When Kristy O’Connell was teaching preschool at a special education school in Port Washington about two years ago, she noticed that all of the books about being deaf were designed for upper-elementary and middle school students. So, she decided to take it upon herself to make a book about deaf culture for young students.
“I think it’s important to cultivate empathy and community with children, so that they can appreciate the value of differences in their peers,” O’Connell, a Franklin Square resident, explained. “As an educator, I feel that teaching students about ASL and deaf culture promotes inclusivity and equal access for everyone.”
O’Connell had been studying American Sign Language for nearly 10 years, she said, and knew that if she wanted to write a book about deaf culture, she would have to get input from someone in the deaf community. So, she posted about her idea on a deaf community Facebook page, and Farmingville resident Heather Stacie replied that she was interested in helping.
“Who wouldn’t want to help someone make a book about deafness or sign language come to life?” she said.
The two then started talking, and O’Connell looked to Stacie for input on the deaf community, the proper terms for deafness and to ensure that the book is not controversial. Stacie worked with young children at a school for deaf students in Suffolk County at the time, and said she “figured I’d have a good idea of how the book should sound to appeal to young kids.”
O’Connell also worked with Shereen Said to illustrate the book. O’Connell had posted that she needed an illustrator on a freelance website, and asked Said to come up with a character that would be appealing to young children. Together, they designed “Sally the Signing Squirrel,” and Said would send O’Connell rough drafts to go with her text that she could then approve.
Then, O’Connell used her free time during the pandemic to put everything together on Kindle Direct Publishing and submitted the final document to Amazon for approval. It was published on May 31, and several Franklin Square residents and teachers of deaf students have since reached out to O’Connell expressing their gratitude for writing a sign language book for young children.
“Sally the Signing Squirrel” is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. It costs almost $15 for a paperback version, and $5 for an ebook.