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A write success

Photo: Maya’s story: how her love for reading led to a big win

This year we launched our very first book competition for 7–11 year olds. With over 150 entries, our judging panel, which included author of The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson CBE, found it very hard to pick a winner. In the end Maya (9) triumphed with her captivating story of an underwater quest.

When Maya got a Skype call from the National Deaf Children’s Society to tell her that her story had won our first book competition, she couldn’t believe it. “I think it took a while to sink in for her,” dad Jeff explains. “She’s over the moon and we’re so proud. Her story is going to be published, that’s amazing!”

Although it was a surprise for the family, Maya has always loved reading and writing. “Reading has always been her real interest ever since she was little,” Jeff says. “We read to her as a baby and then, when she started to lose her hearing, it became even more important to us.”

Maya, who is now severely to profoundly deaf, didn’t seem to have any issues with hearing until she was three years old. “She had recurrent ear infections from about one year old,” mum Jessica explains. “But by three years old I remember noticing Maya was not speaking as much as her friends. I wondered if this was because I’m from El Salvador and spoke to her in Spanish. I also noticed when she was playing with her friends I’d call her, and all her friends would turn back but she was the last one to stop. A friend asked whether perhaps she had problems hearing but I dismissed it.”

But aged four Maya had another bad ear infection so Jessica took her to have her ears checked by the GP, who referred her to audiology. She was diagnosed with glue ear and mild hearing loss so she had grommets fitted. “The glue ear cleared,” Jessica explains. “But we didn’t realise the impact the hearing loss would have on Maya. It wasn’t until we sought a second opinion that we learned that Maya may lag behind in school even if the hearing loss was mild. We were urged to get hearing aids for her.”

Maya started school but her hearing unfortunately dropped. “That year was really tough,” says Jessica. “Maya had almost constant ear infections and her hearing got progressively worse so her hearing aids kept being turned up.” After many more tests, she was diagnosed with a permanent progressive hearing loss and the family are now considering cochlear implants.

Jeff explains that when they first found out Maya’s hearing loss was permanent and severe, they felt “depressed” but then they got involved with the National Deaf Children’s Society. “We went to a Newly Diagnosed event. It was really helpful seeing other deaf children, talking to the other parents and realising we’re not alone.”

Maya uses speech but Jessica has just completed her Level 1 in British Sign Language. She’s started signing to Maya and her hearing younger sister Emma (6). “Maya is very happy and content but she’s much more tired than other children at school,” Jessica says.

Since losing her hearing, reading has become even more important to Maya as a way to relax after a long day concentrating. “Maya loves books,” Jeff says. “At mealtimes she reads, before bed, anywhere. I think it’s because it’s hard for her to follow a conversation, especially in loud places, so she’ll always have her nose in a book.

“She really loves immersing herself in all kinds of stories. When we read to Maya we make sure she can see our lips and the area is very quiet. But she’s already finished reading herself the Harry Potter series. She says she thinks she’s a quick and accomplished reader because she’s so used to reading subtitles.”
As well as reading, Maya is also interested in storytelling and has entered a number of writing competitions before. Earlier this year she decided to enter our first ever book competition.

“I write my own sci-fi kids’ stories so that might be how Maya became interested in writing,” Jeff says. “She loves fantasy. She and I would make up our own stories and tell them to each other.”

Maya will now be working with author Sarah Driver and deaf illustrator Lucy Rogers to turn her story into a published book. “Maya is so looking forward to working with Sarah and Lucy,” Jeff says. “She read Sarah’s books and loved them! She can’t believe Julia Donaldson read her story too; we love The Gruffalo and What the Ladybird Heard.”

“I was thrilled when I heard she won,” adds Jessica. “I was really moved because her story is so caring and I’m happy that she’s so proud of herself. Her school are so excited for her too and can’t wait to read it.”

It’s not just reading and writing that Maya’s excelling at, she’s also a talented musician, footballer and ballerina! “She’s always been very musical, she likes singing and has had violin and piano lessons,” Jeff explains. “Maya loves ballet and recently auditioned for a programme called Junior Associates at the Royal Ballet School. They pick around 100 students across the country to study once a week with real ballerinas. Maya auditioned and got in!”

Now the family are looking towards the future and can’t wait for Maya’s book to be published. “She changes her mind about what she wants to be all the time,” Jeff says. “One minute it’s a dancer then a movie star but right now it’s a writer. Winning this competition has really inspired her. I’m so proud of her, she’ll achieve whatever she wants to achieve.”