Author Interview: Kathleen Marcath

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Kathleen Marcath, author of My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere With Me.

FQ: As I mentioned in my review, My Monster Truck Gets Everywhere with Me isn't just a great American Sign Language book, but it's also a really cute story. What came first? The plot of the story or the desire to write a fun ASL book for children?

MARCATH: Holly, your review is delightful. I loved reading your thoughtful comments, the deep dive into the heart of the book, and detailing all the great bonuses we offer with it. Thank you for a lovely review! I am honored to be spotlighted by Feathered Quill. Thank you!

The desire to write for children came long before the plot of My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. I first had taken a course with The Institute of Children's Literature. Later earned a degree centered around sign language and work in with children many years before everything came together. I was writing a poem for a writing contest. As I wrote, I thought this is an excellent story for the children's book I always wanted to write—A simple, fun story with pictures of children on every page using sign language as a regular part of everyday life.

FQ: You mention in your dedication that your grandson Dylan inspired the story. Was he infatuated by monster trucks?

MARCATH: Yes, my grandson Dylan has monster trucks with him all the time. We attended Monster Jams at our county fair before COVID. Together have done all the things mentioned in the story, build ramps, use a big wrench to fix a truck, make tracks in the mud, and line them up to races. He does love his monster trucks.

FQ: Do you find that there is a dearth of children's books that use ASL? Particularly in a fun way?

Author Kathleen Marcath

MARCATH: The lack of children's books that use ASL became evident when I attended Madonna University. I was learning about inclusive literature in a writing class. When given the assignment in a sign language class to tell a children's story in American Sign Language, my first thought was to find a children's book that did just that. I searched and searched and could not find one. There are dictionaries in ASL. There are stories about being Deaf, books that talk about using sign language; I could not find any picture books where the characters were using sign language. I am delighted to help fill the need for inclusion literature in picture books illustrated in American Sign Language.

FQ: Have you experienced watching a deaf child read your book? What was the reaction?

MARCATH: With the pandemic, I have not been able to do any school visits. I am thrilled to hear from teachers and school personnel in the Deaf and HOH classrooms that the children's eyes light up when they see the characters in the book signing. Isaac said they would. Hearing these reports is hugely satisfying for both myself and Isaac for everyone who diligently contributed to the book's completion. The older children who are Deaf and ASL is their first language enjoyed the book and appreciated the videos signed by Deaf Storytellers.

I am looking forward to seeing those smiling faces with school visits.

FQ: The illustrator bios at the back of the book mentions that one of your illustrators, Isaac Liang Zhi Jie, is Deaf. He did a fantastic job at creating clear and concise illustrations to convey the ASL words/letters. Has he done other ASL children's books?

MARCATH: No, this was his first book to illustrate and his most extended project. I was thrilled to connect with Isaac; I am very proud to know him and his work. Isaac designed the storyboard and then worked diligently, clearly illustrating each sign. Along the way, he had several ideas that we implemented into the book. The first-page spread shows one of my favorites, where the boy introduces his monster truck. "This is MY M-O-N-S-T-E-R T-R-U-C-K. He goes EVERYWHERE with ME." I love that this page shows the boy signing a sentence and the sun rising and setting on his playful day.

FQ: My son is studying ASL for his job so I "volunteered" him to check out your book. We spent a while with it and he was quite impressed with the quality of the illustrations that showed the child using ASL. I quizzed him on the words illustrated at the front of the book and we were both able to follow along with the images. How difficult was it to get those illustrations "just right"?

MARCATH: How fun and enjoyable! I would love to hear more about his job—a perfect example for the audience this book is reaching. Parents, children, adults, students, interpreters—I love hearing how families gather around the book, connecting in new ways. Thanks for sharing that.

To get the illustrations just right, we spent many months working on getting every detail correct. Every sign produced has parameters: a handshape, palm orientation, location, movement, and associated facial expression (called a non-manual marker). Isaac used a fading technique to help show the beginning and ending hand positions for many of the signs. It was important to me to have a Deaf illustrator who knows the language, understands the movements, the expression, and body posture. Isaac provided some lovely choices of signs to use. One of those we used in the story was signing "NO EAT" rather than "NO LUNCH." The time on the clock gives a clue that it's lunchtime. However, I loved that Isaac chose Grandma waving her finger for "NO EAT." The message is the same. That waving of the finger may be a bit more English than true ASL. I loved his interpretation of the illustration.

After Isaac completed the sketches, Pardeep Mehra began the coloring process. Pardeep and his team learned a lot about sign language. A bonus!

FQ: I had never heard about a "classifier." Would you tell our readers a bit about this ASL term?

MARCATH: I would love to! There are many standard classifier handshapes used to represent categories or object classes. A classifier identifies a specific person, place, or thing, which is first signed or fingerspelled; then, the classifier becomes that object for the duration of the communication. The classifier can move freely, representing the movement of the item identified.

The CL:3 classifier used in the book to signify "monster truck" is the standard classifier handshape for most vehicles. The handshape is produced by holding up the thumb and first two fingers, also known as the number three handshape. This is not the English representation of the number three: holding up the three middle fingers. With this horizontal handshape now representing the monster truck, we can move the truck up and over ramps, spin it in a cloud of dust, or show it sitting on a table. Using the book's QR code, you can watch Michelle Osterhout and Diana Campbell, both brilliant storytellers, show the monster truck race, jump, spin, and crash. Dustyn Blindert produced these incredible videos.

Think of categories or classes of things. Different categories or classes of items use specific classifiers. Using any classifier enables the signer to convey the motion, movement, speed, or interaction of a person or object.

Classifiers are great for telling stories and conveying detailed information on any topic.
Included with the book are bonuses and value we have added:
1. ASL alphabet chart
2. Four instructional bonus pages
3. Four videos available using the Q.R. code
1. Dianna Campbell, a Deaf storyteller, signs the story.
2. Michelle Osterhout, a Deaf storyteller, signs the story.
3. Dennis Neubacher narrates the story.
4. Michelle Osterhout shows you how to sign all 32 signs illustrated in the book.

FQ: I had never thought about learning ASL, thinking it would be too hard and time-consuming but your book has opened my eyes to the possibilities. What would you tell someone who was thinking of learning ASL but has so far hesitated?

MARCATH: I am so delighted to hear my book has opened your eyes to the possibilities. This means so much to me. One of my goals for this book was for sign language to appear as simple means of communication, a normal part of life. I would tell anyone thinking about learning ASL, FEAR NOT! Beginning to learn ASL doesn't have to be complicated. The Deaf community is very kind and gracious if they see you are interested in learning; they are delighted and very patient. ASL has so many benefits for everyone. Learning a little at a time is perfectly fine. To be fluent, immerse yourself in the Deaf community. Learning from a native signer is the best. It is their language. Most of all, have fun!

FQ: You have a B.A. degree in Deaf Community Studies - what prompted your interest in helping the deaf community?

MARCATH: On the first day of classes at Madonna University, I stepped into a world full of new perspectives that challenged the mainstream ideas I had known for too long. Through courses at Madonna University, I learned the history of the Deaf community, their culture, and the challenges they have faced in our education systems and society. My heart broke; no human should be mistreated, denied language access, or forced to hear, or not allowed to sign. A Deaf person's brain is wired for visual language, and the human heart is wired for communication and love. Children should be allowed to thrive, and sign language offers this privilege to children who cannot hear or speak, children with autism—labeled special needs. Children need to be heard; to have access to language, communication, they need to know they matter.

FQ: Do you have plans for publishing more children's books that use ASL? If so, would you share with our readers a bit about your plans for future books?

MARCATH: Our fans are hoping for more! That's exciting. My grandchildren are an inspiration, and we are working on the next book—no title to share yet.

Children and their zest for life inspire me, the joys they find in simple things, and their big infectious smiles. We are building networks with like-minded organizations to bring social awareness to the power and beauty of sign language, the Deaf Community, and creating awareness for the necessity of ASL for children with hearing loss and their families. We hope to expand hearts and minds to the limitless potential of a beautiful language and Deaf Community.

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Thank you!

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