Book Recommendations: Reduced Hearing Picture Book Titles (Featuring Hearing Aids)
An old friend texted me the other day with a request I hadn’t encountered before. She told me that her son was, “getting his first hearing aids just after Xmas, and I’m looking for a book or two … to buy for him at home and/or to share with his classroom to help them understand. Any insights?”
I had at least one book come immediately to mind, but I knew better than to rely just on that one. Our social media society may be coming apart at the seams, but if you go online and ask people to recommend a list of titles featuring protagonists with reduced hearing, they will come through for you.
Here then is a list of recommended picture books featuring characters with hearing aids. Feel free to share it, in case you find it useful:
Can Bears Ski by Raymond Antrobus, ill. Polly Dunbar
This was the book with the most mentions when I asked for recommended books. The book itself has an interesting origin story. Diagnosed with reduced hearing at the age of six, Antrobus remembered his father reading him the book Happy Birthday, Moon repeatedly when he was a child. The Guardian interviewed him about it:
Antrobus, 34, originally declined to write a children’s book when he caught the eye of publishers while reading Happy Birthday Moon at a literary festival. “I told this story all the time but I never thought of it as a kids’ book. The thing is, I still very much see myself as a poet,” he says. “Poetry is the thing I live for. But I’ve realised that a lot of my worry has been ego. A lot of poets I love also write for children. I think it’s just snobbery. In the poetry world, if I am honest, there’s just so much mean-spirited snobbery. And maybe I’ve just been in it for too long and that’s why I didn’t want to write a kids’ book. But I feel fine about this book now. I am so, so proud of it.”
The end result is a marvelous book. The plot reads:
“Little Bear feels the world around him. He feels his bed rumble when Dad Bear wakes him up in the morning. He feels the floor shake when his teacher stomps to get his attention. But something else is missing, like when his friends tell jokes that he isn’t sure he understands, or when all around him Little Bear hears the question, ‘Can bears ski?’ Then, one day, Dad Bear takes him to see an ‘aud-i-olo-gist,” and Little Bear learns that he has been experiencing deafness and will start wearing hearing aids. Soon he figures out what that puzzling refrain is: ‘Can you hear me?’ Little Bear’s new world is LOUD and will take some getting used to, but with the love and support of Dad Bear, he will find his way.”
Terrible Horses by Raymond Antrobus, ill. Ken Wilson-Max
Clearly Antrobus got over his prejudice against writing picture books because this April 16th he’ll return with another one featuring a kid with hearing aids. I wish they were a little bit more prominent on the cover of this book (you can see them on the table if you look closely), but the story itself is already one of my favorite picture books of 2024. A little brother adores his older sister but when they clash he writes stories of terrible horses and the pony they ignore. It’s an amazing inclusive story of sibling love and frustration. Antrobus does so much with so little. He just taps into that little sibling longing to be with the older kids so well. Plus just listen to his language. “… their terrible trampling, their ghastly galloping, their nagging neighing…” And I’ve been guilty of thinking of Ken Wilson-Max as a fairly simply illustrator in the past. I’ll never make that mistake again. This man KNOWS how to draw a horse. You gotta check this out.
Other suggestions (that I don’t know as well):
Harry Can Hear by Fynisa Engler, ill. Milanka Reardon
The plot reads:
“Everyone assumes Harry can’t listen like he’s supposed to, so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t respond during the hearing test at school. However, the test reveals it’s not that Harry isn’t listening, it’s that he has trouble hearing. Harry has missed out on so much, but there is hope. Once Harry is fitted with hearing aids, he discovers the joy of all he had been missing out on.”
School Library Journal was a fan of the book, saying it was, “A book for every collection, offering an upbeat story to educate and inform of differences in hearing ability, a much-needed representation, and how ‘misbehavior’ can be simply another kind of challenge that needs to be addressed. A wonderful little book.”
This next one is coming out later this month in February:
Mara Hears in Style by Terri Clemmons, ill. Lucy Rogers
The plot reads:
“Mara takes on the world with her flashy purple hearing aids and sassy, hot pink earmolds.
Mara’s first day at her new school is filled with ups and downs surrounding her hearing aids: her teacher doesn’t remember to turn on her microphone, the lunchroom is too chaotic for lip-reading, and she keeps reading the same question over and over on her classmates’ lips: “What’s in her ears?” After a morning spent navigating these challenges, Mara makes a connection on the playground and finds that her hearing aid superpowers are perfect for making new friends.
Accessible and engaging, Mara Hears in Style will encourage readers to respect hearing differences and inspire kids who worry about making new friends. The book is filled with American Sign Language depictions–including a full alphabet spread–so readers can sign alongside Mara as they discover new ways to bridge communication gaps in their own communities.”
Next up, this book is wordless and just came out in October:
Next Door by Deborah Kerbel
Here’s the plot:
“A sweet wordless story about a boy’s unexpected encounters in his neighborhood.In this wordless picture book, a Deaf boy and his mother enjoy a walk through their community, greeting neighbors, spying a bird’s nest in a tree, buying cookies at the grocery store. Later, they visit their new neighbors, a woman and her daughter, who are recent immigrants to the country. Although the girl is shy, and the two kids speak different languages — American Sign Language (ASL) and Arabic — they find a way to communicate and become fast friends.A celebration of the art of appreciating the world and the people around us, and finding common ground, no matter our differences.”
And CM Magazine said of the book, “… a worthy purchase … The well-portrayed insight into the world of those who are hearing impaired or deaf as well as the inclusion of American Sign Language in the book also add to its significance and value for book collections. Highly Recommended.”
I also received a great many recommendations of books about d/Deaf and hard of hearing characters. It wasn’t what my friend was looking for specifically, but I’ll list them here in case you ever need them for any reason:
- Butterfly On the Wind by Adam Pottle, ill. Ziyue Chen
- Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman
- Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion by Shannon Stocker, ill. Devon Holzwarth
- Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh, ill. Stephanie Fizer Coleman
- Evie Is All Ears by Kellie Byrnes, ill. Lesley McGee
- Emma Every Day by C.L. Reid, ill. Elena Aiello
- A Screaming Kind of Day by Rachna Gilmore, ill. Gordon Sauve
- The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya
- Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder
- Dachy’s Deaf by Jack Hughes
- Dancing Hands by Joanna Que and Charina Marquez, ill. Fran Alvarez, translated by Karen Llagas
On the older side, the Emma Every Day series (beginner chapter books) stars a girl who wears a cochlear implant. And it’s an early chapter book not a picture book, but the Astrid the Astronaut series would be a good one to read aloud (I really liked it when I read it last year)
Additionally, here’s a list of books with deaf or hard of hearing characters from the Outreach Center for Deafness and Blindness.
A lot of people mentioned El Deafo. It’s too old for some picture book readers, but I did read it to my kids when they were around 7 or 8 and they got a lot of it. It’s absolutely one of my favorite books of all time, and well worth having on hand.
Finally, for a similar list without a picture book focus, please be sure to check out the SLJ piece Four Heartwarming Books for Kids Watching ‘El Deafo’ on Apple TV+ | Read-Alikes. There is also the SLJ piece Four Titles by d/Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deafblind Authors to Share During Deaf Awareness Month.
Filed under: Booklists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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