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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

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...

(The entire section contains 538 words.)

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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 differences in attitude demonstrated by other pioneers in deaf education. Examples of self-sacrifice and support by the Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épée, the Abbé Sicard, and Laurent Clerc in France’s Royal Institution for the Deaf and Dumb are contrasted with the narrow-minded oral approach of Dr. Watson and Reverend John Townshend of London’s Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. Neimark lessens her criticism of later proponents of the oral method—Horace Mann, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Alexander Graham Bell—perhaps because they made other contributions to education, or perhaps because they did not turn away needy students, as Watson and Townshend had done.

The seriousness of the handicaps of the deaf students who were admitted to early classes at the Hartford School may be difficult for a young adult audience to understand. The rather unusual behavior problems in these students, particularly the deaf and blind girl, may inadvertently leave the impression that deaf children indeed are deficient in other ways as well. It is hard to imagine the frustrated world of the child who is totally unable to communicate with the world.

Because of the visual nature of sign language, illustrations would have been beneficial. The fingerspelled initials at the beginning of each chapter are not explained; an observant reader would deduce their significance. Merely to describe in the text the way a word is signed lacks the clarity that a picture would provide. At the least, picturing the manual alphabet would have brought an essential element to the book.

It is not entirely clear whether the bibliography is intended to be a list of sources consulted by the author or a list of suggested readings. The sources range in complexity from another young adult biography containing similar information to theoretical discussions beyond the interest level of most young adult readers. Without such information in an annotation, readers may become frustrated in their attempts at further investigation.

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Critical Context