top of page

Can You Hear a Rainbow?: An Exploration of Sound and Friendship

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Can You Hear a Rainbow? is a fantastic picture book about a deaf boy named Chris. It is a nonfiction book that follows Chris as he socializes with other children, both hearing and deaf. Chris explores themes of friendship, as well as what makes us different and what makes us similar. Chris is a real-life deaf boy exploring a hearing world, but he does not let his differences hold him back. He even taught his dog how to respond to sign language!

Published in 2002 by Peachtree, a Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago book. Can You Hear a Rainbow? was written by Jamee Riggio Heelan, the coordinator of their Children’s Amputee Program who not only treats children but also educates others about childhood disabilities. Illustrated by Nicola Simmonds.

Same and different

One of the most interesting themes of the book is the differences and similarities between us as human beings. Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Dominic is my best-hearing friend. I taught him some words in sign language. First, I showed him how to sign his name. He caught on quickly and signed his name back to me. Then I showed him how to sign the words different and same. I taught him different because we look different, and I taught him the same because he and I both like the same sport, soccer. But the best word I’ve taught him is a friend.”

Chris is lucky to have the support of his family and friends. He has a positive attitude and an important message for us all: no matter how different someone may seem, there are always things that bring us together. That is such an important thing for us to remember because every child has a gift to give. It is by focusing on our common humanity that we can encourage that gift to express itself.

Suggested activity: After reading this book to your child or children, or to a classroom, you could engage them in a discussion. Put them in pairs, or ask them about individual peers, and get them to see what makes them different from their friends and what makes them similar? Is there something they both like?

What makes a sound?

Another interesting question that is raised by Can You Hear a Rainbow? is that of different experiences of the world. If you are hearing, ask yourself: what if you were deaf, wouldn’t you wonder what makes sounds and what is silent? Here’s another excerpt from the book:

“Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to hear. I once asked Dominic if sunlight makes some noise when it shines through the clouds or hits a sidewalk. He shook his head no. ‘Can you hear the rainbow?’ I asked him. ‘Does it make a noise?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘Some things don’t need a noise. A rainbow is just the same for you and me.’”

I love the fact that this subject is brought up. It made me wonder about the different ways people can experience the same things. This multiplicity of viewpoints can truly enrich the world! But we wouldn’t know that unless we shared our inner impressions with others, and in turn asked others about their unique perspectives. You may be surprised at the differences and similarities between two lived experiences. Hearing and deafness doesn’t really make a difference in our ability to truly hear each other, does it?

Suggested activity: Ask a hearing child to close their eyes and pay attention to what they can hear. This can be done indoors or outdoors. Ask them to describe what they can hear and what they can not hear. Now try asking a deaf child what they think makes a sound and what they think is silent. What do they think something sounds like?

Cherishing our differences

This book really made me think about the choices we are faced with between cherishing our differences and imposing uniformity of experience. In her fascinating TED Talk, Amanda Howerton-Fox talks about our tendency to make deaf children conform to the hearing world for example with the use of cochlear implants. Cochlear implants can be extremely helpful, but they are not always what a deaf child needs. More importantly, they reinforce the idea that deafness is a sort of deficiency. If instead, we made sign language more common in the hearing world, we would be more able to accommodate differences.

Remember that more than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Language acquisition doesn't have to be difficult, but language needs to be accessible. Learning at any age is possible if we are open to learning. What if everyone learned sign language in early education? How would that transform the experience of a deaf child who is born into a hearing family?

Thank you, we hope you were inspired!

Riggio Heelan, Jamee. (2002). Can You Hear a Rainbow? first. Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago book. Peachtree Publishing Company, Inc.

You may also enjoy:

Every child has a gift to give

ASL Picture Books is helping children discover theirs.

American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language, an untapped resource with limitless potential.

Your feedback is appreciated.

bottom of page