By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Inspired by her own daughter Ali’s profound hearing loss, which was diagnosed at just 10 months of age, Wendy Kupfer wanted to write a story that would help families like hers through the tougher times. Thus was born Let’s Hear It for Almigal (Handfinger Press, May 2012), a feel-good, giggle-out-loud picture book that helps children accept and celebrate their differences. It showcases Almigal, a spunky little girl with a big personality, who wants to hear “every single sound in the whole entire universe!”
In the book, young Almigal yearns to hear her friend Isabella’s baby brother’s laugh, the robins singing outside her bedroom window, the soft swan song Madam plays during ballet class, and her friend Chloe’s teeny-tiny voice. But most of all, Almigal wants to hear her Mommy and Daddy whisper, “We love you, Almigal!” when they tuck her into bed at night.
Illustrator Tammie Lyon, best known for her work on the Eloise series for Simon and Schuster, captures Almigal’s uplifting spirit and her friend’s endearing “Let’s hear it for Almigal!” cheers, and of course she highlights Almigal’s new cotton-candy-pink cochlear implants in colorful, lively images throughout the pages.
Wendy Kupfer hopes to heighten awareness, in a positive way, of kids with hearing loss or who have a “difference” in some way, so that their challenges can be understood and accepted by their peers. And with more than 12,000 babies born in the U.S. each year with hearing loss, the author is donating 5 percent of book sales to support these children.
Let’s Hear It for Almigal was named among the best in family-friendly media, taking Gold in the Mom’s Choice Awards for Children’s Picture Books—Values and Life Lessons.
Ms. Kupfer has worked closely with Thomas Balkany, MD, chairman of the University of Miami department of otolaryngology and one of the leading cochlear-implant surgeons in the country.
Ms. Lyon is the award-winning illustrator of numerous picture books for children. Two of her more recent titles, My Pup and Bugs in My Hair, were listed in the Top 100 Best Children’s Books by the Bank Street College of Education.
RMM: Let’s Hear It for Almigal is such an upbeat and motivational book for children, and hearing loss is an issue near and dear to you. Can you give us the story behind the book?
WK: My daughter Ali is my inspiration for the book. When we found out she had a profound hearing loss as a baby, it turned our world upside down. But as I look at her today–she has a master’s degree in social work, a job with the Jewish Social Services Agency in Rockville, Maryland, as an employment support specialist for deaf and disabled clients, and is married to a wonderful man who adores her–it’s hard to even remember how difficult things were so many years ago.
It would have meant so much to me when Ali was younger if I could have met someone like her. It would have been so encouraging. And that’s why I wrote this story. Almigal is that inspiration for young kids with hearing loss, but also for any child that feels different. She’s spunky, optimistic, and full of life!
RMM: How much of Almigal’s story is based on your own daughter Ali’s?
WK: Almigal truly is my daughter! Her spirit and personality–and even the little stories–are based in fact. Ali really did jump into the swimming pool . . . one time and one time only . . . without removing her hearing aids. And I really did “save the day” with my hairdryer. It really was something we will never forget–and you’ll see that story in the book.
Ali, like Almigal, was also a ballerina. She and her best friend, Jaime–on whom I based the character in the book with the “teeny tiny voice”–danced for hours and hours each week. We were always so happy that Ali could hear the music. She couldn’t necessarily make out the words, but I would write them out for her so she could sing along. And, most like Almigal in the book, Ali has never wanted to miss a thing!
RMM: How did it feel when you first learned your daughter couldn’t hear?
WK: The thought of my daughter being “profoundly deaf” was devastating, but after numerous doctor appointments and learning about all the other problems she could have been dealt, this was so much more hopeful.
RMM: Did you ever want to just give up?
WK: That thought never entered my mind! We all worked hard, but mostly Ali worked hard. I always told Ali, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I believe that parents need to have expectations for their children, including children with special needs. All children need to develop a positive self-image. There are many bumps along the way, as with all children, but working with their teachers, along with lots of love and support from family and close friends, you can get through it.
RMM: What is the most important lesson that you learned, that you would like to pass on to other parents of children with hearing loss?
WK: As a mom, I was so intent on Ali keeping up with her hearing peers, that I neglected to think about how nice it would be for her to have friends who were just like her . . . friends with hearing loss. My advice to parents is to be sure to provide opportunities for their children to meet other kids who are just like them. They need this for their self-esteem. Ali and I recently attended the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Conference, and it was incredible to see the children bonding with each other. I would imagine that some of them will be lifelong friends because of this special connection.
RMM: Are cochlear implants the best option for children with hearing loss?
WK: Once the doctors determine that the child is a candidate for implants, the parents need to research and evaluate this decision carefully for their child. Personally, I am in total awe over the children I meet that are implanted. Their hearing ability, along with their speech and social skills, are on par with their hearing peers. When the family is focused on the auditory verbal therapy, the outcome is remarkable.
RMM: Wendy, why did you jump into a new venture at this time?
WK: I think that many women of my generation would prefer to “reinvent” themselves rather than retire. It is really exciting to find a passion at any age, and when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel at all like work. I also think that our life experiences, both personal and professional, offer us a level of confidence that we might not have had as younger women. Additionally, I think that as women get older, often we are willing to just jump in and take a few risks. I often receive eâ€‘mails from parents of children with hearing loss, thanking me for writing this book and sharing their child’s reaction to Almigal–that is the most rewarding experience at any age!
RMM: What’s next for Almigal? Are you working on any more stories or books?
WK: We are already accumulating some interesting ideas for future Almigal adventures. This is the stage of writing that is really the most fun. We also hope to introduce Almigal and Penelope dolls for cuddling. Stay tuned. v