It had been a lifelong dream of mine to write a children’s book, but my goal to get one published became even more urgent after I had my son.
My son is biracial. He is a combination of me (white) and my husband (Black). When I went searching for books that represented our interracial family, I didn’t find many except a couple that specifically talked about blended and mixed families.
That wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted more books out there, particularly ones that had biracial families simply existing in the story, not ones that always pointed out and discussed the fact that the family was blended.
While the statistics for diverse books that include biracial/multiracial families are trending upward (315 titles with a depiction of a bi/multiracial family in books published between 2002 and 2020, making up 10% of picture books), I wanted families across America to have more options.
And I wanted my son to see himself and his family represented in children’s literature.
So I started writing.
Henry’s Hiccups came alive.
Henry’s Hiccups follows the story of a little boy named Henry who can’t get rid of his hiccups. He hiccups all day. He tries a number of ways to get rid of them, but no matter what he does his hiccups keep getting in the way of correctly answering the teacher’s questions.
That is until he discovers a new way of answering questions without speaking–sign language.
I am proud of this book for a number of reasons.
My illustrator is a former, deaf student of mine.
Which brings me to my next reason why this book is so important to me. I teetered with the idea of hiring an illustrator, but since the book features a deaf character, I really wanted a deaf illustrator.
JoJo, a former student of mine, was just the person to ask. JoJo was one of the first students I had in class as a teacher. Their artwork was brilliant back then, and I always thought they had amazing talent.
We had kept in touch over the years, and I had approached JoJo once about illustrating my book, who responded with hesitance to do so because of a lack of any credentials or professional experience. I didn’t care about that.
I knew JoJo was talented, so I kept pestering. JoJo finally agreed. And I was so excited.
JoJo illustrated and brought Henry’s Hiccups to life better than I could have ever imagined. It makes me so proud to have one of my former, deaf students illustrating this book.
My book is diverse and represents marginalized people.
As I previously mentioned, Henry’s Hiccups is so important to me because it’s about my son. As a biracial boy who has one Black parent and one white parent, I don’t see a lot of representation of biracial families in children’s books (although this past year it has gotten better).
This book normalizes having a biracial family without the focus being on that. The family just exists in the background of the story. I want readers to have the takeaway, “Oh, there’s a biracial family. Cool. Move on.”
The same is true for the deaf character in my story, Natalie (named after JoJo’s best friend in high school in real life and also a former, deaf student of mine). The focus isn’t on Natalie’s deafness. She is a character who exists in everyday life, and it shows how deaf and hearing people can be friends.
Oftentimes, deaf people have to adapt to a hearing world, and they have to accommodate the hearing people who come into their world. But, in the story, Henry knows sign language. He adapted to Natalie’s world because his friendship with her is important.
None of that was said, but that’s how I imagined it when I drew up the idea of having a deaf character be friends with Henry.
As a teacher for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, I loved the idea of sharing my love of sign language with the world and knew it made a great secondary piece to the story.
I share 10 basic signs to learn at the back of the book. They are also illustrated by a former, talented, deaf student of mine, Dunia Etulu.
The book is a good teaching tool.
As a teacher, I knew I wanted to write a book that could be used as a teaching tool with young kids. Here are the ways you can use my book to do that.
Repetition and Making Predictions
The book follows a pattern. The language in the book is repetitive which is good for young readers. It helps them make predictions of what will happen next.
Henry is told three, common ways he can get rid of hiccups, but each time he thinks the hiccups are gone, he hiccups while trying to answer the teacher’s questions, and everyone laughs.
After the first attempt fails, invite your little ones to make predictions on whether Henry will get rid of his hiccups.
Also, ask them what they think Henry’s idea is when he sees Natalie’s classroom toward the end of the book.
The book uses synonyms for the word “laugh” each time Henry gets the answer wrong. Discuss how these words all mean the same thing and how your kids could tell they did.
The book reviews three basic academic questions: The shape of an octagon, simple addition, and the first color of the rainbow. In addition to asking your kids these questions, review other shapes, addition problems, and colors.
Perseverance and Problem-Solving
Henry has a problem, but he doesn’t give up. He keeps trying new ways to succeed until he finally does.
Teach your children about a growth mindset.
Finally, teach your kids sign language. Besides being fun to learn, there are many benefits to sign language.
Different ways to communicate
The book sparks conversation on different ways to communicate. Not all people communicate orally. Some people communicate through translators and interpreters while other people use sign language, speech boards, and Braille. Discuss the different ways to communicate.
After my book came out, my son begged to read the Henry book as he calls it. He loves seeing himself and his parents in the book. He’s only three, but I am hoping he is proud of this book as he gets older.
I know I am.