Katie Petruzziello is an accountant-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: providing representation and awareness for children with hearing loss, like her strong, spunky daughters Mila and Sofia. 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. I last interviewed Katie in 2022 when her first book, Mighty Mila, came out. This time, we spoke about her latest book release and her family’s journey with hearing differences.
Kathleen: Katie, we interviewed you in 2022 about your first book, Mighty Mila, which your daughter, Mila, inspired. Now, your second book has been released—congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Mighty Mila: Dream Job?
Katie: Yes! I’ve been working on the second book in the Mighty Mila series for the last two years, and I’m so excited to finally release it! In Mighty Mila: Dream Job, it’s career day at school, and Mila is on a mission to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. It’s a really fun book where readers will get to see Mila explore a bunch of different interests throughout the story and watch her imagination run wild, dreaming of all the amazing things she can be when she grows up. The story encourages children to chase their own dreams, embrace their differences, and believe that they can be anything they dream of.
Kickstarter Launch Mighty Mila - Dream Job
Kathleen: Sounds like a lot of fun! The book is being released in September which is Deaf Awareness Month. How can we learn more?
Katie: I’m launching the book on September 19 through the Kickstarter platform, where I’ll be offering the book and other exclusive Mighty Mila items for a limited 30-day launch campaign (Sept. 19–Oct. 18). You can find out more at www.mightymiladreamjob.com.
Kathleen: In writing and publishing the Mighty Mila series, I know it was important to you that Mila’s cochlear implants weren’t the center of the story—just one part of who Mila is. Tell me more about that.
Katie: This was one of my main goals in writing both books in the Mighty Mila series—to feature a deaf main character with cochlear implants but not to make the story focused on her hearing ability. It’s so important for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children to see themselves represented in fun children’s books where the story isn’t all about going to the audiologist or getting hearing devices. Don’t get me wrong—those types of books are incredibly important and were so beneficial as we started to navigate Mila’s hearing loss journey and prepare her to get cochlear implants, but it’s also so important for DHH children to see themselves fully represented as fun-loving children who do all the same things that typical hearing children do.
Kathleen: How has the Deaf community responded to Mighty Mila?
Katie: The response has really blown me away. I’ve won five different gold medals in various book award competitions and was even honored by a wonderful hearing loss organization, the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC), for my advocacy work related to this series, which was so touching. My favorite things, though, are the messages that I receive from parents of DHH children letting me know that the book helped their child explain about their hearing journey and hearing devices to their classmates…or that their child’s face lit up when they saw a character with cochlear implants like them…or that their child dressed like Mighty Mila for “Dress as Your Favorite Book Character Day” at school. This is what makes all the effort and late hours working on the books totally worth it.
Kathleen: I love how your illustrator, Nadja Sarell, captures all the characters’ joy and enthusiasm. Rockstar Ballerina is just one of the creative careers Mila imagines. Tell us more about working with Nadja on your projects.
Katie: Nadja is incredible. Even though she lives in Finland and we’ve never met in person, she’s someone that I consider a friend now after working together for the last three years. We work really well together and combined our visions to create the whimsical, vibrant illustrations in the book that are full of so many fun details. I’m very grateful that Nadja chose to take me on as a client. She historically has only worked with large traditional publishing houses but felt so connected to the Mighty Mila story and mission that she decided to take me on as a self-published author. It’s been a dream working together.
Kathleen: Last time we interviewed, you had just published Mighty Mila, and the real-life Mila had recently gotten cochlear implants. How is she doing now, and how has her journey progressed?
Katie: Mila has had her cochlear implants for 3.5 years now and is doing wonderfully! Cochlear implants don’t “restore” hearing, and she’ll always have some unique challenges that those with typical hearing don’t have (filtering out background sound, localizing sound, understanding conversation in louder social settings, etc.), but she’s doing really well, and we have a great support network of teachers, medical professionals, and therapists to help. We’re also starting to embark on a journey to learn American Sign Language (ASL) as a family to further support her and her sister, Sofia, who was recently identified as having mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss as well.
Kathleen: You’re a parent to three children (two with special needs), you have a corporate job, and you’re an author—how do you do it all?
Katie: Honestly, some weeks I just don’t know how things get done…they just do! I mainly work on the book at night after my day job is complete and the kids are asleep. There is so much I still want to do with the book series, but only so much time in the day, so I have to continually remind myself to just take it slowly and do what I can. What keeps me going is my mission to help increase deaf representation in children’s books and promote further acceptance, empathy, and celebration of differences within the typical hearing community.
Kathleen: I’ve heard that you’ve donated over 500 books to hearing loss organizations, schools, and children who are deaf or hard of hearing over the past two years—tell me more about that and how people can donate a book.
Katie: Yes! This is something that I’m really proud of. Through the support of many people and my own personal donations, I’ve been able to donate over 500 Mighty Mila books! I work with a few large hearing loss organizations and get the books into their hands so that they can gift them to deaf/hard-of-hearing children to help empower them and provide them with a book for their homes or schools where they feel represented. The response has been wonderful. Anyone who wants to get involved to donate a book can head to www.mightymila.com/shop.
Kathleen: What advice do you have for parents who are adjusting to life with a d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing child?
Katie: Give yourself time to have all the feelings. It’s a big adjustment and there’s a lot to learn, and it can be very emotional and overwhelming. But surround yourself with people who can help (professionals, therapists, other parents of DHH kids, etc.) and lean on them. I know I did…and still do. A LOT! There is a ton to figure out, and you’ll get a lot of opinions, but you know your child, and it’s important to trust your gut on what the right path forward is for them. You’ll get to a point where things will feel normal again—it’ll be a new normal, but it won’t feel as overwhelming as it does in the beginning, and your child will do great!
Kathleen: In the last few years, have you noticed any changes in d/Deaf representation in children’s books? What are your hopes for the future of kids’ media?
Katie: I’ve definitely noticed more books coming out and am thrilled by it. The more the merrier! I love getting to know authors of other books with deaf/hard-of-hearing characters and enjoy promoting them. In fact, on my Instagram (@mightymilastories) and Facebook (@mightyMila), I’ve been sharing about a different deaf/hard-of-hearing children’s book each week…often with a giveaway of that book!
Kathleen: I love seeing Mila, her older brother, Luca, and her younger sister, Sofia, in the Mighty Mila series’ adorable pages. And in Mighty Mila: Dream Job, I enjoyed reading about what they want to be when they grow up. What do you hope kids (and adults) will take away from Mighty Mila: Dream Job?
Katie: I hope readers will finish reading the book with a smile on their faces and the belief that they can be anything and everything they dream of. This book provides a unique response to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” ...and one that takes unnecessary pressure off of children by showing them that it’s okay to want to be many different things, or it’s okay to just not know at all! So I’d love for readers to feel encouraged to believe in themselves, dream big, and chase those dreams and celebrate the things that make them unique.
Kathleen: What will children learn about cochlear implants and hearing loss in Mighty Mila: Dream Job?
Katie: Similar to the first book, Mighty Mila, the new book doesn’t make her deafness/cochlear implants the focus of the story but subtly references them throughout. Some of those subtle references include learning about her teacher wearing a special microphone to help her hear, seeing Mila putting on her cochlear implants in the morning and decorating them with decals, learning that the way she hears music is a bit different from those with typical hearing, seeing ASL fingerspelling in the classroom, seeing other characters/stuffed animals with hearing aids, and seeing Mila explore being an audiologist!
Kathleen: Tell us about the additional pages in the back of Mighty Mila: Dream Job. At the back of both Mighty Mila books, there are two pages with supplemental materials that are both fun and educational—Listen & Look (similar to “I Spy”) activities, retelling and sequencing, comprehension and expansion, and more! You also have free supplemental resources on your website.
Katie: I wanted to provide parents and educators with a fun way for children to work on their vocabulary, comprehension, and listening skills! If you go to my website, www.mightymila.com/resources, you’ll find some helpful free digital downloads, including a “Mighty Mila: Activity Pack” with 34 activities to use along with Mighty Mila and an “All About Mighty Me” advocacy presentation for deaf/hard-of-hearing children to use to tell their teachers/classmates more about their hearing journey, devices, etc.
Kathleen: Do you have plans for more books down the road?
Katie: Maybe one day! I have so many more ideas for future books, but for now, I’m taking it one at a time and just trying to get through the launch of the second book, Mighty Mila: Dream Job!
Kathleen: So, Mighty Mila: Dream Job has been released this month! Where can readers buy it?
Katie: Mighty Mila: Dream Job was released for preorder on September 19 through a 30-day Kickstarter campaign where the book can be preordered (Nov./Dec. delivery) along with other fun, exclusive products (stickers, artist kit, tote bag, etc.). Anyone interested can check it out at www.mightymiladreamjob.com. I really appreciate the support in helping to make this book a reality and getting it into the hands of kids who will benefit from and love it!
Be sure to follow Katie on Instagram: www.instagram.com/mightymilastories/ and Facebook: www.facebook.com/mightymila/. Take the opportunity to preorder Mighty Mila: Dream Job. You're going to love it. Don’t forget to visit our resource page see our growing list of inclusive picture books.
I am thrilled to hear Katie and the family are ALL learning a little sign language together. That makes the Petruzziellos an inclusive family that learns new things together and keeps everyone included.
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