Singing Hands . Ray, Delia; Publisher: Clarion Books, New York, 2006.
Grade Level: grades 6-8
ISBN & Cost: 978-0-618-65762-9, $16.00.
Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets:
Preferred wording: “Used by Permission of the publisher.”
Synopsis: Gussie Davis is determined to take on the world in her own way, regardless of the fact that she has deaf parents and two sisters who sometimes try to cramp her unique style. Has Gussie finally gone too far this time, she thinks regretfully, as she is forced to miss her dream trip into the exciting world where regular hearing people (or ears) live? Perhaps her mom and dad care more about her father's deaf church congregation than their own daughter!
Gussie goes through many of the same trials that we all do, as we try to decidehow to successfully function as part of a family. This book does illuminate deafness as a disability, but also expresses the idea that the physical disability is not the only difficulty faced by families with deaf members. The trials and tribulations of family life are highlighted, a s well as the importance of relationships, often overshadowing the more obvious obstacles of dealing with a challenge such as deafness. The controversy of the use of sign language as opposed to lip reading is broached, a theme that many who are part of the community of deaf culture encounter.
Themes: Conduct of life; Deaf; People with disabilities; American Sign Language; Family life – Alabama; Clergy; Alabama – History – 20th Century
Author information: Something About the Author, Volume 70
Delia Ray grew up in rambling farmhouse, and she and her best friend wrote their own books for fun as children. She was lucky to locate a job in publishing after college as her husband began a medical residency. Ms. Ray has a rich history as a writer of historical fiction for children, including Gold! The Klondike Adventure; A Nation Torn: The Story of How the Civil War Began; Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story.
Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)
- Gussie gets bored easily, and likes to create her own adventures. Sometimes these lead to calamities, when she was just trying to have fun! (Example: trying to get clothes to create a "dummy" of Birthmark Baines to fool her sister into thinking that the escaped prisoner had found his way to their house!) Have you ever tried to commit a practical joke that you thought was really funny, but perhaps didn't consider how it might made someone else feel? What other actions did Gussie take that she might have changed with more thought?
- Research facts about the city of Birmingham, Alabama, as it was in 1948 when the book took place. What was it known for? What is the significance of the Vulcan statue discussed in the book? How would this state differ from Kansas, particularly in this era?
- What assumptions about other people (for example Mrs. Fernley, Miss Grace) did Gussie have to change when she got to know these individuals? Have you ever made a snap judgment about someone that you had to change once you got to know them? Think of some examples of judging someone from a distance rather than personal knowledge.
- What do you do when you see individuals "signing" to communicate with each other? How do you react?
- How is the controversy between use of sign language and lip-reading illustrated in the book? How do Gussie and her father resolve the debate in their own way at the Alabama School for the Deaf Jubilee?
- Although Gussie's father is an accomplished and well-respected man, she sometimes feels that he doesn't pay enough attention to her in ways that have nothing to do with his deafness. "He has to take care of people," says Margaret "Your mean deaf people," mutters Gussie (p. 7). What are some suggestions you have for Gussie for letting her dad know how she feels that might have had a positive effect on their relationship?
- Look up information on American Sign Language and lip reading. (The finger spelling guide inside the front cover would be a start!) Go over some symbols as a group in order to be able to talk to each other without speaking. Have some sign language books or videos available, then compare your symbols with the American Sign Language symbols for these things. Schedule a class visitor who can teach students some sign language; learn how to communicate with deaf people in your community.
(Standard 3, Benchmark 4)
- Do research on the Kansas School for the Deaf on the Internet. Find out the history of admission to this school for non-whites. If the website does not disclose this information, contact an official at the school to clarify the history. If necessary, write to the Governor of Kansas to verify this information about civil rights in the state of Kansas. How does this information relate to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Kansas? (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
- Gussie carries out some actions she feels are justified even though they would be considered dishonest, such as lying to her dad about what she is doing with the money her gives her for offering at church. Write an editorial for your school newspaper about whether or not breaking the rules, lying, or even stealing is ever justified. ( Standard 3, Benchmark 2)
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