Author Chats: Melissa-Sue John, Ph.D.
Melissa-Sue John is focused on bringing diversity to children’s literature through her own publishing company, Lauren Simone Publishing House. Along with her daughter/partners, she provides a platform for reaching kids from all backgrounds and with all kinds of disabilities, as well as helping young authors and illustrators experience writing and illustrating their own works.
See: OLIVIA CONNECTS
Tell us a little about you. Besides being an author, what else do you like to do?
I am a social psychologist by training. I teach at Eastern Connecticut State University and do research for the Seeds to STEM Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I am also passionate about social issues. I consider myself a budding activist. I have participated in a few rallies against deportation and for an increase in minimum wages. I enjoy yoga, but am a little out of practice, now.
What books have you written?
I have written 5 books with my daughters, the Olivia Lauren book series:
OCCUPATIONS A to Z, a child-appropriate guide to modern and traditional careers.
GUIDE TO BECOMING AN ACTOR helps other parents interested in getting their children into the entertainment industry.
OLIVIA TRAVELS uses rhyme and homonyms to teach about transportation.
OLIVIA CONNECTS teaches about different styles of communication and communication devices, as well as communication used by those with physical challenges.
A GUIDE TO THINGS WE WEAR, a practical and multicultural approach to looking at when and why we wear the different things we do.
Describe your ideal reader.
My target audience is children of all races, ethnicities, creeds, and nationalities age 4 to 12 years old.
How do your books address the particular reading needs of Background Noise Books audiences?
The Olivia Lauren series empowers all children by being inclusive and representative of gender, race, and ability. We include new vocabulary and history to engage the gifted students. We reinforce learning by using glossaries and reading reviews. We have representative characters in the foreground of the story to show having a disability does not stop you from living. We have characters with blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and wheelchair bound interacting with abled children.
Which of the books you’ve written is your personal favorite?
Every new book becomes my favorite. Each book is better than the next as I get to execute new ideas and become a better writer and am more open to constructive criticism. With that said, my favorite to read is OLIVIA TRAVELS. It is playful and rhythmic. The others are a more educational.
Who is your favorite author?
Peggy Parish is one of my favorite authors of children’s stories. Amelia Bedelia books are hilarious. For my own guilty pleasure, I am a Terry McMillian fan.
Do you know a child with special needs? How do your books help them?
I do know children with special needs. Olivia Connects shows that there are several ways to communicate. Having autism and not being able to express yourself verbally doesn’t exclude you from communicating.
What are you working on next?
I am working to increase the representation of diverse characters in STEM. I have a list of STEM topics that I would like to cover. It will take much more research and creativity on my part.
What else would you like readers to know about you?
I am a co-investigator on a project developing STEM curriculum for PreK students. We are using literature to teach engineering and problem-solving. So few books have persons of color or those with physical challenges. Both this problem and having two daughters that I want to see themselves as active agents motivated me to write children’s books.