Hey Math is Everywhere readers,
It’s Autism Awareness Month, and we’re lucky to have debut author Jen Malia here today to share her new book, Too Sticky! that was inspired by her and her daughter’s experience with autism.
Kaitlyn: Welcome, Jen, thanks so much for joining us today!
Jen: Thanks for inviting me, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn: To begin, can you share a bit about your connection to autism?
Jen: My daughter and I were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on the same day. She was 2, and I was 39. Then, my son was diagnosed a year later shortly after he turned 2. I’ve spent the past 4 years advocating for myself and my kids. I hope to raise autism awareness, and even more importantly, acceptance, as a children’s book author and essayist. I also want my kids to be proud of their autism. It’s not just our medical diagnosis; it’s part of our identity.
Kaitlyn: That’s beautiful, Jen, I’m so glad there are such wonderful advocates like you to help inspire others. Too Sticky! focuses on an experience of the main character to help others understand what autism and sensory issues can be like for those who have them. What inspired you to tell this story using slime?
Jen: I wanted Too Sticky! to be a book about slime because a lot of kids have had some sort of experience with slime and it reinforces STEM education. The majority of the book is set in a second grade classroom where kids are making slime for a science experiment. My main character, Holly, is worried that her hands will get sticky. I showed how her autism and sensory issues made her experience different than the other kids in her class. I hope autistic kids will be able to see themselves in Too Sticky! and other kids will learn to be more accepting of their differences.
Kaitlyn: I can tell you, I definitely learned a lot about how others see the world when I read it. The part of the book that surprised me the most was on the ride to school when the main character thought she saw slime on the trees? Can you share a bit about these types of experiences?
Jen: With that scene, I wanted to show that Holly’s anxiety escalated to the point that she was seeing slime everywhere, even outside the SUV window on the drive to school. A lot of autistic kids and adults, including myself, get easily overwhelmed and have anxiety issues. In Too Sticky!, Holly has coping mechanisms to help her with her anxiety, such as breathing exercises and a stress ball.
Kaitlyn: I think we have all had anxiety to that point, it was so eye-opening to see it in this context. Can you tell us a bit about the eye-opening experience to publication with this book?
Jen: My path to publication as a children’s book author was rather unusual. After I was diagnosed with autism, I started writing autism-related essays for national newspapers and magazines. My essay, “What a Muppet with Autism Means to My Family,” for the New York Times indirectly led to writing Too Sticky! An illustrator introduced me to editors at Albert Whitman who asked if I would be willing to write a children’s picture book with an autistic girl as the main character.
That opportunity got my foot in the door, but I still had to learn how to actually write a book for children. I read hundreds of children’s books and found good critique partners that I met in Facebook writing groups. I joined the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and more recently, Inked Voices. I continue to improve my craft by attending workshops. I’ve written two more picture book manuscripts. I’m currently working on a middle grade novel and a proposal for a nonfiction parenting book.
Kaitlyn: I’m excited to see what comes next for you! Finally, if you could hang out with your favorite author, would you chat over tea or go fly a kite?
Jen: My favorite author is Jane Austen. As an English professor at Norfolk State University, I teach her novels in my 19th-century British literature courses. I love Pride and Prejudice! We’d probably skip tea and kite flying and go to a ball instead.
Kaitlyn: Hahaha, I love that! A ball sounds phenomenal! Thank you so much for joining us today!
Jennifer: Thanks for having me, Kaitlyn!
Jen Malia is the author of Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism and Associate Professor of English at Norfolk State University. She has appeared on NPR’s With Good Reason and written essays for the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Catapult, Woman’s Day, Glamour, SELF, and others. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and three kids. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or her website.
Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, was published by Albert Whitman on April 1st. It’s the story of an autistic girl with sensory issues who has to overcome her fear of sticky hands to participate in her second grade slime experiment.
The book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and Books-a-Million, and Indiebound.
Kaitlyn’s Review of Too Sticky!
This story blew me away! Author Jen Malia has created a beautiful slice-of-life experience that shows how autism can be difficult, but with support, it doesn’t have to be. Illustrator Joanne Lew-Viethoff’s art is fun and vibrant while also truly capturing the kindness and love of this wonderful family. I adore that this story can help so many people better understand how people experience things differently, and the author’s note at the end provides surprising enlightenment about autism for females, which I truly appreciated. This is definitely a must-have for any library, be it a home, school, or public library.
Jen is giving away a copy of Too Sticky! (Continental US only)
How to get in on the Giveaway:
- Comment on this blog post
- Retweet the tweet about this post
- Request that your library order a copy of Too Sticky! and share in the comments that you did so
Each one of the above gets you another entry into the giveaway!
Thank you all for joining us today to learn about Jen’s book, her experiences, and writing.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
If you haven’t stopped by to read the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest entries, make sure to hop on over and check them out. Read, comment, and connect with wonderful writers and author-illustrators! https://ciaraoneal.weebly.com/spring-fling-kidlit-contest