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Clayton High School senior offers lessons in empathy in first published book

Grace A. Wolf

In the adult world, lunchtime is or should be a time to put your work down, clear your head perhaps, and basically take a break. Not all adults would agree. Some might say “Lunch? Who has time for lunch?”

In the world of American high schools, the idea of lunchtime is similar. It’s supposed to be a break from the classroom, taking tests and grades. However, to many students, lunchtime presents a new set of challenges. In a story on Seventeen.com, teens report lunchtime is one of the most stressful times of the day for them.

Now imagine that student’s stress, but as a person with a disability.

It was this scenario that prompted Grace A. Wolf, a senior at Clayton High School to write a short book to help other young people learn and understand empathy and inclusion.

“May I Sit at Your Table?”

Primarily aimed at children of elementary school age and older, “May I Sit at Your Table?” tells a heartwarming tale about Abby, a young deaf girl, who uses sign language as her primary mode of communication.

Abby is initially ignored by her classmates until her empathetic teacher, Ms. Baker, steps in to educate the children on inclusion. With its themes of diversity, inclusion, and empathy, the book sends a powerful message about celebrating those things that make us different.

Learning empathy

To teach empathy, one must understand empathy. Wolf says she received her first lesson at a very young age.

“When I was in first grade, I brought my older brother Sam to school for Disability Awareness Week. My brother is autistic and speaks in a robotic-like voice and when he began to speak the children in the audience started laughing at him,” said Wolf. “This moment was excruciatingly painful. What I’ve learned is that it came from a lack of knowledge. They just didn’t understand.”

Another life experience plays a role in the story, and why the main character Abby, is deaf.

“I was introduced to the deaf community at one of my brother’s basketball games. I knew a few words in American Sign Language (ASL) at the time and communicated to one of his teammates signing ‘good job’ and his father started to cry, stating that no one had ever tried to reach out to his son before.”

This experience motivated Wolf to learn everything she could about ASL and deaf culture. She soon became certified through the University of Pennsylvania and even started an ASL club at Clayton High School.

“The story of Abby is a blend of my own experiences with the unstructured, sometimes stressful, time in the lunchroom and my understanding of the challenges of the deaf community,” said Wolf.  “Children can be very insensitive and need to recognize how painful it is for someone to eat alone in a room of crowded tables. Empathy must be taught and modeled.”

Creating the book with Sam

Part of the magic of the book is the partnership Wolf formed with her brother Sam in creating the illustrations. With Wolf’s gentle encouragement, Sam provided the original sketches, while Wolf enhanced them with color and shading. The result is a spectacularly unique work of art brimming with emotion.

“My brother Sam loved drawing when he was younger and is very talented but has been struggling the last several years and has been unable to draw. Now, he is inspired to draw again. He even began asking to draw on his own and is excited to do more,” said Wolf.

September is Deaf Awareness Month

In honor of Deaf Awareness Month, Wolf and her family are hosting a book launch and signing event from 5 to 7 p.m on Sept. 17 at AR Workshop in Olivette.

Wolf says she will donate a portion of her proceeds from book sales to organizations that support diversity and inclusion.

“May I Sit at Your Table?” is available on Amazon and can be found at Barnes and Noble and other major retailers.

Grace and her family are members of Congregation Temple Israel. 

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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.