CALDWELL, NJ — Melissa Brady Petrillo first started noticing that few children’s books had characters with disabilities when she was in her undergraduate children’s literature class taught by Trish Verrrone at Caldwell University.
“Right away I wanted to do more research,” Petrillo said.
She did an evaluative study and realized there was a lack of books that “adequately present disability demographics.” Therefore, after graduation from Caldwell, Petrillo became a public high school English and special education teacher, working with students with autism spectrum disorder, and again she had trouble finding books that feature characters with different learning abilities. Petrillo longed to write such a book.
This year, Petrillo published that book, her first, on a topic that was born out of her undergraduate scholars project at Caldwell. “Sometimes,” published by Christian Faith Publishing, tells the story of Samantha, a biracial 8-year-old girl with autism, through the lens of her world and how she interacts with others and communicates her feelings.
“In order to create an inclusive society, we have to preach those values for them to come to fruition,” said Petrillo, a Caldwell resident who grew up in West Orange. “We need to allow children to view books as mirrors to see themselves and people who are different from them and are represented as characters in literature.”
According to Petrillo, the book, which is aimed at children in pre-K through third grade, is titled “Sometimes” to show how every person, regardless of ability, is different.
“We all feel differently sometimes. We all have different obstacles we are overcoming. And that is amazing,” Petrillo said, adding that the book also opens opportunities for parents to talk with their children about differences among people.