As a young child, Ann LeZotte was diagnosed as autistic because she banged her head. Eventually it was discovered that her head-banging was merely a response to the fact that she could not hear. Born prematurely and deaf, Ann also has trouble with lung function.
Starting off life like that seemed like a raw deal; however, Ann’s deck of cards was stacked with having dedicated, smart parents. She was sent to the best of schools. She was “mainstreamed“into regular classrooms. Her father inspired her with the story of Helen Keller. She spent many hours contemplating the paintings known as Christiana’s world by American painter, Andrew Wyeth. She came to know that being born deaf was not a tragedy; it made her special. It added to her other gifts. It gave her a certain élan, a steady dignity and a sense of self that many others lacked.
In her early years, Ann’s knife-sharp intelligence was her road-map to negotiate the ups-and-downs of loneliness, bullying and academic pressure. Being the only deaf student in a classroom of other bright kids took some quick-stepping. One year she went from being the “outcast” to being “the number one magic girl” by teaching her growing number of friends to finger-spell under their desks, thereby confounding the teacher and everyone else by their seemingly secret language. Talk about the art of texting! Ann was onto something before smart phones were even a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye.
Today, Ann is forty-one years old and an accomplished poet. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and in 2008 published T-4, a novel in poetry about the extermination of disabled children in Nazi Germany.
In 2010, she agreed to write a chapter book for Wild Onion Press, a brand new publisher dedicated to giving a rest to our culture’s most outstanding literary characters with a physical difference, i.e., Tiny Tim and Rudolph, that reindeer with the flashlight nose. Right off, Ann knew who she wanted to create: a second-grade girl much like she was, who was deaf, but who would also represent so many hearing-impaired children today by having a cochlear implant. Adjusting to a cochlear implant is a story all in its own, for the implant sends signals to the brain and the sounds have to be interpreted, much like learning a musical instrument in terms of pitch, tone and range. Because Ann does not have viable nerves in her cochlear, she is not a candidate for an implant. But she knew she wanted to write about the modern world of deaf children to make her story relevant.
Now, who else would you predict that Ann would throw into her story soup? Yes, you guessed it: a girl on the Autistic spectrum, one with Asperger’s syndrome. And so here, in her brand new story titled HERE COMES JULIE JACK! , is the second-grade’s pretty new girl whose mother named her after her favorite household cleaner! There’s no end to Ann’s humorous take on telling a tale that pits these two girls in a contest to be the most popular girl in the second grade. Best of all: without being lectured to, a reader learns in-between the lines about the special silent world of the hearing-impaired and the socially-challenged days of those with Asperger’s syndrome. The upshot is: these two girls, literary creations from Ann LeZotte, will live along side Tiny Tim and Rudolph as inspirations for all children, with or without physical challenges, for many years to come.
(You can see a video of Ann on www.wildonionpress.com. Here Comes Julie Jack! is available on Amazon or directly from the Wild Onion Press website. And, in Florida at Alachua and Marion county Publix stores. )
Check back for more articles from Shelley Fraser Mickle, a regular contributor to SpecialNeeds.com. Her columns will go in depth with information on the Wild Onion Press authors and the stories they are publishing, along with personal tales revealing a childhood dealing with a physical difference.