Mighty Mila by Katie Petruzziello is a children’s book about a little girl named Mila, who is a CI user. The book will be published this September and it is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. As the book’s illustrator Nadja Sarell is Finnish and the story hits close to home for so many of our readers, we wanted to introduce both the writer and the illustrator of the book and find out where and how they got their inspiration for Mighty Mila.
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The Writer of the book
My husband and I live about 30 minutes outside of New York City. We live with three children: Luca (age 6), Mila (age 4) and Sofia (age 2). Our daughter Mila is deaf and has cochlear implants. She has sensorineural hearing loss, which was identified when she was 15 months old. At that time her hearing loss was mild and she was able to use hearing aids to help amplify sound. After a year her hearing started dropping and over the course of 6-8 months she became profoundly deaf in both ears.
Her hearing aids were no longer able to provide her with enough access to sound. In early March 2020 she received cochlear implants. We are so grateful that she was able to get them right before all elective surgeries were shut down in NY due to the pandemic. We have a wonderful medical team and therapists who continue to support us along the way. Mila is doing amazingly well with her cochlear implants. She especially loves decorating them with fun stickers and headbands. She is using them as just one more way to show off her bright, colorful style!
During our journey with hearing loss, we quickly realized how few children’s books contained a deaf/hard of hearing character. Especially we struggled to find books where a character with hearing loss is represented as a regular kid. Where their hearing loss is NOT the focus of the story. It’s so important for children to be able to see themselves in books. After searching to no avail, I decided to take it upon myself to write one. I’ve worked for over a year, primarily at night after the kids were asleep, on writing and self-publishing Mighty Mila.
Mighty Mila is a fun story where ALL kids (regardless of hearing ability) can fall in love with an imaginative, fierce little girl, who just happens to have hearing loss and uses cochlear implants. Mighty Mila provides important representation for children with hearing loss, so they can see themselves as the hero in a story and feel empowered, while also spreading inclusion and acceptance to others outside the hearing loss community.
Today more than ever, we need children’s books that celebrate differences and provide a more inclusive view of the world. Exposing children to diverse books, like Mighty Mila, teaches them about others who are different from them, and promotes inclusion, empathy, and respect for all types of people. This book helps open up conversations with kids about differences and disabilities and is a perfect inclusive book for all families to read with their children.
We feel so strongly about the mission to raise deafness and disability awareness that we plan to donate 200 hardcover copies of the book to local schools, children’s hospital and hearing loss organizations. We’re really excited to get our book into as many little hands and hearts as possible.
It’s wonderful and I’m so thankful to be Mila’s mom. When Mila’s hearing loss was identified we were shocked because we had no history of hearing loss in the family, and overwhelmed because we knew so little about hearing loss and wanted to make sure we were doing everything in our power to support her and make the right choices. We’ve learned so much about hearing loss over the last 3 years, and will continue to look to learn as much as possible. The cochlear implant technology has been a blessing for us and she’s done so well with them.
We haven’t been to Finland but would absolutely love to visit! The closest we’ve come is Iceland, but we’ve talked many times about wanting to visit Finland and Norway. Hopefully when the kids get a bit older we can make our way over there!
Ever since working with Nadja on the book, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Finland. Nadja taught me about the word “hygge”, has told me a bit about Lapland (which sounds wonderful!). Everything I hear about Finland sounds so special. Of course, we’d love to experience the Aurora Borealis, visit the coast and explore the beautiful nature of your country as well!
One cool detail that I’d like to share is that the book also has some really fun supplemental activities included in the back of the book, including a “Listen and Look” activity that provides descriptive clues about various illustrations in the book that children can search for and find. I’ve also worked with Mila’s Teacher of the Deaf to create a comprehensive activity pack that parents, teachers and therapists can use to further engage children in fun, educational activities relating to the story, which is offered for free on the Mighty Mila website. Children will be able to work on their listening and comprehension skills and build their vocabulary while engaging in these fun activities!
We’d love for others to follow along on our journey on social media. And if anyone is interested in checking out our Mighty Mila website they can press that third link below – we have some fun educational worksheets for kids on the website as free resources for anyone who can benefit from them! You can also buy your own book from the webshop. We also do international shipping!
The illustrator of the book
I am a freelance illustrator from Helsinki, and I mainly do illustrations for children’s books. I originally graduated as a dancer from the Theatre Academy, but later I went to study children’s book illustration in Wales, UK. I lived there for three years, and then I moved back to Finland. In addition to illustration, I have taught dance, workshops and physical activity to children and adults of different ages. I work in my office in Herttoniemi, nearby my home. My family includes my teenage son and husband who is an illustrator as well.
Among others, I have illustrated the Elsa and Lauri series, where I worked together with early childhood education teacher Kerttu Rahikka; Heidi Viherjuuri’s Hilja book series; and Roihusten perhe speech therapy material for Kipinäkeskus. In addition, I have illustrated several British and American books over the past few years through my American agency.
My most recent published collaboration was Susanna Silvander-Rost’s book Sulon ja Elsin uudet naapurit. Susanna is also vlogging about a life of two mothers with twins. Currently I’m working with Elina Hirvonen and her book for school-aged children that’s called Julia ja pehmoeläinten maailmanneuvosto. My favourite topics in children’s books are the child’s descriptions of everyday life, emotions, and the world from the child’s point of view in general. For my part, I want to increase diversity in children’s books. I also enjoy illustrating science picture books, because I get to do background work and learn new things at the same time. Such projects have been for example Lepakon vuosi (Mia Rönkä, Thomas Lilley) and Minusta tulee… series by Shini Somara, which will also be published in Finnish.
I received offer to illustrate Mighty Mila through my agency. I spent a long time wondering if I had the guts jump into a self-published project. I had only ever worked with publishers before. However, I was immediately impressed by Katie Petruzziello’s high-quality text and professional work. I also fell in love with Mila right away. I feel it is important to make books for those children, who are not given much space in children’s literature. Our cooperation has been very rewarding. I have become acquainted with Mila’s entire family and I have also been reading up a lot on cochlear implants and the way they operate. Before, I had only been aware of the traditional hearing aids, so the CI was completely new to me. We thought carefully about how Mila’s devices would look like from different angles, and we wanted them to look as universal as possible. Katie was very specific about this.
The process with the book started with me first becoming acquainted with the text and Katie sending me loads of pictures of the family and cochlear implants from different angles. Next, I sketched Mila’s character, then the other family members. Then I made drafts divided into picture book spreads. These went through a bit of editing, after which I made the final illustrations on paper. I scanned the drawings and coloured them on the computer. I also designed the Mighty Mila font, because I wanted it to reflect Mila’s colourful character. I sent these illustrations to Katie for the Kickstarter campaign and marketing well in advance. I really enjoyed the illustrations! The collaboration went like a dream.
During the project I have learned so much about the everyday life of CI recipients, their rehabilitation and the importance of family support. Personally, however, I see Mila exactly the same as I see hearing children, her soundscape is just different from those of us who can hear since birth. The main takeaway from her story for me has been Mila’s perseverance and attitude to life, as well as her incredibly wonderful family and their encouragement.
I look forward to Mila’s next adventure, as there will be one coming next year. We are also hoping to find someone who would be interested in publishing Mighty Mila in Finnish.
Thank you Katie and Nadja! We also hope to see Mighty Mila hit the book shelves in Finnish one day soon.
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