Kathleen Marcath’s children’s book My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere With Me, which is illustrated in ASL
Kathleen Marcath has a B.A. degree in Deaf Community Studies, as well as years of experience as a Special Education Sign Language Supporter has kindled her passion for helping children reach their educational potential. Kathleen is delighted to help fill the need for picture books illustrated in American Sign Language. She is a wife, mother and grandmother and resides in Michigan.
Pardeep Mehra is the founder of Pencil Master Digital Studio, a family-owned business employing a large group of talented artists providing end to end illustration and publishing services. For more than 15 years, Pardeep has been providing his keen eye, visualization and digital art skills to create hundreds of beautifully illustrated books that delight children all over the world. Pardeep lives in India with his wife Priyam and daughter Mehar. For more info and portfolio review, visit www.pencilmasterdigi.com.
Here’s an interview with Kathleen Marcath on her new book!
What are your goals in writing this book? Who do you hope will read My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me?
ASL Picture Books hope to introduce children and families to sign language in a fun and natural way. I know of only a handful of children’s books that incorporate sign language into the hands and faces of the characters in the book. As Isaac Liang, the Deaf illustrator, said, “when a Deaf child sees the illustrated pictures in this book, their faces will light up.” One mom related to me that her boys had tears in their eyes seeing sign language used in the book.
My hope for this book is also that the hearing child, parent, teacher, or family would be aware that sign language is fun and powerful. In my experience of teaching hearing children ASL through their storytelling, they loved it. The classroom teacher and I were amazed at how all of the kids in her class excelled with learning sign language. She also noted how a few children began to improve in all their studies. That’s my goal; to empower children to reach their potential and thrive in life.
What inspired you to illustrate the book in sign language?
For years I wanted to write children’s books. After attending a retreat and experiencing sign language for the first time, I was hooked. I learned that ASL is a beautiful, powerful language that felt almost magical. Starting with a few signing classes, I went on to earn a BA degree in Deaf Community Studies at Madonna University.
Attending classes in various courses, I kept searching for a picture book to help me with my studies. I wanted to see and know more about children, deaf children, and how that was represented in a picture book. Long before this time, a seed was planted to write for children. Now that seed was watered. I spent nearly a decade working with Deaf and hard of hearing children and never came across a book where the characters are the ones doing the signing. I wanted to write a sign language book so that Deaf and hard of hearing children would be able to see themselves on the pages. For their peers to be curious and learn with them. For students studying ASL to also have a reference in children’s literature.
How did you come up with the monster truck story? (My nephew loves monster trucks!)
Your nephew is a typical boy! My new book — “My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me” was inspired by my grandson, his love of monster trucks, and our many adventures together. I began writing a poem when the light shone on that seed watered during my studies at Madonna University. The poem unfolded into a story of childhood fun and imagination with ASL illustrations on each page.
I grew up with phonics, being told to sound words out when learning to read. Do Deaf children learn to read differently? How does that work?
This is a great question. I went to Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to inquire beyond my own understanding for their experience, both in the classroom and in personal learning practices.
One method I was taught was word shape. That could be a written word or a finger-spelled word using basic memorization. Just as the letters of the alphabet come in short and tall shapes, so does the ASL alphabet. Some letters are tall and others are short. Fingerspelling is extremely helpful. Deaf teachers agree that they learned this way themselves and use this tool to help students. Having a student fingerspelling words, say words, write words, and fingerspelling again is very beneficial.
Visual Phonics is a method of using a handshape to represent sounds. Different signals for long “a,” short “a,” and so forth.
One method I found especially useful was association of pictures. When a student came across a new word, finding an image of the word helped immensely. Often, once they put the word with the image, they understand.
There are many methods used and there is great discussion and debate over them all. Do Deaf children learn to read differently? I would say yes! Research has shown how Deaf readers and hearing readers use different areas of the brain for those skills. How the brain functions is fascinating. All children learn differently and the best practice is finding the most beneficial method for each child. Introducing new techniques and using a variety of styles and methods helps keep the child interested while building brain patterns of recognition.
What’s the advantage to learning sign language, either along with or instead of, lip reading or other ways for Deaf or hard of hearing people to communicate?
Language: a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/language)
Sign language is in fact a language. The skill and knowledge through which any concept can be clearly conveyed. People who are Deaf or hard of hearing naturally pick up on lip reading. Lip reading alone would be difficult. Speech reading is a term that refers to lip reading, in addition to other clues of speech such as facial expression, body language, and patterns in speech behavior that the child can associate with. An example would be mom grabbing her purse and saying, “ready to go?” The child picks up these clues in communication. Often interpreters will “mouth” (that is, to move their mouths without sound) as they sign, adding clues to the interpretation of the spoken word conveyed both with mouth movements and signing. Relying on lip reading alone would leave many gaps in clear communication.
Was it difficult to have an entire book illustrated in sign? How were you able to pull that off?
Was it difficult? It was not without challenge. It was important to me to have a Deaf illustrator, so I was lucky enough to find Isaac Liang from Singapore. Early on in our conversation, he assured us he was a good lip reader. In Singapore, they use American Sign Language and he knows English and Chinese. My signing was sufficient for our communication. However, we did enlist a certified interpreter. On our Zoom meetings, a woman named April Cox coached us through the process as this was my first picture book as well as Isaac’s. April Cox is the founder of Self-Publishing Made Simple. Without her experience and guidance, everything would have been much more difficult. Emma, a certified interpreter, joined the call along with Pardeep, the design and color illustrator.
Isaac provided many wonderful elements to the story. The monster truck goes everywhere with the boy, so Isaac cleverly illustrated that on the first page spread using the transition sunrise to sunset. Pardeep, owner of Pencil Master, took Isaac’s sketches and beautifully added design and color. It was clear that there was an advantage of working with Isaac, who uses sign language, over working with illustrators who had no knowledge of sign language. It took a few more revisions perhaps, but we were able to work through them all.
What are your future plans with ASL Picture Books?
I have so many plans for more picture books, accompanying videos, interviews, blogs, research, and so much more. ASL is an untapped potential that has benefits and applications for all people we have not yet imagined. The immediate plans are to continue to get the word out about our first book. My grandson, now four, wants the next book to be about firetrucks. My granddaughter would like one about butterflies. Dustin, our 13-year-old grandson thinks football. As the books and our audience grow, we hope to have our books mature in content and sign language use. There is so much to do!
Kathleen Marcath, Isaac Liang and Pardeep Mehra’s book My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere With Me is available here.