Once Upon A Sign: Ayen’s First Day

Written by Nancy Gaylard and illustrated by Thuto Mvulane   (Lapa Publishers)

The first day at a new school is always challenging – but even more so when you’re Deaf. Ayen’s first day starts out well – her new teacher knows Sign Language and some of the children are very friendly. But then things start to go very wrong: she trips when she has to go up and introduce herself, a boy starts teasing her for wearing a hearing aid and some of the other children laugh.  Ayen is mortified and runs out of the classroom.

What happens next tests all her resolve as she gets stuck in a storeroom when a fire alarm goes off.  Will Ayen be able to face all the challenges that come with being different?

A story about bullies and friendship

Ayen’s biggest fear is that her classmates won’t like her because she’s Deaf. “When they find out, I know they won’t like me. None of the others in the other schools did.  Why would it be any different here?”  The book sensitively explores what it feels like to be different and wish you could just fit in.  Ayen constantly tries to hide her hearing aid, embarrased that people will notice it. It turns out that the class bully is also hiding something he’s embarrassed about and when she discovers this, she sees him in a different light.  And she makes her first new friends!

Understanding differences 

We loved this chapter book for offering a realistic and relatable way of  exploring how a Deaf person may feel.  Children will enjoy the cool 3D illustrations by Thuto Mvulane and the tips on how to communicate with a Deaf person are informative and educational. By the way, Deaf is spelt with a capital D as it means Ayen belongs to  the signing Deaf community, so she uses sign language to communicate and it is her first language.  Ayen explains that she was taught “my eyes are my ears and my hands are my mouth.”

Author Nancy Gaylard was motivated to write the story after meeting a Deaf person and not knowing how to communicate in a way that wasn’t exagerated or disrespectful.  This is her first book. Listen to an interview with her here.






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