There is a story that Raymond Antrobus tells often, from before he was diagnosed with deafness when he was six years old: When his father read him a picture book, Antrobus would snuggle up to his father’s chest and feel the story that he could not hear. through vibrations. from his body. The book was often his favorite, Happy Birthday Moon; both memory and book would give him, decades later, the name of a poem in his award-winning debut The Perseverance. “I would like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain. / Dad makes the Moon say something new every night / and we listen to each other, we really listen to each other. / As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger down the page. “
Now the memory has also inspired his first picture book, Can bears ski? Antrobus eventually became the bear: the book follows its lovable protagonist, who hears the title of the book when adults ask him, “Can you hear me?”, Until his deafness is finally acknowledged.
Antrobus, 34, originally refused to write a children’s book when it came to the attention of publishers while reading Happy Birthday Moon at a literary festival. “I told this story all the time, but I never considered it a children’s book. The thing is, I still see myself a lot as a poet, ”he says. “Poetry is what I live for. But I have realized that much of my concern has been the ego. Many poets that I love also write for children. I think it’s snobbery. In the world of poetry, if I’m honest, there is a lot of petty snobbery. And maybe I’ve been at this for too long and that’s why I didn’t want to write a children’s book. But now I feel good about this book. I’m so, so proud of it. “
A while after the festival, standing in the library of Blanche nevile, the London school for the deaf that Antrobus once attended and now teaches, checked the shelves. “There were no books for young children that had a deaf central character. There was nothing. So I decided to give it a try. “
Antrobus then met child author Joyce Dunbar, Who is it deeply deaf, at a literature festival. “Joyce was very supportive. I was worried I was entering a lane that is not mine. Getting the approval of a veteran was a blessing to me; If you think this is okay, no one can tell me anything now. “By chance, the illustrator attached to Can Bears Ski? was Joyce’s daughter Polly Dunbar. When Antrobus saw her illustrations, she cried:” I had to leave the office, I couldn’t believe how well he did. “
Antrobus has received messages from all over the world about Can Bears Ski?: From grandparents who use the book to explain their deafness to their grandchildren; a boy who wrote that he would ask his friend about his hearing aids for the first time; An entire school in Canada that was so inspired that they organized a ski trip. “And none of them have been, ‘Oh, the poor deaf bear!’” He says. “Deafness is an experience, not a trauma. A diagnosis is not a tragic story, but managing it is a very real concern. I have hearing parents and they didn’t know what to do. I find it ridiculous that there weren’t more children’s books with deaf characters. It is a symptom of a dominant culture that is failing everyone. So my book is having a life beyond what I could have dreamed of, and that’s really exciting. “
Antrobus is in an Oklahoma hotel room when we speak, waiting for a major snowstorm to pass that has turned off the heating in his house. His wife is an American and Antrobus is currently living in the US with her as they have both been caught up in immigration delays amid the pandemic. To further complicate matters, they are now expecting their first child: “We have been seeing midwives and looking at how much a delivery costs in the United States compared to the United Kingdom, where it is free,” she snorts. “They just hit me with new things constantly.”
A new and positive thing crept in just weeks before the pandemic: After giving a talk to a room full of audiologists, Antrobus was overwhelmed by offers to upgrade its hearing aids. I met Antrobus before and saw his previous NHS hearing aids; the devices in your ears are now completely invisible in Zoom. He says they have changed his life, that he can hear sound through walls for the first time.
“They are like the most powerful headphones out there and they have been a blessing. I have been living in a whole new world of sound during the pandemic. I have used NHS hearing aids my whole life; These are worth thousands and otherwise you would not have access to them. The kids I work with don’t have access to this. But my God, has it made a difference? ”.
Like everyone who is locked up, he has watched a lot of television, but for a very different reason: armed with his flash technology, he is now watching all the movies he remembers seeing without subtitles as a child. “All my ideas for my favorite children’s movies are wrong!” he says. “All of this has opened up to me, I’ve had different stories for all of them.” Locked up, he also did a BBC Radio 4 show, Inventions in Sound, a show about subtitles.
While can bears ski? It started with a memory of his father, the role the bear’s father plays in the book – finding lost hearing aids, juggling dates – it was all his mother. “I was never really able to talk to my dad about my experiences, that world was completely foreign to him,” says Antrobus. “He did not participate. I don’t want to make excuses for it. But I did want this book to challenge gender roles. Before it came out, I had to tell Mom, ‘I’m not giving Dad the credit here, I’m just providing a model.’ It just wasn’t present. He had no language, he didn’t even call me deaf, he would just call me ‘limited’. That was always his word and the way he used it, it affected me. Now we would call it habilistic language. So, in a way, the book models the childhood I wish I had with my dad. But I hope it also honors what my mother did. “She promised that her next collection of poetry, due out in September, is” all about her. “” And she’s back now, “he laughs.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism