A Beautiful Journey
JoJo’s Tiny Ear is an educational rhyming book that teaches readers about microtia. Why was this an important book for you to write?
My son Joseph was born with unilateral microtia and atresia. This is a condition that affects the outer appearance of his right ear and his ear canal on that side. Microtia is also a condition that causes hearing loss, so Joseph wears a special type of hearing aid called a BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid). It looks like a headband. After Joseph was born, I noticed a lot of people were not familiar with this condition and would ask a lot of questions about his hearing aid- often questioning if he was a girl due to the headband. This really compelled me to advocate for my son’s condition and try to educate others about microtia and what it is like to live with hearing loss. As a parent of a child with hearing loss, I am still learning a lot about communication strategies with my son- such as sign language and changes to our routine to accommodate his needs. It’s really been a beautiful journey and I am glad to share it with others
I loved the beautiful art throughout this picture book. What was the art development process like to bring this book to life?
I am currently a high school art teacher in Hartford Connecticut, so art and painting have always been a passion of mine. I even have a portrait business called “Designs By Stefania Francesca” that I do on the side. The portrait business is really what jumpstarted the artwork for this book. I began creating these paintings of my son Joseph wearing his BAHA and posting them to social media. My goal with these paintings was to normalize children with disabilities. At first, I offered my services to the hearing loss community, asking to do portraits of children in their hearing aids. This pursuit soon expanded to doing portraits of other special needs children as well. These portraits became popular with a lot of special needs parents around the state and really inspired me to create the artwork for the book.
What were some ideas that were important for you to share in this book?
There are a lot of important ideas that I wanted to share in Jojo’s Tiny Ear. The main focus was to educate and inspire people to be more inclusive of others in our beautiful diverse world. As a teacher, I see diverse students with unique needs all the time. Not everyone is the same and that’s totally ok. With that said in the same breath, I also did not want my son to be solely defined by his hearing loss. Though it is a part of him, it is not something that stops him from living his life or enjoying any other activities like other kids. The book talks about his favorite activities like playing with his pets, swimming in his pool, and living his best life even though he has microtia.
I also wanted to educate others about microtia- and having a “tiny ear” and hearing loss. There are certain strategies of communication and understanding that can be extremely helpful to kids like Jojo. Sometimes people do not realize how much more difficult it can be for someone with hearing loss to just be a part of a regular conversation. Speaking slowly and clearly and not turning your back to a person who is hard of hearing can make all the difference in including them in a conversation or social situation. I felt it was really important to teach this to others and bring awareness.
Do you have other books planned featuring Jojo?
I definitely have some ideas for future books. Currently we are working with Birth to Three and American School for the Deaf in West Hartford CT to assist with strategies to help Jojo learn to speak and communicate with hearing loss. Both of these programs have sparked my interest with learning American Sign Language. I would love to write/ illustrate a book in the future that focuses on learning ASL. I love to draw and illustrate the different hand motions and just think it is such a beautiful way to communicate.