I am anti-racist. My maternal grandmother was Anatolian, born Turkey in 1903, but I’m not Asian-American. Because my favorite books to sign have wonderful illustrations and little to no text, I chose to look at a few imported Asian picture books.
I have been SIMCOMing a lot lately. That is, trying to speak American Sign Language (ASL) and English simultaneously. Please excuse the errors in both my languages! The book I chose to highlight is LOOK UP!(Holiday House, 2016). It’s written and illustrated by Korean Author, Jung Jin-Ho (alternatively spelled Chin-ho Chong) and translated by Kim My Hyun. The bio at the back of the book is brief: “Hospitalized as a child, Jung Jin-Ho found friendship and companionship in his books. Born in Daegu, Korea, he currently lives in Seoul.”
A girl in a wheelchair looks down from her window and calls to passersby below: “Look up!” Dog walkers, a kite flier and dozens of people walk by without taking any notice. Then a boy stops at looks up. He lays on the sidewalk so the girl can see him better. A woman joins him. Soon more people are lying down and looking up. The girl looks up (at the sun? the reader?) and smiles. This book was awarded an Opera Prima Honor at the Bologna Book Fair.
The girl could be in the wheelchair for a short time or long-term non ambulatory. Let’s say she couldn’t get downstairs that day. Maybe her mom is at work. Her story is not tragic. It’s not an allegory for someone else’s isolation.
I want to talk a little about racism and ASL, particularly concerning the signs for Asian countries. I grew up using signs that are deeply offensive. I still see those signs in popular online ASL dictionaries as the first variation because they’re the original ASL signs for the word. They’re hideous slurs. This kind of notification (from Signing Savvy) underneath a racist video is completely insufficient.
The signs covering most Asian countries have been made with a twist at the corner of the eye with letters to indicate the country: C for Chinese, J for Japanese, K for Korean and T for Thai. These signs must be eliminated from all ASL teaching materials while the racist history of ASL and Deaf community is recognized. New signs have been created and signs from Asian countries are adopted by ASL speakers. Here is the new sign for Korea, to accompany LOOK UP! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZdREiYIL_Y
I grabbed some other books from my library shelves (we’re doing curbside) that I also like. There are so many! In the video I show: STORMY: A STORY ABOUT FINDING A FOREVER HOME (Schwatz and Wade) by Guojing (Chinese); MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY (Scholastic) by Gail Villanueva (Filipino American); FOR A MUSE OF FIRE (Greenwillow Books) by Heidi Heilig (Hapa); WAVE (Chronicle) by Suzy Lee (Korean) and A MAZE ME (Greenwillow) by Naomi Shihab Nye (Palestinian American).
Ann Clare LeZotte is a Deaf librarian, and the author of T4 (HMH, 2008) an ILA Notable Book for a Global Society, Her second novel, Show Me A Sign (Scholastic) released in March. For years, Ann has given book talks, and disability and anti-bullying presentations in American Sign Language (ASL). Ann enjoys swimming and walking her dog Perkins. She lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida.