Neimark has written other juvenile and young adult biographies, such as Touch of Light: The Story of Louis Braille (1970) and Damien, the Leper Priest (1980). This biography of Gallaudet contains very little by way of conversation other than reported speech; direct quotations are drawn from journals, letters, and other documents. This approach may lack appeal for a young adult audience accustomed to dialogue that is dramatized to present the emotion behind the arguments. Nevertheless, readers will be able to sympathize with a character who is trying to overcome established roadblocks. Gallaudet’s frustration with other educators in England and with board members in Hartford is certainly clear, and his eventual success encourages the reader to persevere.
A Deaf Child Listened does not portray Gallaudet as a saint, but his weaknesses are not of his own making. His weak body prevented physical accomplishments and frustrated his early years of employment and study; an obstinate board of directors interfered with Gallaudet’s recommendations for the curriculum and his requests for a lighter work load. Because his goal was improved education for the hearing impaired, his recommendations are presented as the ideal, while his opponents’ are unacceptable. It is possible that the urgency of Gallaudet’s task was of such significance that Neimark deemed other character flaws inconsequential.
Neimark explores the...
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In 1983, when this book was first published, the hearing impaired were often an invisible minority. The film Children of a Lesser God (1986) and subsequent television films and series, however, soon brought the needs of the hearing impaired into focus. Gallaudet University’s demand for a deaf president in 1988 renewed this focus, so that young adults may be very aware of contemporary issues in deaf education.
Since 1983, an increasing number of autobiographies have been written portraying the difficulties of growing up hearing impaired. Some books show the results of oralism (educating the deaf to lip-read and speak), a method still promoted in some private schools that deny the effectiveness of sign language. Most deaf education programs have combined the two into an approach called “total communication.” Other books present the more subtle conflict between proponents of American Sign Language, a complete language with its own grammar, and proponents of Exact English, a form of sign language codifying all the linguistic features of standard American English. A third point of view in these autobiographies is the unique dilemma of the hearing child of deaf adults, a child often forced to assume responsibility for the parents’ communication with the hearing world. Reading some of these autobiographies would broaden the understanding of obstacles that are still present for the hearing impaired.
Although the young adult reader may be less interested in the bureaucratic difficulties that Gallaudet faced in England, certainly A Deaf Child Listened portrays the pioneer spirit that made him the inventor of American Sign Language. More use of dialogue and dramatization would enliven the text, but the reader is still aware of Gallaudet’s intense desire to improve communication between deaf and hearing members of society. His role as the founder of deaf education is unchallenged in the United States.