Children's Books Featuring Sign Language

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007

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Last Updated 11/15/07

Note: This bibliography includes both books intended primarily for signing with hearing children (baby signs) and books intended for hearing-impaired children. They use various forms of sign, including American Sign Language and Signed English. I will indicate which language is used whenever possible.

Board Books

(Click for Picture Books or Books for Older Readers )

My First Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo. HarperFestival, 2002 (0-060-09074-X) $6.99 board

One of the most attractive signing books, this title is notable for actually showing children performing the signs. Eleven basic signs, such as "dog," "baby" and "book" are illustrated with a photo of a cute child performing the sign, as well as examples of the sign's meaning. It's far more understandable and memorable than the drawings found in most signing books, and appealing for children to look at as well. My only quibble is that I wish they had found a more ethnically diverse group of children. (9 months-2)

Baby Signs for Mealtimes by Linda Acredolo. HarperFestival, 2002 (0-06-009073-1) $6.99 board

A companion to My First Baby Signs, with useful signs relating to food and eating. Both books were written by the authors of the book Baby Signs and promote signing as a way of helping babies and toddlers ease frustration around communication and learn language. Keep in mind that "baby signs" are not necessarily actual ASL signs; they're intended to be easy for babies to use. (9 months-2)

Also available: Baby Signs for Bedtime; Baby Signs for Animals

Animal Signs by Debby Slier. Photographed by various. Kendall Green, 1995 (1-56368-049-1) $6.95 board

This book features everyday color photographs of familiar animals in their natural habitats. Small inset drawings indicate how to make the ASL sign for that animal. The drawings can be a bit confusing and will probably be most comprehensible to readers who already have a little familiarity with sign langusage. (9 months-2)

Word Signs by Debby Slier. Photographed by various. Kendall Green, 1995 (1-56368-048-3) $6.95 board

Similar to Animal Signs (see above) but even more confusing. I would only recommend this for someone who already knows ASL. (9 months-2)

Happy Birthday! by Angela Bednarczyk and Janet Weinstock. Photographed by various. Star Bright, 1997 (1-887734-05-8) $4.95 board

Signs for favorite things like balloons, gifts and ice cream make this book appealing. Colored photographs show what's being signed, while inset drawings indicate how to make the sign. I found the insets, which include written instructions, to be quite clear, despite the fairly small size of the book. (9 months-3)

Opposites by Angela Bednarczyk and Janet Weinstock. Photographed by various. Star Bright, 1997 (1-887734-06-6) $4.95 board

In the same format as Happy Birthday! (see above), this features various opposites and includes a cute, diverse cast of toddlers demonstrating concepts like sad/happy and awake/asleep. Adults who want to sign with babies will find this a good place to start. (9 months-3)

Baby's First Signs by Kim Votry and Curt Waller. Kendall Green, 2001 (1-56368-114-5) $6.95 board

Like My First Baby Signs, this book shows a child performing signs, although illustrated rather than photographed. In each picture, a little boy uses ASL as he interacts with his family and everyday objects. Inset drawings reinforce how to make the motions shown by the boy. I like the format, but don't find the muted colors or slot-featured characters very attractive. (9 months -2)

Also available: More Baby's First Signs by Kim Votry and Curt Waller. Kendall Green, 2001 (1-56368-115-3) $6.95

Picture Books

Let's Sign! by Kelly Ault. Illustrated by Leo Landry. Houghton Mifflin, 2005 (0-618-50774-4) $17.00

For parents who would rather learn ASL signs than "baby signs," this is a cute "baby's guide to communicating with grown-ups," featuring pen & ink and watercolor drawings of round cheeked, smiling babies. Three little stories cover around fifty ASL signs for mealtime, playtime and bedtime; each two-page spread has one page of story and one page that illustrates acommpanying signs, along with instructions. (6 months-2)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Harry Bornstein and Karen Luczak Saulnier. Illustrated by Annie Launsford. Sign drawings by Jan Skrobisz. Kendall Green, (1-56368-057-2) $18.95

A standard version of "The Three Bears" is accompanied by drawings showing how to tell the story in Signed English. (Using one sign per word and the same grammatical construction as English.) The large illustrations are fairly pedestrian but give a lot of facial expression to the characters. A nice touch is that the sign drawings change to reflect which character is speaking. This is a fairly long story, so will take some practice for inexperienced signers. (2-5)

The Night Before Christmas adapted by Harry Bornstein and Karen Luczak Saulnier from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore. Illustrated by Steve Marchesi. Sign drawings by Jan Skrobisz. Kendall Green, 1994 (1-56368-020-3) $18.95

Another familiar work in signed English. This is described as an adaptation, but I could find only one difference between it and the original, the substituion of "as" for "ere." The sign drawings change from the narrator to Santa, to make it easier for the signer to remember who's speaking. Richly colored and textured paintings make this book more eye-catching than most others of its kind. (3-7)

Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose by Harry Bornstein and Karen L. Saulnier. Illustrated by Patricia Peters. Line drawings by Linda C. Tom. Kendall Green, 1992 (0-930323-99-8) $18.95

Old-fashioned looking paintings illustrate several familiar nursery rhymes, while drawings of a mother-gooish looking woman show how to sign the rhymes in Signed English. Since the rhymes are fairly short, this can be used even by inexperienced signers, with practice. It can be enjoyed by hearing babies, but its main purpose is to help hard-of-hearing and language delayed children learn English. (2-4)

Sesame Street Sign Language ABC by Linda Bove. illustrated by Tom Cooke. Photographed by Anita and Steve Shevett. Random House, 1985 (0-394-87516-8)

Linda Bove, a deaf cast member of "Sesame Street," here demonstrates sign language with help from the muppets. Each page features a photo of Linda demonstrating a letter of the alphabet, more photos of her signing associated words or phrases, plus a drawing of Sesame Street muppet characters acting them out. (The book doesn't say, but the phrases appear to be in Signed English, rather than ASL.) I find the random use of either sentences or words potentially confusing--for example, Oo is accompanied by "Do no feed the octupus," while Pp is "parrot," "piano" and "pirate--but the familiar, friendly characters will undoubtedly appeal to young children (at least those who watch television.) (2-4)

Handtalk by Remy Charlip and Mary Beth Miller. Illustrated by Remy Charlip. Photographed by George Ancona. Macmillan, 1974 (0-02-718130-8) OP

I was disappointed when I saw this book was illustrated with photographs, because I so love Charlip's adorable illustrations in books like Sleepytime Rhyme. But these photos are well worth looking at, despite the dated, '70's look of the participants.

Handtalk is an alphabet book that uses two forms of sign language, finger spelling and signs. For each letter, we see a hand forming the letter, hands forming a word that begins with that letter--A=Angel--and for the main part of the spread, a person demonstrating the sign for that same word, in the most appropriate way possible. The woman demonstrating "angel" is decidedly angelic; several pages later we see a devilish D. There are lots of clever touches, like a page with a hand covered in peanut butter opposite a page with a hand covered in jelly: "When you close these pages these hands make the sign for sandwich." Perhaps most interesting of all is the way camera techniques and finger drawings on glass have been used to demonstrate motion when signing--far more effective than the little drawings with arrows most books use. A fascinating book. * (4 & up) 

Handtalk Birthday by Remy Charlip and Mary Beth Miller. Photographed by George Ancona. Macmillan, 1987 (0-02-718080-8) OP

This follow-up to Handtalk (see above) is not as innovative, but still fun. Mary Beth Miller, who also co-wrote and was featured in Handtalk, and was an original member of the National Theatre for the Deaf, stars as a deaf women being treated to a surprise birthday party. (The book opens with her being awoken by a light flashing as a doorbell.) Her friends all make her guess, in sign, what her presents can be. At the end of the party, she wishes to fly as she blows out her candles, and begins to float above her friends, still signing away. Again, camera tricks are used to show the motion of the signs, and the cheerful, diverse cast of characters make an appealing show; I particularly like the spread which shows them all signing "Happy Birthday," with eight different hands finger-spelling "Mary Beth." (4 & up)

Handsigns illustrated by Kathleen Fain. Chronicle, 1993 (0-8118-0310-4); (0-8118-1196-4) $7.95 pb

This unusual book not only teaches the standard alphabet, but the American Manual Alphabet--in which letters are represented by "handsigns"--as well. Each textless page includes a vibrantly colored picture of one or more animals, with a small inset box demonstrating a handsign. An introduction at the beginning explains the history and purpose of finger spelling, while a glossary at the end relates facts about the depicted animals. Yet something seems missing in this book. The softly shaded illustrations are attractive but sedate, and they don't relate in any meaningful way to the handsigns; nothing about them really excites the reader to want to learn to sign. This may limit the book's usefulness, and its appeal to older readers. A much more appealing book is The Handmade Alphabet. (See below.) (2-6)

My Signing Book of Numbers written and illustrated by Patricia Gillen. Kendall Green, 1988 (0-930323-37-8) $19.95

As a group of identically smiling children interact with different objects, they sign the numbers of the objects, from 1-20, then by tens to 100, then 1000 (leaves) and 1 million (stars.) A section at the end of the book gives more information more about signing; it's rather odd to read that facial expression is very important in ASL, when so little of it is displayed in these by-the-number drawings. I like the inclusiveness of the pictures--they're the first I've seen that thought to show some characters wearing hearing aids--but overall, this book isn't very visually interesting or appealing. (2-5)

Where's Spot? written and illustrated by Eric Hill. Putnam, 1987 (0-399-21478-X) OP

The first book in the Spot series is accompanied by small drawings showing the story in Signed English. This is a fun, pull-flap story, in which the big dog Sally looks all around for little Spot, finding other goofy animals everywhere she looks. The sign instructions are fairly clear, but the book is best used by someone already familiar with sign. (1-3)

My First Book of Sign Language illustrated by Joan Holub. Troll, 1996; Scholastic, 2004 (0-4396-3582-9) $3.50 pb

Using an alphabetical format, this wordless book shows kids in various familiar situations, then demonstrates useful signs. For "B," along with the finger sign for the letter, we see a boy playing with his baby brother: at the bottom of the page we learn the signs for baby, bed and boy. The cheerful, unsophisticated illustrations aim for diversity and inclusion, showing a child with glasses and another in a wheelchair (though oddly, no hearing aids.) Children may need a little initial help to understand how to make signs, particularly those that move, but most should be able to use the book on their own. (5-10)

The Handmade Alphabet illustrated by Laura Rankin. Dial, 1991; Puffin, 1996 (0-14-055876-4) $4.99 pb

Concept and execution are perfectly blended in this memorable look at the American Sign Language manual alphabet, which shows beautifully drawn hands interacting with appropriate objects while they form the position of each letter: translucent, rainbow-edged bubbles float past the hand demonstrating B, a fragile cup dangles from the thumb of the hand forming C. The most fascinating image might be the E, being slowly erased by a pencil... or maybe the dragonfly delicately perching on D... or the J which swipes a little jam as it moves through the air... or the skeletal vision of X...

Perhaps it's because the basic idea seems so simple that this end product is somehow so astonishing. The graceful elegance of the finely drawn pictures, the imaginative placement of the objects, and the beautiful natural variations of the hands--black and white, old and young--all add up to an incredible visual statement, showing that hand communication, like vocal communication, is more than just the formation of words. Whether or not you have any interest in the manual alphabet, this is a book too special to miss. * (4 & up)

Winnie-the-Pooh's ABC, American Sign Language Edition illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. Dutton, 2001 (0-525-46714-9) $10.99

Identical to the regular edition, but with signs and sign instructions added, this is a cheerful alphabet book that Winnie-the-Pooh fans will enjoy, with pictures by the original illustrator of Milne's books. Many elements from the Pooh books are included: E is for Eeyore (quite complicated to sign!) and T for Tigger; N is for North Pole and S is for the stairs that Christopher Robin drags Pooh down. These aren't necessarily the most useful words to learn to sign, but the attractve and familiar pictures make this book very welcome. (3-6)

My Toy Book illustrated by Ann Silver. Kendall Green, 1987 (0-913580-22-8) $9.95 pb

This mostly textless book offers drawings of a boy and girl making Signed English signs for various toys. Described only with visuals, the signs can be difficult to interpret, and the pictures of the freckled-faced children aren't particularly attractive. There is no index. With so many more visually appealing books available, I would only recommend this book to fill a specific need. (2-5)

Simple Signs written and illustrated by Cindy Wheeler. Penguin, 1995; Puffin, 1997 (0-140-55673-7) $5.99 pb

An author's note at the beginning of this book tells how Wheeler used ASL to communicate with her son, who was born with Down Syndrome. It's a good reminder of how many reasons there can be to sign with babies and young children, even when hearing isn't an issue. This is a nice basic text, with signs used for animals, people and mealtimes. Each page has a simple watercolor illustrations for the word on one half, and a drawing of the sign on the other. I like how much space is alloted to demonstrate the sign, along with written hints that make them easier to understand and remember. (1-4)

More Simple Signs written and illustrated by Cindy Wheeler. Penguin, 1998 (0-670-87477-9) OP

Like the title says, this is more of the same. This book includes more action words like "jump" and "swing," basic colors and useful phrases like "yes," "no," "please" and "thank you." (1-4)

Books for Older Readers

Signing is Fun written and illustrated by Mickey Flodin. Perigee, 1995 (0-399-52173-9) $9 pb

Kids who are motivated to learn sign language will find this small book a useful basic handbook, with thoroughly illustrated and explained signs. Whether the two games included--"match the sports signs" and "guess the wild animals"--actually makes signing more fun willl depend on the reader. The book includes about 150 signs and a numbers of phrases using ASL in English sentence format. (6-12)

Sign Language for Kids by Lora Heller. Sterling, 2004 (1-4207-0672-3) $14.95

Almost entirely photographs, this attractive book shows various adolescent kids performing ASL signs in useful categories like favorite foods, musical instruments, clothing and feelings. Different colored lettering, pages, and t-shirts on the kids all contribute to a bright yet easy-on-the-eyes format. Each sign is also well described. An excellent choice for this age level. (7-14)

Actions; At Play/Jugando by Kathleen Petelinskr and E. Russell Primm. Illustrated by Nichole Day Diggins. Child's World, 2007 (1-59296-679-9; 1-59296-683-7)

These useful books in the "Talking Hands" series are trilingual: the text is in English and Spanish, as well as American Sign Language. Each word is illustrated with a colored photograph--sometimes kids, sometimes adults-- and a line drawing of a child demonstrating the sign; thorough descriptions in English and Spanish of how to perform each sign are also included. Actions focuses on movements kids make: "fall/caer," "clap/aplaudir," "dig/excavar." "At Play" gives the signs for sports and sport-related terms. Although these books have that distinctive published-for-institutions look, the photos are lively enough to make them pleasant to look at, as well as functional. (5-10)

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