Here’s what we learned about Wendy Kupfer, children’s book author, during a half-hour conversation with Boca Raton.
1) Kupfer was 24 when her daughter, Ali, was born prematurely—and with complications. Among them: a virus that left her with severe hearing loss in both ears, a condition that wasn’t properly diagnosed (one doctor told Kupfer that her daughter was mentally challenged) until she was 10 months. “I know how it feels when a doctor gives you a diagnosis like that—it creates a lifelong challenge,” Kupfer says. “But, as a parent, you need to be that No. 1 advocate for your child. If you don’t believe in your child, you can be sure that the teachers and other kids won’t believe in them.”
2) Fast forward more than three decades. Kupfer had retired after a career in financial services when she received a call from Thomas Balkany, director of the University of Miami Ear Institute and a pioneer in the field of cochlear implants. Balkany, who performed Ali’s cochlear implants when she was 29, asked for Kupfer’s help with fundraising. She worked with him for about a year, but the experience of seeing so many toddlers with hearing loss—coupled with Kupfer’s frequent trips to Barnes & Nobles to buy children’s books for her three granddaughters (from son Adam)—sparked an idea.
3) “There were all these wonderful children’s books that dealt with various issues, but not one featuring a child wearing a hearing aid [which Ali did in both ears prior to the cochlear implants],” Kupfer says.
4) Thus began the process that would culminate in the 2012 release of Let’s Hear It For Almigal, the story of a young girl with a hearing aid “who feels unlucky because she can’t hear everything she wants to hear”—but who ultimately discovers a solution. The lead character is not only based on Ali but pulls directly from her childhood—like the time she fell into a pool with her hearing aids and Kupfer frantically tried to salvage the devices with a hairdryer.
5) In many ways, it’s also Kupfer’s tribute to a confident, driven daughter who thrived in both mainstream situations (Ali attended Spanish River High School in Boca) and in the deaf community. Ali, who works for the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville, Md., earned her master’s degree at Gallaudet University, a renowned liberal arts college in Washington, D.C., for deaf and hard of hearing students. “My daughter has always been the type of person who just happened to be hard of hearing,” Kupfer says. “It never defined her.”
6) “It started out as a project for self-esteem for children with hearing loss, but it’s become so much more,” says Kupfer, who will continue the Almigal series. “For kids, anything that makes them feel different is a challenge. It can be freckles. It can be being the tallest kids in the class. Almigal addresses that for all kids with a universal message of inclusion—and accepting and respecting one another.”
Kupfer donates 5 percent of all sales from Let’s Hear It For Almigal to organizations involved with deaf children, including the Florida chapter of Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. To purchase the book, visit almigal.com.