Kris Hickey's voice and the expressive face and fingers of Kristy Watson-Ables combined last week to bring a book to life for a group of students from the Ohio School for the Deaf.

The event May 10 in the children's area of the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Whetstone branch, where Hickey is youth-services manager, was the second and, until the fall, final chance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters to experience a book in a way geared specifically to them.

Watson-Ables, who received her degree in interpretation and American Sign Language education from Columbus State Community College in June 2010, said she was delighted to be invited to participate.

"I do think it's lovely to have a partnership between the library and the School for the Deaf," she said as she waited for the students to arrive.

Watson-Ables was accompanied by Reva McHardy, a youth leader at the school.

It was McHardy who got the ball rolling on the special reading program by calling the branch "to see if they could set up a special time for us ... because it's important for deaf students to have the same experiences as hearing children," said Erin Biehl, communications officer for the school.

"They're very excited for us to come out here," McHardy said. "They keep asking, 'Is it library day, is it library?' "

Hickey and McHardy both said the reading program will resume in the fall with the start of a new school year. Hickey wants to open it to deaf and hard-of-hearing students from the community as well as students from the School for the Deaf, while McHardy would like to see it expand from a monthly to a weekly occurrence.

"It's exciting for us to be able to offer this," Hickey said. "It's fun to pick out something they would like."

The book she selected for May 10 was "The Darkest Hour," written by Chris Hadfield and illustrated by Eric and Terry Fan.

Before she started reading, and with Watson-Ables interpreting, Hickey explained the book is about a boy who wants to become an astronaut, but he is afraid of the dark.

The Canadian author did become an astronaut, inspired by watching the 1969 milestone moon landing.

As Hickey read and Watson-Ables employed facial features and the gestures of ASL, a little hand occasionally would jab forward to point when an illustration meshed with what the hands of the interpreter were imparting.

"He grew up to be a real astronaut," Hickey told the children after reading the last line of the book. "Isn't that neat?"

"Visiting the library and having adults read aloud to them is important for all children," said Nancy Boone, Ohio School for the Deaf librarian. "However, language is often a barrier for deaf children to have access to books. Most deaf children come from hearing families, so parents may not know or may just be learning sign language."

Boone said the school, 500 Morse Road, tries to provide a bilingual environment through English in print and American Sign Language.

"For residential students, youth leaders like Reva play a critical role in extending that language-rich environment outside the walls of the school building into the dormitories as well as the community at large," she said. "Having story times presented in ASL at public libraries is an important opportunity to offer for deaf children."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1