I recently met fellow children’s book author Mickey Carolan through a mutual friend. After I read his picture book Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero, I knew I wanted to speak to Mickey about his writing and his life experience. Mickey had the unique experience of growing up as a CODA—a child of deaf adults.
American Sign Language (ASL) was Mickey’s first language, and so from a young age, he knew what it was like to be different. Mickey and I talked about how he wanted Deaf children to be empowered by his book. Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero is his debut picture book and the first in a series about what Deaf children can do. The story follows a young baseball-loving deaf boy named Sky. Sky discovers he has a superpower: being deaf sharpens his focus on the ball, which helps him hit home runs, even as he faces bullying. Sky’s story is one of bravery, friendship, and inclusion for young readers both hearing and Deaf.
Mickey is currently working on his next book, which should be finished in September 2023. Read on for our chat about his life experience, his inspiration for writing, and much more!
Mickey’s Life as a CODA
Mickey, tell us what it was like growing up as a CODA.
Great question, Kathleen. This is the first question I always get when people find out I’m a CODA. Growing up as a CODA was a unique and enriching experience with certain challenges. Frankly, I took for granted how unique of an experience it was until I got older.
As the oldest child, I became the family interpreter very early on in my childhood. The positive from this experience was how it developed a strong sense of empathy and a deep understanding of nonverbal communication. I became bilingual at an early age with American Sign Language and English. When you’re bilingual that early on in life, you don’t think anything of it. That is what you know. CODAs typically have a strong sense of community, which is a carryover from growing up as a part of the Deaf community. The Deaf community is a textbook definition of a great community.
Some of the key challenges as the family interpreter at such an early age were the situations and conversations I ended up being involved in. They were conversations that adults were having. The only other children my age having those conversations were other children who had English as their second language.
I share so many of these stories and lessons in the manuscript that I am currently writing. Beyond the next children’s book in the Deaf Kids Can series, I am excited to share with the world the book that results from the manuscript.
Were your parents born deaf, or did they become deaf later? You dedicate this book to your father and his love for baseball; please share more about that.
My parents were, in fact, both born deaf. There is a story I’ve written that discusses how the baseball and softball diamonds were my father’s equalizers in life. My father never lacked the courage to swing for the fence. Although he was deaf, there was no communication barrier for him on the ball diamond. His skill and results spoke for him. When I saw my father on the field and witnessed the way other players treated him, I realized that baseball and softball were his equalizers. On the diamond, his disability meant nothing. He cherished that time on the field, and in that venue, he wasn’t different. He was treated like every other teammate—respected, loved, appreciated, and celebrated! He was equal.
Father and son photo from my wedding day, October 23, 2010.
What was your family dynamic like? Did you have any siblings? How did you relate to your relatives?
By all accounts, we were a normal family. At the time of my father’s death, my parents were married for forty years. I have one sister, Tammy. We had exposure to both the maternal and paternal sides of the family. In fact, that exposure was done more intentionally than most other families. The extended family helped expedite our learning of the English language.
Growing up with deaf parents, you were bilingual. American Sign Language was your first language. What did your parents do to help you learn English, or did that come naturally?
It did not come naturally. In fact, I was in speech therapy until I was eight years old. Between my cleft lip, cleft palate, and ASL as my first language, the first few years of learning English were tough.
My parents were very intentional about exposure to English. They took us to speech therapy, and they made sure we were around other hearing children, whether it be through sports or other extracurricular activities. They also ensured that we spent a lot of time with our relatives who could help teach us the English language.
What challenges did you witness Deaf children having? How about you and your parents?
This one is tough. Kids can be cruel, particularly toward children who are different. Deaf children fall into this category. The two elements I saw most frequently were a lack of inclusion by other children and the constant struggle Deaf children had to articulate their emotions to a hearing person.
The same comment holds true for Deaf adults as it does for children. My father was a sports official for thirty years, and the stuff that would come out of the mouths of fans once they realized he was deaf was remarkably terrible. The lack of inclusion still follows Deaf children into adulthood.
Is there anything you would have told your younger self, knowing what you know now?
I think about this question quite often. We have all heard the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” As the firstborn family interpreter, it was “heavy are the hands that bear the signs.” I didn’t handle that pressure as well as I could and should have. I had a unique childhood, and had I embraced it a bit more, I could have appreciated it more at a younger age.
I respected my parents, but I didn’t give them enough credit when I was younger. That perspective changed after my father passed away and I helped my mother with cleaning up some of the administrative affairs. What I realized was that my father had left me a clear path to handle those affairs rather effectively. The amount of detail he had available was impressive. I’m so thankful that he did that.
Mickey’s View on ASL Today
Do you think the landscape has changed for Deaf children and CODAs today versus when you were young? Has the stigma associated with using ASL diminished at all?
The landscape has changed, but the stigma still remains. Parents with Deaf children have difficult decisions to make. The emotional rollercoaster it can be for some parents is tough. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Most of the time, those hearing parents have zero exposure to the Deaf community until they have to—and even then, resources can be tough to find in some locations.
The advancement of technology has done great things for accessibility.
I’m of the opinion that a Deaf child should learn ASL. Studies repeatedly show the positive benefits of a Deaf child learning ASL and English. I’m also of the opinion that parents should have the right to make decisions for their children. The success of the technology behind cochlear implant devices is tough to ignore. When my parents were growing up, that wasn’t an option. The decision was straightforward: learn ASL.
How or what would narrow the communication gap between the Deaf community and the hearing world?
That is going to be a continuous work in progress. What does help is the mainstreaming of the Deaf community in books, film, television, and sports. The more society is exposed to the incredible things that Deaf people can do, the more they will explore and learn. Case in point: when Nyle DiMarco went on Dancing with the Stars, the agency where I sit on the board of directors saw an exponential increase in people requesting to take ASL classes that they offered. Anytime a Deaf person becomes a star, it prompts growth and education about the community.
As an adult, do you think ASL helps you in everyday life, at work, or in solving problems?
ASL is a very efficient and multimodal language. That foundation has carried with me in my life. I’m able to read people and their body language very effectively. I am also able to take the complex and make it simple, which is a direct correlation to the spatial grammar that ASL teaches you.
In your book, Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero, the main character unlocks a special superpower because of his deafness. Are there any “superpowers” you’ve experienced in yourself or witnessed in Deaf people you’ve known?
The Deaf people I have had the privilege of knowing are often able to have a laser focus on the task at hand. The fact that they are operating without hearing enables them to block out all of the background noise we as hearing people are accustomed to.
For myself, throughout my career, I have predicted major events, both internal at my company and external. I have had numerous conversations with colleagues and friends where they told me my predictions were correct. In fact, I was often called a “little Nostradamus.” I attribute much of my predictive ability to being raised as a CODA. Growing up with deaf parents forces you to become more observant and intuitive. I needed to be constantly alert for their unspoken needs and quick to pick up whatever signals they might use: a flash of room lights, waving hands, or something landing on the floor a few feet from me…that meant Mom or Dad needed something!
I know you have two young children, ages seven and four. Did you teach ASL to your children? And how has that gone?
My wife and I did introduce sign language to our children very early on. Much like it is with many young children, it was helpful for both us and them to be able to articulate the basic needs they may have.
We are really in the sweet spot of learning with my oldest at seven. She picks up on and retains signs that she learns from my mother very well. Both kids know the most important sign to Grandma. That is the “I love you” sign.
On Writing Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero
I love this book. The illustrations are beautiful. I love how the words are all on a baseball diamond. Can you tell us about your journey writing Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero: A Lesson in Courage?
This journey was originally a detour from the manuscript I am working on. I was in conversation with the team that is helping with the manuscript. As we were working on the terms, I tapped the brakes in order to analyze those terms. During that pause in the action, I wrote the story. When I finished, I looked at it and told myself, if I don’t stand this book up fast it isn't going to get completed. I was blessed to find a fantastic editor and illustrator that were both able to deliver quality work in an urgent manner. I tend to push timelines, and this was no exception.
I have learned a ton about the industry and absorb more information all of the time. Ultimately, this children’s book was meant to be published first. The learnings from this book will help to make every additional book in the series and my manuscript better and better.
"One day, as Sky was practicing, a strange thing happened. Every time he hit the ball, it would go out of the park and disappear into the sky like a soaring eagle."
This story is a dedication to your Deaf father and a message to this generation on many levels. I would love to hear about the depth of this page where Sky discovers his gift of hitting home runs.
The addition of the eagle was to help provide context and help the children listening to the story understand just how far Sky was hitting the ball in the air.
At that point in time, Sky didn’t know he had that superpower just yet…that was the moment he figured it out.
The story inspires children to be brave and courageous. I especially love the invitation at the end for children to “send a postcard to Sky about his ability to use his deafness as a superpower.” I know children will shock and amaze you with their heartfelt and creative ideas. Will you be sharing those postcards with the world?
Yes. Parents are welcome to share the postcards via email at mickey@MickeyCarolan.com or on any of the social media platforms.
I know Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is important to you. Can you share about the benefits of SEL and how your books address it?
I draw a lot of my perspectives on SEL from my twenty-plus years of leadership experience. The top performers as adults are ones who have a high level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
Those who have a high emotional intelligence and self-awareness often end up making better decisions, having stronger relationships, and tend to be more resilient.
It was important to show the strength that Sky had in the scenes with the bullies. That level of courage and the situations he finds himself in build the foundation for the positive outcome that the story has.
In so many interviews, I have learned that authors often unearth a deep truth about themselves through the writing process. Raymond Antrobus and Sarah Novic shared about owning their Deaf identities. Lou Ann Walker and Ruth Sidransky found peace with their life stories and greater value from their experiences growing up as CODAs. Are there any revelations you uncovered while writing Sky and your newest in-progress book?
The biggest revelation I have had is how many of my life lessons have been shaped by growing up as a CODA. Once I began taking writing seriously and saw the stories and lessons on paper, it kept snowballing. It creates this segment in my mind that is always trying to recall stories and the corresponding lessons.
I’m in the nascent stages of my writing career and I fully expect to have additional revelations as my written words grow.
Where can readers buy your book and reach out to you?
Sky, the Deaf Home Run Hero: A Lesson in Courage, is available in several spots.
I am also giving away 100 copies of the Kindle edition via Goodreads. The giveaway is open through May 1, 2023: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/365412-sky-the-deaf-home-run-hero-a-lesson-in-courage