Katie Petruzziello is a CPA turned project manager who spends her days juggling her career and trying to keep up with her three wonderful (and very feisty) children. Most of her nights are devoted to writing and furthering her mission of providing representation and awareness for children with hearing loss, like her strong, spunky daughter Mila. Katie lives in New York and loves going on fun adventures with her family, laughing with her husband at their kids’ silly antics, and baking or doing crafts with her children.
Katie is the author of Mighty Mila. Mila may be a kid, but she can act pretty grown-up… At least that's what she thinks! The trouble is, Mila's parents still treat her like she's little, so she's decided to prove once and for all that she can do things all on her own! But when it turns out that being a big kid isn't as easy as she thought, will Mila admit defeat, or will she find a way to prove just how big and mighty she really is?
Readers of all ages will love Mila's spitfire personality and imaginative approach to overcoming obstacles. They will cheer her on as she uses her creativity, her willpower, and even her new cochlear implant hearing devices to face down challenges.
This wonderful book provides much-needed representation for deaf and hard-of-hearing children through a fun story portraying a deaf main character as a regular kid whose hearing loss is NOT the focus of the story. This portrayal also enables typical hearing children to see that deaf and hard of hearing children think, feel, and act just the same way they do!
I had the honor of interviewing Katie Petruzziello about her experience as a mother, an author, and an advocate. She opened up about Mila’s hearing loss journey, how Mighty Mila came about, and her plans for the future.
Tell us about Mighty Mila and how it came about!
Mighty Mila is a true labor of love inspired by my daughter Mila who is deaf and uses cochlear implants. One night, shortly after Mila got her cochlear implants, she started flipping through her books and asked me why none of the characters have cochlear implants like her. My heart sank. The unfortunate reality is that deaf and hard-of-hearing children often aren't represented in children's literature—especially not in fun stories which don’t focus on the character's hearing loss.
On that day, I decided to do something about the lack of representation and awareness, and I started writing Mighty Mila. My goal was to represent and empower children who are deaf and hard of hearing and to create more understanding and inclusion in the world.
Did you ever think you would write a children's picture book?
No, it was never something that crossed my mind! I’ve always been a creative person and have loved exploring different ways of expressing my creativity (scrapbooking, cake decorating, painting, crafts with my kids, etc.) and something just clicked when Mila expressed frustration and sadness about not being able to find characters with cochlear implants in her picture books.
I realized that I could channel my creativity into putting together a really fun book that could provide Mila and other deaf and hard-of-hearing kids with much-needed representation. It’s been a ton of work but I’ve truly loved the process of creating Mighty Mila—from the written words to working with the amazing illustrator Nadja Sarell, to the book cover and design, etc. I’ve loved pouring myself into this, and it has turned into a real passion of mine. It’s both something I’ve enjoyed doing and something that I feel can make a difference. The best of both worlds!
There are so many ways to advocate for children. Why a picture book?
Representation in children’s literature is so important. All children should be able to see themselves in the books they read, and picture books provide children with one of the earliest and strongest forms of representation. For deaf and hard-of-hearing children, seeing characters like themselves in the books they read helps them feel less isolated, provides empowerment and confidence, and helps them better understand themselves. I really wanted to be able to provide that to deaf and hard-of-hearing children through Mighty Mila.
It’s equally important to raise awareness about deafness, hearing loss, and hearing devices to children who have typical hearing and may never have met anyone who is deaf or has hearing loss. Reading about characters who are different from them provides children with a new world to explore and helps promote empathy and understanding of differences. I am so excited to give the world a fun story where all kids can fall in love with an imaginative, fierce girl, who just happens to have hearing loss.
Problem Solving & Perseverance, Laugh-Out-Loud Fun, Representation & Social-Emotional Learning. Beautiful illustrations are by Nadja Sarell.
How has life changed in the Petruzziello household since Mila is on the cover of her very own book?
Things are still pretty much the same around here, besides the fact that we now have stacks of books in a few rooms of the house! Mila loves being a character in a book, but we’re trying to not let it go to her head, even though kids often stop her on the playground asking if she’s “the Mila from the book,” which she gets a kick out of!
Tell us about Mila’s hearing loss journey. What was it like for you as a mom to hear that your precious child was losing her hearing so rapidly? How did you and the family cope with that? Was there a group or organization that came by your side to support you?
At fifteen months old, Mila was diagnosed with mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss. It was a shock to us because we don’t have any history of hearing loss in our family, but we focused on getting her hearing aids and into early intervention for services as quickly as possible. Mila adapted to using her hearing aids very easily and immediately started entertaining her therapists with her silliness during therapy sessions.
Then when Mila was about two and a half years old, her hearing started rapidly dropping and quickly progressed to a level of profound deafness. Her hearing aids were no longer able to provide her with enough access to sound, and she received cochlear implants in early 2020. She’s been doing so well with them. We’ve gone through so many emotions during this journey, but we’ve always known how strong and resilient Mila is, and we have been amazed at how well she’s adapted to the changes along the way.
We received so much support from Mila’s therapy organization, Listening Partners, and we have leaned on her teacher of the deaf and speech-language pathologist so much over the last four years. We also have an incredible medical team at NYU Langone. They are like family to us, and we’re so grateful for them.
When her hearing loss became profound and hearing aids weren’t enough, how did you come to the choice of cochlear implants?
The decision to get cochlear implants is a very personal one and depends on many factors. Ultimately, it’s an individual or a family’s personal decision. In our case, Mila was fully part of the hearing world since she was born and was speaking very well even at a young age (with the help of her hearing aids). She absolutely loved music and sounds, and we wanted to provide her with continued access to sound through cochlear implants.
I worked with a young child who had cochlear implants. When the battery died, she would go into a panic. Has Mila experienced any similar issues with the cochlear implants when she is not wearing them or when the batteries die?
Luckily, we’ve never had a battery die, but Mila really doesn’t exhibit any stress when her cochlear implants slip off or when she has to take them off at night. She’s very comfortable with them off and with them on and switches easily between the two.
Bright, whimsical illustrations filled with engaging details that readers will love exploring. illustrations are by Nadja Sarell.
What would you want a parent to know about cochlear implants?
I learned a lot from speaking with other cochlear implant parents, so I’m more than happy to chat with any parents exploring cochlear implants for their child. Cochlear implants have been a blessing to Mila, and she’s really doing so well with them. She is a happy, confident, resilient little girl.
I do think it’s important for people to understand that cochlear implants don’t restore hearing. Instead, they provide a different way of hearing (not acoustic, but electronic), and there are challenges that will always come along with that. For example, Mila struggles with following conversations in group settings; background noise makes hearing much more challenging; music sounds different with cochlear implants than with acoustic hearing;and auditory fatigue is a real challenge because she’s working extra hard during the day to hear.
These are things we always make sure to explain to friends, teachers, and family. We even remind ourselves about that sometimes. It’s important to make sure we’re all using the right strategies to help her be as successful as possible.
How was the transition for her learning to hear again after surgery? What does she have to say about how things sound with the implants?
We were very fortunate because Mila’s transition to cochlear implants was very smooth. We didn’t have any issues with her keeping her cochlear implants on, and she started understanding what we were saying within a couple of days of them being activated. At first, she said we sounded funny, but very soon after, she said we sounded like ourselves again. Now, two years after getting her cochlear implants, she doesn’t remember what things sounded like before them, and her cochlear-implant hearing is really all she knows.
I’m a passionate advocate for ASL, so I have to ask: Was sign language something you used with Mila or your other children? Did you teach them baby sign language? Was it suggested by your pediatrician or audiologist? Do you use any sign language now?
When Mila’s hearing loss was first identified, ASL was not something recommended to us. We were recommended to focus on her listening and spoken language, so we currently don’t know much sign language. However, I really want to start learning ASL as a family in the near future, because I think it’s important to give Mila the ability to communicate through both ASL and spoken language.
Thank you for sharing that. Let’s get back to the book. Can you tell me about the supplemental activities at the back?
Fun & Educational Supplemental Activities
I really wanted to make Mighty Mila an educational resource for parents, teachers, and therapists to use with children, one that children would really enjoy! The end of Mighty Mila contains two pages of “I spy" style learning activities that further explore the book's bright, whimsical illustrations while also building vocabulary and listening skills! Thirty-additional activities are also available for free download at mightymila.com/resources. People keep telling me to charge for them, but it was important for me to make them available for free because I want to make the book as useful as possible for parents and educators, and I want to make learning fun for kids!
I heard you’ve received some recognition for the book. Tell me about that!
Yes! I was very excited to recently find out that Mighty Mila won a number of gold medal awards in various book award competitions, including:
Gold Winner of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award - Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book: Children's / Young Adult
Gold Winner of the Wishing Shelf Awards - Books for 6-8-Year-Olds
Gold Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award - Children's Books
Winner of the Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award - for superior work by debut authors
Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize Finalist
It means a lot to me that these wonderful award programs have recognized "Mighty Mila."
What’s next? Any more Mighty Mila books?
Actually, I’m working on the second book in the Mighty Mila series right now and just got my manuscript through editing! I’m really excited about continuing to share more fun and meaningful Mighty Mila stories with readers!
Where can readers find out more?
Thank you, Katie, for sharing your story,
your mission, and your family.
Congratulations on winning the very prestigious
IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award!
In the Winter Spotlight Charlie Barshaw of SWBWI- Michigan, combined three authors' stories, about the impact of ASL on our lives and in the Deaf Community.
Reporter Rebecca Calappi from Macomb Now Magazine Spring 2022 issue continued that theme in an article titled, "Book Brings Worlds Together"
Working together we can accomplish great things.
Thank you, we hope you were inspired!
Your feedback is appreciated.