Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interview with children's author Kristi O'Callahan

My special guest today is children’s author Kristi O’Callahan. We’re chatting about her new book, Jacob and Sam: A Friendship Story.

Kristi O'Callahan is a Special Education teacher with over 13 years of teaching experience in self-contained and integrated classrooms. While working in the field of Early Intervention, Kristi made the time to fulfill her passion of creating awareness for children with unique-abilities. The vision for her stories is to create a platform of resources for educators and therapists. A platform that creates feelings and appreciation of characters all children can relate to. Her Special Senses organization offers insight to both general and special needs children because they all deserve a special sense of identity.

Kristi is originally from New York and now resides in South Carolina with her husband and 2 boys.

Welcome, Kristi. Please tell us about your current release.
Jacob and Sam: A Friendship Story is a book about just that – children finding friendship through kindness. It is my great honor to offer awareness for all children and this short story introduces us to Sam, a child with autism. Jacob is a new student in an inclusion classroom. Early on, he wants to be-friend Sam an autistic boy. Jacob does not understand why Sam will not socialize with his peers. He questions why Sam will not speak or make eye contact, why he wears headphones and why he doesn’t play outside with the other children. Jacob is determined to befriend Sam and when he finds common ground, he solicits his teacher for a special way to share in Sam’s world.

What inspired you to write this book?
My inspiration behind this book derives from my personal experience. When working in a preschool classroom reading aloud is a daily occurrence. Most of the time I felt let down or disappointed after reading a book. Not because the book was bad, but because my student’s couldn’t relate to most of the character’s in the books. I’m creating these stories because I want children with a disability or a difference to have a relatable character; at the same time these books can be a resource for general education children to learn about their peers. Just because a child wears braces on their legs does not mean they can’t play tag, or if a child does not communicate with words does not mean they can’t communicate at all. 

What exciting story are you working on next?
The second book in the series, For Leona, is actually in its final illustration stage as we speak!! It is about Leona, a little girl in a wheelchair. After realizing that she is unable to play on her school’s new playground equipment, Leona is sad and feeling left out. Jacob creates a game where Leona is center stage around the playground equipment, and can be included in the fun!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
At this point I don’t necessarily consider myself a “writer”. I think of myself as more of an educator trying to create awareness for children with disabilities. Awareness equals acceptance in my mind…so I’m creating awareness one book at a time!!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do not write full time, but I am constantly creating new stories and scenarios. If I read an article on dyslexia or hear someone discussing their divorce I am thinking of a story to help the children in those situations, or how can I help their friends understand what their peer going through.  

When I’m not writing or working on a book I am taking care of my family. I have two boys who keep me quite busy and a third on the way!!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Not sure if it’s a quirk, but it is really important to me that my stories sound like I’m talking to my student’s. I feel as though I have a natural way with kids especially in the classroom, so I try and write my books as if I were actually speaking to a room full of children. (Hope that makes sense lol).

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I was going to be a teacher. I can honestly say I never thought of being anything else. As a kid I would make my younger brother and cousin be student’s and actually make them do work so I could grade it. I remember working on their spelling words and creating work sheets for them to complete and I would put fun stamps or stickers on them!! Thinking about it now I’m sure my mom loved it not so sure my brother and cousin did!!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
In my heart I know these books are a necessity for all of our children and society as a whole. Remember with awareness comes acceptance. Children who are different should not be stared at or made to feel uncomfortable. Most adults do that…let our children be strong and comfortable approaching children with a unique-ability and confident to befriend them. An inclusive society is a positive place to be.


Thanks, Kristi!

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