Bruce Simpson never thought he would ever become a published author, but when creativity strikes, there’s no stopping it.
Now, the kindergarten teacher and local songwriter has tapped into that creativity — as well as his neighbor’s love for trees — with his self-published children’s book. Paislee and the Talking Tree. And he had it translated into American Sign Language (ASL) and made that version available for free.
It all started, he says, when he learned that his neighbor was watering the trees on his property.
“He takes a cart and he waters the baby trees on their block,” Simpson said.
“I had this idea that if a kid knew they could water a tree, they would want to, they would take their hose and they would probably have fun.”
So he grabbed a notebook given to him by one of his students, Paislee, and wrote the whole book.
Simpson also said he knew “as soon as I wrote it” that it would be a picture book, and he enlisted the help of illustrator and fellow Hamiltonian Rae Bates.
Simpson says the ASL translation took place as he researched ways to make the book more accessible.
First, he had two Braille copies made of Paislee and the Talking Tree, which he said he planned to donate to the Center for Equitable Library Access (CELA). Then he got an ASL translation, which he made available for free on YouTube.
Simpson worked with the Canadian Hearing Services (CHS) to translate the book, as well as the accompanying song, “The Tree Said Hello”. Both translations were performed by Deaf Canadian actress Dawn Jani Birley.
“I didn’t really know how they were going to do it. I just gave them all the stuff and waited for months,” he said.
“They said they had this person in mind to do it, they had to wait a bit, and it all worked out. But last week when they showed it to me, I was like, ‘wow, that’s fantastic.'”
An indispensable tool for deaf children
Brian McKenzie, director of interpretation and translation services at CHS, told CBC Hamilton that working with Simpson was “an absolute pleasure” and stressed the importance of ASL translations for children’s books.
“We salute his willingness to share his talent widely by making the material accessible in ASL,” McKenzie said. “Adding an ASL translation makes it possible to visually appreciate and experience the creativity and artistic nuances of ASL.”
According to Mohawk College professor Evan-Wyatt Stanley Le Lievre (Tresidder), such translations are not common among more recent books.
“To my knowledge, there aren’t many ASL-converted children’s books being published online.”
These books are essential to the development of deaf children, said Le Lièvre, who is co-chair of the ASL Community Club of Hamilton and is himself part of the deaf community.
Story time in two languages
“It is important to provide exposure to ASL as a first language during these [early] years old, and young children will learn English and its grammatical structure well as a second language once they enter the education system,” said Le Lièvre.
The sentiment was shared by Jennifer Reda-Lagrandeur, a mother of three who is also deaf. She communicates with her children, two of whom can hear, using ASL.
“My daughter, Hazel, is three years old and she’s deaf. ASL is her first language and she doesn’t speak it,” she said.
“ASL is their first language. The boys didn’t really start speaking until they were three years old because they used ASL at home. Doctors and other people were worried, but once the boys started kindergarten, their spoken language took off as they got more daily exposure to the language spoken in kindergarten.Today, both boys are bilingual and use the two languages.
Reda-Lagrandeur said ASL translations are essential for her daughter to be able to access the stories.
A language and a culture
“It’s important that children have access to these ASL translations, so they can participate in story time. With my daughter, she is too young to read on her own, so she would ask anyone to read a book out loud in ASL so she can enjoy the stories.”
Reda-Lagrandeur said deafness is not a disability. “I consider myself a member of a minority linguistic and cultural group,” she said.
The Hare accepts.
“We are equal to hearing from our peers,” he said.
“The only difference is language deprivation in young children, especially babies up to age five, when the foundation for language acquisition begins because their brain is a sponge.”