According to figures from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 3.4% of kids’ books feature a main character with some form of disability. Having a young daughter with hearing loss, Bronxville mom Katie Petruzziello decided that needed correction.
“Three million children in the United States have hearing loss. They deserve to see themselves represented in books,” Petruzzielo says, “but more than that, they need to see themselves represented as regular kids where their disability is not the focus of the story.”
Petruzziello’s daughter, the real-life Mila, was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss at 15 months old. Mila got along just fine with hearing aids until age three, when she experienced a radical loss of hearing. In February of last year, Mila received surgery to get cochlear implants and is now, as evidenced in her Kickstarter videos, fully adjusted to the electronic aids and just as rambunctious and energized as any child.
It’s no wonder, then, that Mighty Mila is enjoying an equally meteoric rise. The book, featuring Mila’s efforts to do everything on her own without having to ask for help, debuted on Kickstarter with a 30-day fundraising goal of $7,000 to hopefully fund the production of a hardcover picture book. Mighty Mila blew past that goal in the first six hours.
“Launch day was a whirlwind of excitement and I’m still blown away by all of the support I’ve received,” Petruzziello says. “So many people that I’ve never met before have come out to say how strongly they believe in the mission to add more diversity and deaf representation to the world of children’s literature. They want to help get a book about a spunky, fierce, deaf girl into the hands of as many kids as possible, to empower kids with hearing loss and promote inclusion, and raise awareness of differences to kids outside the hearing loss community. What makes me happiest is that so many people have been joining their voices with mine to shout out ‘We need diverse children’s books!’”
Petruzziello spent three months searching for an illustrator, examining over a thousand portfolios, until “instantly connecting” with Finnish artist Nadja Sarell.
“Even though Nadja had historically only worked with traditional publishers, after reading my manuscript, she chose to take a chance on working with a self-published author,” Petruzziello says. “I am so glad she did! I’m so glad that Nadja and I found each other because her illustrations really helped bring Mighty Mila to life.”
“I made the decision to self-publish early in my book writing journey,” she adds, citing creative control and the often years of delay that come with traditional publishing houses. “My mission is for Mighty Mila to provide important representation for children with hearing loss, where they can see themselves as the hero in the story and feel empowered, while also spreading inclusion and acceptance to others outside the hearing loss community. That can’t wait in my opinion.”
Other parents certainly seem to agree. The Kickstarter’s original stretch goal was upgraded covers at $14,000—double the original benchmark—at which the author would donate 25 copies to local children’s hospitals, schools, and hearing loss organizations, plus one additional copy for every $100 raised after that. That goal only took four days. At time of publishing, that’s over 50 donated copies. Other stretch goals are also being added to reward backers, like Mighty Mila bookmarks.
“Self-publishing is a lot of hard work and self-published authors don’t have a traditional publishing house’s money and team guiding and backing us,” says the Westchester native. “We need to figure out, execute, and fund it all ourselves, which is a big reason why I decided to offer books for pre-order using Kickstarter.” That said, the author only has to pay her illustrator and printer, making physical copies of the book available in time for National Deaf Awareness Month this September.
To learn more about Mighty Mila and order your copies, head online and back the project by June 16.