Hamilton author had his children's book translated into a sign language, and says everyone should do it

Bruce Simpson self published Paislee and the Talking Tree, and put an American Sign Language version online. Members of the deaf community say such translations are still not that common with newer books and applaud the move.

Bruce Simpson put a free ASL version of Paislee and the Talking Tree on YouTube

Bruce Simpson, a Hamilton kindergarten teacher, wrote Paislee and the Talking Tree after hearing that his neighbour waters the local trees. (Bruce Simpson)

Bruce Simpson never thought he'd become a published author one day, but when creativity strikes, there's no way to stop it. 

Now the local kindergarten teacher and songwriter has tapped into that creativity — plus his neighbour's love of trees — with his self-published children's book Paislee and the Talking Tree. And he's had it translated into American Sign Language (ASL) and made that version available for free.

It all started, he said, when he heard that his neighbour waters the trees on his property. 

"He takes a wagon and he waters the baby trees on their block," Simpson said.

"I had this idea that if a child knew that they could water a tree, they would want to, they would get their hose, and they would probably have fun."

So he grabbed a notebook that was gifted to him by one of his students, Paislee, and wrote the whole book.

Simpson also said he knew "as soon as I wrote it" that it would be a picture book, and he enlisted the help of illustrator and fellow Hamiltonian Rae Bates.

"It's important for children to have access to these ASL translations, so they can participate in story time," says Jennifer Reda-Lagrandeur, with her daughter Hazel. (Jennifer Reda-Lagrandeur)

Simpson says the ASL translation happened when he was looking for ways to make the book more accessible.

First, he had two braille copies made of Paislee and the Talking Tree, which he said he plans to donate to Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). Then he got an ASL translation, which he made available for free on YouTube.

Simpson worked with the Canadian Hearing Services (CHS) to translate the book, as well as the book's companion song, "The Tree Said Hello." Both translations were performed by Canadian deaf actress Dawn Jani Birley.

"I didn't really know how they were going to do it. I just gave them all the material, and waited for months," he said. 

"They said they had this person in mind to do it, that they had to wait a little bit, and it all worked out. But last week, when they showed it to me, I was like, 'wow, this is fantastic.'"

A vital tool for deaf children

Brian McKenzie, director of interpreting and translation services at CHS, told CBC Hamilton that working with Simpson was "an absolute pleasure" and highlighted the importance of ASL translations for children's books. 

"We applaud his willingness to share his talent widely by making the materials accessible in ASL," said McKenzie. "The addition of an ASL translation allows the creativity and artistic nuances to be enjoyed and experienced visually in ASL."

According to Mohawk College professor Evan-Wyatt Stanley Le Lievre (Tresidder), these translations are not common among newer books.

"To my knowledge, there are not that many children's books that have been converted into ASL that are published online."

These books are vital when it comes to deaf children's development, said Le Lievre, who is a co-chair of the ASL Community Club of Hamilton and part of the deaf community himself.

Story time in two languages

"It is important to provide exposure to ASL as a first language during those [early] years, and the young children will learn English and its grammar structure as a second language properly once they enter the education system," said Le Lievre.

The sentiment was shared by Jennifer Reda-Lagrandeur, a mother of three who is also deaf. She communicates with her kids — two of which are hearing — using ASL.

"My daughter, Hazel, is three years old, and she is deaf. ASL is her first language, and she does not talk," she said.

"ASL is their first language. The boys did not really start to speak until they were three years old because they used ASL at home. Doctors and others were concerned, but once the boys started preschool, their spoken language took off as they got more exposure to spoken language at preschool on a daily basis. Today, both boys are bilingual and use both languages."

Reda-Lagrandeur said ASL translations are pivotal for her daughter to access stories.

A language and culture

"It's important for children to have access to these ASL translations, so they can participate in story time. With my daughter, she is too young to read independently, so she would ask anyone to read a book out loud in ASL so that she can enjoy the stories."

Reda-Lagrandeur said deafness is not a disability. "I see myself as a member of a minority linguistic and cultural group," she said.

Le Lievre agrees.

"We are equal to hearing peers," he said. 

"The only difference is the language deprivation in young children, especially babies to age of five, when the foundation of language acquisition starts as their brains are a sponge."