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Worm's-eye view of life

A children's author tells how his deaf parents inspired him to write a book about friendship and communication. Stephen Manning reports.

What can we learn from worms? The pupils at Blanche Nevile School for deaf children in Highgate, north London, may be learning the most vital lesson of all - communication and friendship.

Author Joe Friedman is talking to them about his first book, Boobela and Worm, the story of a giant eight-year-old girl called Boobela (from the Yiddish for darling) and her friendship with a worm, called simply, Worm ("We worms don't put on airs. We're all called Worm.") Boobela is lonely because she scares people. But Worm is not frightened of creatures bigger than him - if he was, he says, he would never talk to anyone.

Joe explains to the 10 key stage 2 children, via a signer, the inspiration behind his characters.

"Both my parents were deaf," he says. "But being deaf was very different 50 years ago. There were no emails, no texting, not even subtitles on television. How did deaf people talk? They did it through their children.

My parents would get me to explain what people were saying on TV. I would also talk on the phone to the oldest children of other deaf people."

Boobela represents the closed-off world of Joe's parents and how people who feel unusual can suffer isolation and loneliness. But friendship with Worm brings her out of her shell and teaches her about communication. "When you have a friend, your world changes," Joe tells the children.

The youngsters are impressed with the illustrations, as well as the box of props Joe has brought. Worm's dress sense is restricted to hats - well, he can't wear suits - and the children try on various pieces of headgear that appear in the stories.

Joe, 56, was born in Chicago but has lived in the UK for 30 years. He works as a psychotherapist but has previously been a lecturer at City Lit, an adult education college in London. "It's good for the children to see adult role models doing different things," says Chloe Khan, senior teacher at the school. "Especially someone who's written a book, because it helps their conceptual understanding of something abstract like being an author."

Boobela and Worm was published by Orion Books yesterday, pound;5.99. The CD version is read by Samantha Bond, famous as Miss Moneypenny in recent James Bond films. Visit www.orionbooks.co.uk

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