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TV Shows We Love: Switched at Birth (with book recommendations) by Carli Spina

As soon as I found out that Teen Librarian Toolbox was going to have a series of posts on favorite TV shows, I knew I wanted to write about Switched at Birth. Currently in its third season on ABC Family, the show centers around two families who discover that their daughters were inadvertently switched by the hospital when they were born. One of the daughters, Daphne, lost her hearing as a toddler due to bacterial meningitis. As the show opens, she has been attending a school for the Deaf for years, meaning that many of the characters in the show are Deaf or hard of hearing and communicate primarily or entirely via American Sign Language (ASL). The other characters in the show are a mix of Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing. During the first season, one of the major plot points revolves around Daphne’s newly found biological family learning ASL to better communicate with her as they get to know each other as a family. Despite being Deaf, Daphne is never defined solely by this aspect of her character. She is a stellar athlete and a good cook, both of which are just as central to her character as is her deafness. 

Over the course of its three seasons, the show has never shied away from topics relating to deafness and Deaf culture, tackling topics such as the choice of one character to get cochlear implants, the difficulty some family members have with learning and using ASL, and the activism of the students at the fictional Carlton School for the Deaf when the school is threatened with closure. But, while the show deals with these topics, it doesn’t treat its Deaf characters differently than the hearing characters. Instead, the show highlights how its Deaf characters face the same plethora of issues that other teens in the show face related to relationships, career plans and extracurricular activities.

The show has also featured characters with disabilities, including a current love interest for Daphne who uses a wheelchair due to a sports injury. Switched at Birth admittedly has elements of soap opera to it, but I always find the stories entertaining and I love the fact that the show features actors who are Deaf, hard of hearing or have disabilities to play these roles, including Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, who has a recurring role on the show. Beyond all of these characters, 

Switched at Birth is a show about family and how family relationships work when everyone is pulled by their different interests. Bay, the girl with whom Daphne was switched, is a talented artist who struggles to fit in at her preppy high school. Her brother, Toby, is a musician, who plays in a band with Emmet, a boy from Carlton. Even both sets of parents get interesting storylines, which is not always the case in dramas focused on teens. Whether you have been looking for a show that features Deaf characters in a central role or you are just interested in finding a fun new teenage drama that offers a lot of diversity in its cast, Switched at Birth is a great show that has a lot to offer.

If you enjoy Switched at Birth, you might want to try these young adult books:

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk: This mystery follows Will Halpin as he moves from a school for the Deaf to another public school where he must try to keep up with his classes by reading lips while trying to find his place in the social order. When a classmate dies, he joins together with one of his classmates to try to solve his murder. Readers will see similarities to Daphne’s interactions with students at her siblings’ preppy private school and will appreciate Will’s references to the politics at his old school for the Deaf.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: In this Schneider Family Book Award winner, Selznick tells the story of two Deaf characters. One is a boy living in Minnesota in 1977 and the other is a young girl in New Jersey in 1927. The boy’s story is told through words and the girl’s is told through drawings. The two stories are interspersed throughout the book, building to a point where they come together. This is a powerful book about the importance of family and love. For readers interested in learning more, the book also offers suggestions for further reading.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John: Fans of Toby and Emmet’s band in Switched at Birth will want to check out this Schneider Family Book Award winner, which follows Piper as she manages a local band in an attempt to save money for college. Because Piper is Deaf, the book includes discussions of lip reading, sign language and also her parents’ decision to get cochlear implants for her younger sister. But, beyond these topics, it is also a fun and funny book about rock music and working with a band.

Of Sound Mind by Jean Ferris: As the only hearing person in his family, Theo is forced into the role of interpreter for his parents and his brother. His mother in particular expects him to always be available to help her to negotiate the world and to handle all of the transactions related to her high power art career. While he has held this role for many years, his impending graduation from high school and his desire to leave home for college lead to resentments and frustrations that he is unwilling and unable to express to his parents. The story is powerful and relatable for anyone who has ever felt conflicted about their place in their family.

Wait For Me by An Na: In this book from An Na, Mina is a high school senior who is caught in a web of lies that she has created in an attempt to appease her demanding mother. She is forced into the role of perfect daughter, struggling for straight As, working at her family’s dry cleaner, and helping out with her hearing-impaired sister. The book captures the pressures that teenagers can feel while trying to decide whether to strive for the dreams of their family or to instead break free to follow their own passions.

Carli Spina is a librarian with an interest in young adult literature and Switched at Birth is definitely a TV show she loves. Find her on Twitter (@CarliSpina) for more on young adult literature and librarianship. 

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