When I’m planning a book club meeting, sometimes the book is so multifaceted and amazing that it’s difficult to figure out what we should do. Wonderstruck is one of those books. We only have an hour and a half to discuss the book and do some sort of activity. So, for this meeting, should we create our own mini museums, like Ben does in the book? Should we learn about New York City, where part of the book takes place? Or, should we learn to sign our names using American Sign Language? Perfect.
Two of the characters in Wonderstruck are deaf and sign language is featured prominently in the book. What a great opportunity to learn a new language and gain a better understanding of deaf culture. We were lucky enough to have a guest speaker for this meeting, Nancy Litchfield Thane. Nancy has worked with hearing impaired students for thirty-two years.
She started out the meeting by showing us a picture of some teens having fun at an amusement park. She asked if we could tell who was deaf in the picture. Everyone had a different answer: “she might be deaf because she’s covering her ears”, or “he might be deaf because he’s not throwing his hands up in the air like everyone else.” It turns out, everyone in the picture was deaf. It was a great way to demonstrate that it’s not always so easy to judge someone’s situation based on appearance.
Then, we took a spelling test from the perspective of someone who is hearing impaired. The syllables seemed to blend together and all of us had a hard time determining exactly what was being said. This was an effective way to really get a feeling for what it would be like to not be able to hear.
We learned to sign the alphabet and practiced signing our names.
We also learned some animal signs, which was a lot of fun. If you’re interested in learning some animal signs, check out this video:
We learned that most idioms in English (like, “let’s hit the road” or “dressed to the nines”) are “translated” into their meaning for sign language. By this, I mean that you wouldn’t sign the idiom word for word, but instead you would get across the meaning (for example “let’s hit the road” would be signed as “let’s go”).
Nancy taught us another interesting thing about idioms. ASL has it’s own sayings that wouldn’t make sense if you translated them directly into English. For instance, “you missed the boat” or “you’re too late” is signed as “train-go sorry.”
Wonderstruck is one of my favorite books and this meeting has been one of the best so far. Thank you, Nancy, for teaching us so much this afternoon!