quirky characters and the narrative weaves in loads of information about Deaf culture and etiquette. Ages 8 and up.
TRAILBLAZER (series) by Austin Aslan
In this fast-paced science fiction novel, 12-year-old Mace Blazer loves all things mechanical and and now he's got the opportunity to pilot an amazing vehicle that transforms from race car to jet plane, to submarine. He's excited to become a TURBOnaut and race against the best in the Trimorpher Races! Mace is not deaf, but because he has two Deaf parents, he's fluent in American Sign Language. Ages 8 and up.
SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly
12 year old Iris is Deaf; her mother is hearing but she grew up close to her Deaf grandparents. At her school, she has an interpreter but fails to connect with the other children. When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who sings at a frequency that other whales cannot hear, she sets out to create a song for Blue 55. Touching.
I loved Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. The main character is deaf. The author is a sign language interpreter.
I meant to put that on the list! I'm adding it in now. Thanks for the reminder!
Hello, Universe is another good middle grade book for this list 🙂
Thanks for the suggestion!