Keep Your Ear on the BallAuthor Genevieve Petrillo Illustrated by Lea Lyon ISBN 9780884483243 Binding Trade Paper Publisher Tilbury House Publishers Publication Date August 06, 2009 Size 229 x 254 mm
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Everybody wants to help Davey. "Let me open that." "Do you want to hold my hand?" Davey has one answer for all, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Davey is blind—and he is perfectly capable of doing everything on his own. His well-meaning classmates stop offering help when they see how able Davey is. They respect his self-reliance—until he tries to play kickball. After several missed kicks and a trampled base keeper, no one wants Davey on his team.
Working together, the children figure out a way to offer help that respects Davey's unique abilities and his desire for freedom. In this seamless tale, based on a true story, the children realize that interdependence can be just as important and rewarding as independence.
Genevieve Petrillo has been teaching elementary students at School Ten in Belleville, New Jersey, for thirty-four years. David DeNotaris was in her classroom many years ago, and Keep Your Ear on the Ball is a true story. She tells us: "David DeNotaris was in my class after I'd been teaching for about four or five years. The NJ Commission for the Blind offered a one-day summer "training" session, which I attended, as had his kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade teachers before me. I learned a lot that day, but I had no idea how much more I was about to learn.
For one thing, after an art project, when I was telling the children, "No, you may not wash the paste off your hands. Just rub them together and the paste will come off, I certainly didn't expect this little firecracker with the funniest smirk on his face to come to my desk and say, "I HAVE to wash my hands. This is the finger I READ with!"
The New Jersey Commission for the Blind provided us with all of David's textbooks done in Braille, and a few other accommodations including a kickball with a bell in it, which David didn't feel he needed. They also sent a Braille teacher, who came to school to work with David a few times a week.
I lost touch with David for a while, when he was in high school and college. We reconnected when I wrote an article about him for the End of the Day page in Instructor Magazine. Since then, we have stayed in touch and he has visited my classroom a few times to talk to the kids.
There are many surprises in my job, every day. One of the things I enjoy most is watching kids learn to cooperate, care for each other, solve problems, and devise a Plan B if the problems come back. It's a universal concept in elementary school, always the same, but always different, and it feels just as wonderful every time it happens.
Lea Lyon is an illustrator who lives in Richmond, California. She has also illustrated Say Something and Playing War for Tilbury House. Lea juggles her work in the business world with her love of painting, takes numerous painting and drawing classes, and even meets with a group of five women every week to paint and talk about their work. Lea enjoys working with area students on her book-illustration projects. She visits a classroom to read aloud and discuss a book manuscript, shows the students sketches she's made for a "book dummy," and asks them to model some of the scenes while she takes reference photos for her paintings. She visits again while the work is underway, to show the students the progress she's making with her paintings, and then comes back with a finished book, to thank them for their help!
"This is a wonderful story! It's an inspiring example of how children are able to understand and respect differences in others—all on their own. This class used creativity and teamwork to include their classmate Davey in a game of kickball, and Davey learned that he can accept help from others and still remain independent."
—Maria Runyan, educator and runner, the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics
"Keep your Ear on the Ball is utterly charming and true to life! How do you go to school with a classmate who is blind? The children work out the answer in a practical, satisfying way. What I especially like about the story is the personality that comes across in the "can-do" attitudes of Davey and his classmates—American inventiveness and practicality wins again. By the way, I know "Davey" today as an adult with a professional job, a wife, and children of his own. He is now helping blind students in his state to learn the can-do attitude that helped him so well when he was in Miss Petrillo's class."
—Lorraine Rovig, National Federation of the Blind
Keep Your Ear on the Ball offers a great opportunity for exploring a variety of ideas surrounding raising awareness of different abilities:
What are some skills and tools used by blind people?
What does it mean to be independent vs. interdependent?
You can ask your students to define each word and discuss why a classmate with a "disability" might want to assert independence. And, why classmates might want to reach out to help. And how these two goals might intermingle.
Imagine what it might be like to be blind. Write a journal entry (or speak into a tape player or video tape) about your imagined experience as a newly blind person, and/or as a person who has been blind your whole life.
What are the many senses we use to understand and function in our daily lives? This is a brainstorming activity. Leaders might want to add prompts by illustrating the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, movement. For instance, you might use props to help illustrate these senses, such as wind chimes, nature tapes for sound; different textured fabrics for touch; scented oils, air fresheners, perfumes for smell; rocking chairs, exercise, dancing for movement.
How do we communicate with each other? This is also brainstorming, though, in order to help bring the focus around to sight impairment, you might want to mention gesture if your kids do not. For instance, facial expression is helpful to fully understanding a person's meaning, how does this nuance play into communication for a sightless person? The written word and Braille are important to include.
How do we solve problems with sensitivity toward individual needs? This is an invitation for all to put themselves into the shoes of another. You might want to focus on the kids solving the dilemma of Davey playing kickball in a manner that would still give Davey independence.
Since Genevieve Petrillo had David De Notaris ("Davey," in the story) in her classroom as a real-life student many years ago, technology has improved for blind and seeing-impaired students."If Davey was in a classroom today, he would use a kid-size long white cane and, most likely, would not have run over the first baseman," says Lorraine Rovig, the Program Operations Specialist for the National Federation of the Blind. White canes offer true freedom of movement, says Rovig. What other ways has technology improved? Brainstorm for a while, then you might do an internet search to find out.
Activity: I'm Listening
Here is an activity Genevieve Petrillo uses in her classroom. It will engage the students in the successful use of listening in place of their sense of sight.
Have one student stand or sit at the front of the classroom with his/her back to the class and eyes closed.
The rest of the class should quietly hand a beach ball from student to student.
Whenever he/she is ready, the student at the front of the room says, "I'm listening."
The child holding the ball at that point should bounce and catch it a few times.
With eyes closed, the student who is "listening" must turn and point in the direction of the ball and try to name the student who is bouncing it.
Please Note: Author, Carol Castellano (Making it Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School, Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2005) urges teachers to resist blindfolding students to simulate blindness. She says: "Wearing a blindfold for a little while might show what it would be like to suddenly lose vision, but it certainly does not show what it is like to be blind. If children are blindfolded but are not taught any of the skills that real blind people use, they are likely to emerge from a simulation experience feeling that blindness is scary, sad, and difficult. Instead of fostering acceptance, understanding, and respect, these exercises engender sadness, fear, and pity. Instead of thinking of their blind classmate as a potential friend, students can end up feeling more distant from their blind classmate and feeling sorry for him or her. A better way to foster understanding and promote friendships is through a presentation that will promote respect for the blind student and the skills and tools she will be using."
Castellano encourages teachers to invite a blind guest to the classroom to share first-hand experience. She also suggests these activities:
Point out that the number five on a phone pad usually has a tactile marking that blind people use as a reference point when dialing; let students try to find the marking using their sense of touch. Some might then want to locate the other numbers.
Children often wonder how a blind person can eat without being able to see. Put several plastic forks and spoons in a bag; have the students reach in the bag and retrieve either the spoons or the forks. They will see how easily they were able to discern which was which. Then have them close their eyes and see if they can get a spoon to their mouths. Point out that they probably brush their teeth without looking.
Set up role play situations in which one child closes her eyes and a partner tries to "show" her an object. Students will soon see that using words and putting the object into the blind child's hands will be effective.
Brainstorm ways to get a blind child into games (just like Davey's classmates did!).
Through Grandpa's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan (HarperCollins, 1983)
John's blind grandfather shares with him the special see he moves and sees in the world.
Mom's Best Friend by Sally Hobart Alexander (Simon & Schuster, 1992)
Tells about getting and working with a new guide dog.