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 Case Study 6: Guildford Grove Primary School Workshops and Project


This project aimed to explore the needs of deaf children in relation to books and consider how books (and particularly a book such as Answer Me Leila by Nadine Kaadan) might be further enhanced to ensure maximum relevance, inclusivity, accessibility and appeal.


Very little information is readily available about the specific needs of deaf children in relation to books.  OIW was therefore keen to involve deaf children in helping the book world better understand this. 

We wanted to know whether deaf children wanted to see more deaf characters and how these should be depicted.  We also wanted to explore the inclusion of BSL (British Sign Language) signs in books, whether this would enhance deaf children’s experiences and if so, how and where it should be included.

The Books

Answer Me, Leila (Leila, Ruddi Allaya)
Nadine Kaadan
Box of Tales Publishing, 2011
Language: Arabic

The tale of a deaf princess, based loosely on the story of Rapunzel.  Here the princess is not portrayed as an 'outsider'; she is an empowered protagonist who speaks her own language and it is the prince who struggles and must learn to adapt in order to communicate effectively with her. 

Our first RTW project identified Answer Me, Leila by Nadine Kaadan as a particularly effective example of a book featuring a deaf character and images of signing, making a perfect candidate for this in-depth project.  We also used other books relevant to deafness identified by the RTW project to support discussions in this project. 

Other Titles Explored were:

Humbug (Vaker)
Tamas Vincze, ills. Mari Takacs
Csimota Publishing House, 2007
Language: Hungarian
Hungarian Sign Language

Humbug is a simple and structured book introducing signs for older children. Each illustration is accompanied with a one-word text description and the associated sign.  It includes 'slang' words that would be readily understood by young people. The bright and bold design of the book is very much concerned with its graphics.

‘Pesci Parlanti’ series by Enza Crivelli
Language: Italian Symbols

‘Pesci Parlanti’ (talking fish) is a series of classic fairy tales featuring PCS, designed specifically to be more accessible to those with reduced communication skills Clear illustrations are printed on the right-hand side, while the story is structured in simple sentences accompanied by PCS on the left-hand side.  The pages are softly curved and feature a unique 'easy turn' format. The series has been created by Enza Crivelli, a specialist in autism, and editor at Uovonero. 


Little Red Riding Hood (Capuccetto Rosso)
Ills. Peppo Biachessi, 2010
The Wolf and Seven Kids (Il Lupo e I Sette Capretti), ills. Andrea Alemanno, 2010.

Pelle in Space (Pelle på planetfärd)
Jan Lööf
SPSM, Umea, Sweden (The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools), 2010
Originally published by Bonnier Carlson, 2010
Language: Swedish

Pelle embarks on a space adventure to find his friend the professor’s dog Lajka, who has been taken hostage in order to force the professor to hand over his book of inventions. 'Pelle' has been adapted using Widgit symbols with the original illustrations, but the Swedish text has been simplified for children with reading disabilities.

Zitti’s Cake Shop (La pasticceria Zitti)
Rosa Tiziana Bruno, ills. Ambra Garlashcelli
La Margherita Edizioni, 2011
Language: Italian

Zitti’s Cake Shop explores the extraordinary properties of food as a form of communication because understanding does not always need words.

The Artist

The book’s author/illustrator Nadine Kaadan has a very strong interest in deafness. We had worked with her previously and knew her to be open to further collaboration and to potentially re-working Answer Me, Leila

The School

OIW selected Guildford Grove in Surrey, a mainstream school with a unit (called the Lighthouse) supporting deaf children. At an initial meeting it was clear that staff were extremely interested in the RTW2 concept and were keen to work on a project that would empower their children.  They were particularly interested in supporting children in developing their storytelling skills.


OIW were keen to ensure deaf children felt fully involved in the process. In some children’s cases, BSL was their first language, so OIW originally considered employing an external facilitator, a BSL signer who was not only deaf herself but also known to the school.  However, when she was unable to take part for family reasons, the school suggested that Alex facilitate but with staff from the unit (two of whom are deaf) working closely with her, to interpret for the two workshops.  As such, Alex and Nadine were able to communicate very successfully with the children in both workshops.

Workshop 1:

  19 May 2017.
Participants:   12 children from Years 3 and 4, half of whom were deaf children from the Lighthouse unit and half of whom were hearing peers.
Length:   90 minutes.


The workshop aimed to introduce the pupils to Nadine Kaadan and Answer Me, Leila, and to prepare them for the idea of analysing this book and others in relation to deafness.


The workshop began with a member of staff (Lucy) introducing Alex and Nadine and the children each signing their names.  Alex explained that she and Nadine did not know much British Sign Language but were keen to learn.  The group signed the fingerspelling alphabet together, with the children teaching Alex and Nadine.

Nadine read Answer Me, Leila with Alex sharing the accompanying visuals on a screen and Lucy interpreting with BSL.  


Nadine Kaadan and pupil from Guildford Grove Primary Schoo
© Photo Alexandra Strick

Nadine asked the children to share their reactions to the book.  They were quick to note the fact that it didn’t come from the UK, and two Arabic speaking boys in the group (brothers, from Saudi Arabia) were particularly excited to see the Arabic writing.  One had brought a small whiteboard with him on which he wrote his name in Arabic.

Nadine talked to the children about the setting for the book, pointing out the clothing that the characters are wearing and the Damascus rose.

Nadine and Alex then talked to the children about how children’s books are made.  Nadine talked through the process of creating The Jasmine Sneeze (her first UK published title by Lantana Publishing, 2016), sharing images that had provided inspiration, such as Syrian buildings, arches, fountains and cats.  She then showed how the book developed from rough black and white sketches to full-colour artwork. This proved very powerful for the children, who had clearly never considered how the images in a book are formed.

The children then had the chance to ask questions about Nadine’s job. They were keen to know about her work.  Their questions included how long it took to write and illustrate a book, how many books she has created and how much she earns!  One of the two boys from Saudi Arabia commented “I know why you left Syria. There’s a war in Syria.” The session then moved on to a section exploring Answer Me, Leila.  Alex asked whether the story reminded the children of any other stories they had come across. With a little prompting (mention of the tower and the long hair) many of the children recognized story of Rapunzel.  

Alex talked about the fairytale format and typical fairytale content (such as princes and princesses falling in love at first sight, overcoming challenges and living ‘happily ever after’). Alex then asked them for their interpretations of the story, gradually drawing out their understanding of it, and their awareness of the fact that Leila is deaf.  She asked when the children realised this – most said this was the case part-way through.  The group talked about the problem the characters have, why they fail to communicate and how they solve the problem.

Nadine told the children about her inspiration for the book – how she worked with a woman who was deaf and used BSL.  Not being a signer, Nadine admitted to being ‘scared’ of trying to talk to her, and therefore never did so. It was only when the two had reason to communicate via email that they started to become really good friends.  The children seemed fascinated by the idea that Nadine could be so anxious about not being able to sign.

The children were also asked whether they had come across any books that have someone who is deaf in the story.  Nadine and Alex talked about the fact that Leila hasn’t been published in the UK (yet!) but that we would like to see this happen.  They were asked whether the book might perhaps be made even better with their help and ideas.

The children were split into two (pre-decided) groups:


Group 1: Inclusivity

This group explored how deafness is included in the story.  They started to look at ideas for developing the relationship between the characters and even for new characters that they could add.  Children suggested things like giving the princess a hearing aid, and including a hearing dog in the story.   They drew pictures of their characters and wrote about them. 

The children also tried putting themselves into the story - Nadine asked them who they would be.  Some wanted to be Leila, because she was a strong deaf character, others wanted to be the prince.  They looked at whether Sami and Leila had known each other already before the story began, and if so how and where. Why didn’t Sami know Leila was deaf?  Perhaps they went to school together and he liked her but never talked to her, some of the group suggested.   This was something they would go on to explore in more detail as part of their in-school project.

Group 2: Accessibility 

This group looked at the inclusion of BSL.  The children included two boys on the autistic spectrum who used communication symbols, deaf children who signed and the two members of staff who were deaf themselves.  The group looked at the collection of OIW books that Alex brought featuring signs and symbols.  The books included Italian books featuring communication symbols, Pelle in Space, Zitti's Cake Shop and Vaker.

They spent considerable time looking at Vaker, trying out the signs to see which were the same as BSL and which were different.  They found this great fun, and were interested and entertained by the choice of signs and the particularly by the inaccuracies in the English translation which they and the staff proceeded to correct!  The group liked the combination of illustration, sign and word but agreed that this was more of a dictionary (an A-Z of signs) and agreed how few books actually feature BSL as part of the story or to support the story.  We touched on how this is very effective in What the Jackdaw Saw

They then looked at the signs that appear in Answer Me, Leila, for example the princess appears to sign the letter ‘N’.  The group guessed this might be for Nadine. The book also features three words at the end, including ‘give’. Nadine later explained that these were words that were chosen because they worked in different languages.  The children started to think about other signs that could be included – both signs that would be useful for anyone to learn, and also signs that could be relevant to the book (such as ‘princess’.)   They thought that having the fingerspelling alphabet would be a useful addition to the book.   The staff showed an Usborne story that the children on the autistic spectrum had adapted together to include symbols – they would like to try doing this with Leila.

The workshop ended with the children thanking Nadine and clearly looking forward to the next visit.

Post-workshop meeting

After the workshop, Alex and Nadine had a meeting with Lucy to discuss the project that would now follow.  This would involve building on the discussions from the first workshop and exploring the issues of inclusivity and accessibility in much more detail.

In preparation, Alex, Nadine and Lucy looked through the RTW2 books together. Lucy felt Zitti's Cake Shop was particularly interesting, the artwork conveying the mood of the story very effectively.  She observed that it is easy for publishers to underestimate children’s ability in terms of visual literacy.  Emotion can be expressed through pictures, and she described one pupil in particular who would enjoy this book and ‘reading’ the mood through the illustrative style. 

It was agreed that very few books feature deafness and where they do, it tends to problemise deafness, taking the approach of “my brother is deaf” for example.  In Dachy’s Deaf (a book Lucy shared with us) the deaf character gets into trouble and has to be helped by others.  Julia Donaldson’s books (Freddie and the Fairy and What the Jackdaw Saw) do not fall into this trap.  Like Leila, the deaf character is equal/empowered.

Alex touched on some of the issues raised by specialists/professionals/ academics about Answer me, Leila (and other books) during the RTW project.  For example, the question about whether Leila and Sami already knew each other, and why Sami didn’t know Leila was deaf.  Also the suggestion that the book could feature a little more about the process of learning to sign.  The RTW project had also observed that sometimes sign language can be ‘over-glamourised’ and that although it is a beautiful language to see in action, it also needs to be normalized.

School Project

Over the following five weeks, Lucy and the pupils worked on an intensive project, using Answer Me, Leila, along with the other books that Alex had brought.  The project primarily involved the deaf children, but also some of their peers.   As with the first workshop, the project comprised two elements – the inclusion of deaf characters and deafness in Answer Me, Leila and in books generally, and the use of BSL in books to enhance accessibility. 

After five weeks, Alex and Nadine returned to the school for a follow-up workshop.

Workshop 2:

Date:   22 June 2017.
Participants:   As previously.
Length:   90 minutes.


The aim of the second workshop was for the school to report back on the project around deafness (and particularly Answer Me, Leila) and collect some specific material/ideas both for enhancing this book and for enriching future children’s books in relation to deafness.


The children started by reminding Alex and Nadine of all their names in sign language. They also shared the names of the staff.  Deaf people often use a ‘sign name’ to describe someone instead of just spelling out their name using the fingerspelling alphabet. The benefit is this is a unique and memorable name, signed in one swift gesture as opposed to spelled out letter by letter.  For example, one of the teachers was called Miss Dimples, another Mrs Buttery and another Mrs Orange (because she had trouble signing the word ‘orange’ when they first met her!).   The children created names for Nadine (artist/painting) and Alex (books).

The children then started to present the results of their project to Nadine and Alex in pairs and trios.  They had each focused on different aspects of the book and the subject of deafness. 


Nadine Kaadan and pupils from Guildford Grove Primary School
© Photo Alexandra Strick

The results of their activity had also been compiled into a large-format book, documenting all the children’s work and presented to OIW at the end of the workshop. There was also a display taking up an entire wall of the school.

The children presented the following material:

  • Three children presented studies of the visual characteristics of the cast in Answer Me, Leila, comprising pictures, descriptions and signs.  The words for Sami included “hair”, "brown”, “blue”, “spotty”, “eyes”, and for Leila included “face”, “pretty” and “long hair”.  They also ‘set the scene’, describing the weather and the castle.

  • They thought about possible ways to tell the story using symbols and they told us how they made the symbols on the computer.  They then stuck the story with the signs into the large book that they were creating.

  • One of the boys was on the autistic spectrum and had processing difficulties which were quite severe.  The staff told us how he been very involved in choosing the signs to describe Leila and the prince.  They told us that this book had really engaged him – and indeed all the children. They had loved exploring the book in different ways.

  • Then three girls talked to us about what they liked about the characters and what they would change.  They particularly liked her hair, her crown and her ‘confident personality’.  Another said “Her signing is nice.”  However, they wanted to make it clearer in some of the pictures that she was deaf. In one of the main pictures the children had drawn, they had therefore chosen to depict Leila with a cochlear implant.  They explained that they chose this as it suggests that she is ‘more’ deaf than a hearing aid would.  They suggested another alternative would be to a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other.  They showed us some of their own hearing aids and implants and explained how they worked.

  • The children said they liked the clothing in the book and ‘tear-drop’ design on Leila’s dress. Nadine explained that this was actually an oriental design but she loved the idea that it looked like tears.

  • The next three children discussed the relationship between Leila and Sami.  They were very sure that he must have come across her before the start of the book, as he is in love with her already.  The children each told their own story of how the two had originally met, that they had written and illustrated.  In one case, this involved Sami riding off to go hunting every day, and seeing a girl in a tower.  The second child depicted him riding a camel, and had drawn flowers in the same style as Nadine’s flowers in the book.  The third child showed a more contemporary setting with Sami riding past her palace on a bike.

  • Two boys then acted out the story of Leila in signs. Again this included the boy on the autistic spectrum, who has processing difficulties.  Learning is a very slow process for him and putting together their play had required a great effort. However he clearly threw himself into the role with real passion and enthusiasm.
  • The next children explored signs.  There were extremely pleased that the book featured some signs and wanted to see more books do the same.  Interestingly, when asked whether key signs should ideally appear throughout a book, he children said they were very happy for such signs to be included in a glossary at the end of the book, feeling this still added a huge amount without impacting on the story or design.  The words they chose to use in their glossary for Leila included "castle", "speak", "deaf" and "Leila." They also thought the word "understand" could be important.

  • As stated earlier, deaf people often use ‘sign names’.  In Leila’s case the children signed an 'L' and an action indicating long curly hair.

  • The children then presented a range of ideas on how the book could be developed.  One girl read out her version of the story, in which she suggested giving Leila a hearing dog for the deaf.  She had drawn this and named the dog.   She wrote about a wicked witch who tried to steal Jackson the dog as hearing dogs are so valuable. 

In a short break, the children then showed us their display.  This included photos, drawings, writing and watercolour painting. They had decorated the display with huge curls of Leila-inspired ‘hair’ that they had made and painted. 

We then resumed the workshop with Nadine taking the stage to lead an art-based session. Drawing the cat from The Jasmine Sneeze, she pointed out how she chose not to give him a mouth. She then set the children the task of challenging her to depict different emotions without using his mouth.  She successfully drew him looking happy, worried, angry, etc., before challenging the children to try this themselves.

The workshop finished with the children directing Nadine in a painting of Leila, complete with hearing aid/cochlear implant.

Feedback from the staff

  • The staff told us the children “absolutely loved taking part”.

  • This was very empowering for them. It was special for the deaf children to be central/key and the hearing children ‘included’ rather than the other way around.

Feedback from Nadine

  • Children can teach us so much and we consult them enough” said Nadine. She now plans to involve children much more in future books!

This project was felt to be highly successful, particularly in terms of the very positive relationship developed between the school, OIW and the selected artist.  A sense of mutual respect and equality was established in the first workshop, between all parties.  Fundamental to this were the equal numbers of deaf and hearing pupils and the ‘two-way’ nature of the workshop. The children were in no way passive workshop recipients – they were very aware that they were sharing valuable experience and opinions with Nadine, as well as learning from her. 

OIW were also able to conclude that the deaf children involved in the project were keen to see more deaf children in books.  They were particularly keen to see a strong deaf character, and in the case of Leila, a sense that she was ‘very’ deaf (in their words), this being represented by clearly visible cochlear implants/ hearing aids.  

The project also confirmed the sense that BSL can play a very valuable role in books.   Characters can be shown making real and meaningful signs, but books can also include BSL signs for key words in the story, to help deaf children and to be of interest to hearing children too.  OIW were interested that this particular group did not feel that the words necessarily needed to be included throughout a book, but could be featured instead in a glossary at the end.








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