FREEPORT — While children’s librarian Ali Reddy read “Who Ate All the Cookie Dough?” during a recent storytime at Freeport Community Library, Brandi Lemieux kept pace beside her, signing along in American sign language (ASL).
The story follows Kanga the kangaroo as she confronts her animal friends, one of which has eaten the cookie dough she planned to use for cookies. Some of the accompanying animal signs were straight forward, like “lion,” for which Lemieux made her hand into a claw and palm down, ran her hand from above her forehead down toward the back of her head like a lion running a paw through his mane. Others were more complicated, like Cheetah, which involves several signs and translates roughly to “big cat with black spots.” And still others, like “chipmunk,” are just spelled out in the ASL alphabet.
The story was part of a new ASL storytime at the library, offered at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.
Lemieux and Reddy said they did not know how many deaf or hearing impaired children there may be in the Freeport community, but that they were happy to offer the storytime to include anyone who could benefit.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, there are approximately 250,000 to 500,000 ASL users in the United States and Canada, most of whom use ASL as their primary language. It is the fourth most studied language in American universities.
Beyond that, “it is very hard to get the exact number of the deaf population in Maine,” said Terry Morrell, director of the Maine Division for the Deaf Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened in an email.
After the story, Reddy and Lemieux teach the kids some of the signs that were used in the book.
“It’s another way for kids to see the story,” said Reddy, who first approached Lemieux about signing along with the books a few months ago. They hope the time can be “helpful for the kids who need it,” but is also “another way for them to use their brains.” Lemieux is not deaf or hearing impaired but picked up sign language as a child.
“I always loved it,” she said, adding that when she was young she tried to learn from books until she was old enough to take classes. As a visual learner, ASL was easier for her to pick up than something like French or Spanish.
“It’s pretty easy to watch and use,” she said, and you never know when it might be helpful to someone. As an adult, she worked for a time at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf on Falmouth’s Mackworth Island. She is not fluent but can use it conversationally.
Lemieux picks the books she helps read and generally sticks to easier choices so that the kids can follow, and allow her to keep up with Reddy’s reading. By nature, some of the words take longer to sign than it might take Reddy to speak.
“The kids have a fun time,” she said, and as Reddy noted, “It’s nice to offer a different kind of storytime for kids.”