“Jill’s First Day of School: Based on a True Story of a 10-Year-Old Deaf Girl” by Annie and Tony Wessler

“Jill’s First Day of School: Based on a True Story of a 10-Year-Old Deaf Girl” by Annie and Tony Wessler 175 226 Reader Views Kids

Jill’s First Day of School: Based on a True Story of a 10-Year-Old Deaf Girl

Annie and Tony Wessler
Retire and Just Do It (2022)
ISBN: 979-8986180700
Reviewed by Dawn Colclasure for Reader Views (02/2023)

Jill is a 10-year-old girl who was born deaf. She wears a cochlear implant, which helps her to hear most sounds around her. Up until now, she attended a School For the Deaf, but now she is enrolled at a mainstream school and today is her first day. In “Jill’s First Day of School: Based on a True Story of a 10-Year-Old Deaf Girl,” Jill is nervous about how she will manage life at a new school and she worries if the hearing kids at her new school will like her and accept her. She also has the opportunity to share about her disability with the new people she meets at this school.

This book is written by Jill’s sister, who is a hearing person. Jill is one of four of her siblings who were born profoundly deaf. Readers learn later in the book about the many accomplishments Jill achieved in her life and how she was able to break through barriers to live a fulfilling life full of activity and friendships. This must have inspired her to write about Jill and how she adjusted to the new school environment.

The first chapter, however, is not in Jill’s point-of-view (POV) but in her mother, Alice’s, POV, which is disappointing. The story is about Jill, not Alice. But I understand the author is probably trying to acquaint the reader with how the mother felt on that day, which for her was probably scary. Probably wanted us to know the mother’s perspective as well. I understand her uneasiness, but as a deaf child of hearing parents, I only want to tell that character, “Relax, Mom! She’s got this.” Parents are often overprotective of their kids, especially if that child has a disability. But kids are tough. Sadly, parents don’t give the child with a disability as much credit for being strong and resilient as they should.

One thing I liked about this book is that the illustrations are very professional. Poor illustrations can be a turn-off for young readers, so it’s good to see that the author made sure the illustrations were well done. I also liked the occasional illustration popping up in different areas of the story.

One thing that I REALLY liked was how this story brings up the many issues a person who is deaf encounters with hearing people. I never had a cochlear implant; I had a hearing aid. I could only wear one because my left ear is too damaged. The hearing aid was not perfect with picking up all the sounds, so it amused me how Jill explained that her implant also does not detect all sounds. Another thing that is brought up is how the teacher turned away from Jill as he spoke. Hearing people do this a lot. They look somewhere else while talking to a person. Someone who is deaf and relies on lipreading needs to see the person’s face at all times so that we can read their lips. I also appreciated the mention of how hard it is to lipread people with a mustache!

This is definitely a good book for hearing kids to read in order to understand their Deaf peers better. There are so many things hearing kids do not realize about people who are deaf that it can complicate how they relate to them. The struggles in lipreading, trying to be accepted and wanting to do what everybody else is doing are just part of the problems Deaf kids face.

I also loved how Jill shared her pronunciation problem! I’m subscribed to a “word a day” newsletter, and it includes the phonetic way to pronounce words. There have been many times that I have realized I was saying words wrong! As someone who is deaf, I have this problem a lot. My family and friends let me know if I pronounce a word wrong. I hope that by including this issue in the story, more hearing kids will understand that when someone who is deaf pronounces a word wrong, it does not mean that person is “stupid.” It just means that they are doing what all deaf people do: pronouncing words the way they are spelled! We can’t hear how a word is pronounced and when we are told the correct way, it is helpful. Though this might take time to sink in; there was a time when I had to repeat one word I was accustomed to mispronouncing for years because the new pronunciation was hard to get used to.

Still, the last part of the book that talks about Jill’s life made me upset. “The phrasing of “despite her deafness” when listing Jill’s accomplishments was off-putting. The whole vibe this gives off was like, “Wow! Look at how this person is able to do something – despite her deafness!” It sends the message that we all should be shocked and surprised that a person who is deaf is actually capable of doing things that other hearing people do. I have the opinion that, yes, anyone who is deaf can do anything. I was a newspaper journalist despite being deaf and a Direct Support Professional despite being deaf. See where I’m going with this? We need to stop setting deaf people apart as “not capable of doing things hearing people can do” and do away with all the shock and wonder when a person who is deaf actually can do things that hearing people can do. Please, please stop saying that a deaf person did something “despite their deafness.” That’s setting us apart from the rest of the crowd. We don’t want to be recognized as a deaf person doing something hearing people can do; we want to be recognized as an individual who did something just like everybody else. I get how it’s important to acknowledge that a deaf person was still able to do something, but continually saying “despite her deafness” is uncalled for. It’s great to acknowledge this accomplishment, but it’s even better if we don’t attach shock to a deaf person’s abilities to this accomplishment.

Overall, though, “Jill’s First Day of School” was a pleasant story to read. I feel it is a good introduction to what life is like for children who are deaf. It is a good story about a child’s transition from a School For the Deaf to a mainstream school. Hearing kids who read this story may walk away from it with a better understanding of their Deaf peers.

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