When Vielka Montout was an undergraduate at Sacramento State University, she, like so many others, wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, let alone what she wanted to major in.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “My mom wanted me to go into business and I was like ‘I can’t even do math.’”
Then, in her second year on campus, Montout was invited by a family friend to be a guest/chaperone in an elementary school classroom that served students who have hearing loss.
By the time circle time wrapped up Montout was hooked. She had found her calling.
“Everybody who saw me saw that I had a little more fun than the kids in the classroom,” she said. “By the time I left, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
For 20 years, Montout has been a deaf and hard of hearing specialist with the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Montout works with students with hearing loss and with the teachers who teach them.
Through a program launched in 1984, the office of education now serves more than 200 students with hearing loss.
And as of May, they have a new potential tool to work with — Montout’s self-published book “Shayla Boo and You, All About My Hearing Book.”
Montout said she wrote the book so the kids she works with can see themselves in its pages, and it can serve as a teaching tool that unpacks the daily ins and outs of life with hearing aids, life with audiology appointments and life with friends and family , some who hear well and some who have hearing loss.
“I think it’s really important,” she said.
Sometimes Montout will work with a student who is the only kid on campus who wears a hearing aid, or certainly the only kid in her class.
“I’d like for them to see there is a book about them,” she said.
Estimates for how many school-aged children who live with hearing loss range widely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But a CDC study found that 14.9% of 6- to 19-year-olds have some level of hearing loss in one or both ears.
Shayla Boo is named after a family friend of Montout’s, but the story — readers follow young Shayla from her school to home to an audiology appointment — is fiction.
Still, it’s less a narrative tale than an explainer.
This is what a hearing aid is. This is how it works. This is where the battery goes.
Or, this is my audiology report. This is how you read it. These are the sounds I can hear, these are the sounds I struggle to hear.
Each page ends with a question, which is where Montout the teacher comes in.
“There are books out there, but I haven’t seen any like mine, the interaction type of thing,” she said. “I wanted to write mine interactively — this is what we are learning, this is how this works, what have you learned, talk about your hearing aid, can you name the parts of your hearing aid?”
The book is meant to be experienced — readers check in with each other, or at least Shayla Boo, to see what they have learned as they go.
“I’m a teacher. That’s just what you do,” Montout said.
She wants the book to be less story time than conversation starter. She dreams of coupling it with a workbook and, eventually, an entire curriculum.
The reaction Shayla Boo has gotten from friends and colleagues has inspired her to keep thinking about next steps.
“I know nothing about publishing, I know nothing about book writing, I just knew I wanted to write a book,” she said. “It’s rewarding but it’s a little but scary. But the thought has been in my head for about three years.”
“Putting myself out there, I was a little bit scared,” she said.
But the reception has been positive.
Montout is working through Amazon, so she doesn’t have to deal with sales or shipping. She’s got a couple of early reviews — all five stars.
And another thing? Shayla Boo, like Montout, is a woman of color.
“Many books don’t necessarily always have minority representation,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that there was representation out there for everybody.”
You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or email@example.com. On Twitter @benefield.