For 17 years Jo Mach worked in Early Intervention services as an Occupational Therapist. During that time, she met hundreds of families raising children with developmental delays. When doing therapy in their homes she heard over and over again their inner worry of whether or not their children would grow up and be included in their communities. Those feelings sunk deep into her heart and joined her personal desire to write children’s books.
She’s launched Finding My Way Books, a series of non-fiction children’s books that feature youth and adults living inclusive lives. We asked her about the series, how she met Joe Steffy (aka Poppin’ Joe) and why she included his story in the collection.
Editor’s note: We did an interview with Joe Steffy (Poppin’ Joe) about his business, Poppin Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn.
What inspired you to create Finding My Way Books?
One day, I was sitting with a co-worker and asked her if she’d like to work with me on creating books to celebrate the inclusion of all children in communities.
That meeting with Vera, an Early Childhood Special Education teacher, happened almost eight years ago. At that time Vera had started working on her PhD in special education with an interest in self-determination. I loved the information she had been sharing at work about self-determination so we decided our books would promote inclusion and building of skills needed for self-determination.
We wanted our books to be easy to read and easy to understand true stories. We chose to have photographs rather than illustrations and be written in the voice of the child.
One of those books is I Want to Be Like Poppin’ Joe. Tell us about it.
Poppin’ Joe’s story was the third book we wrote. I saw an article in the newspaper about Joe. He had just come to our town and done a presentation. As I read, I thought he was an amazing man who lived a self-determined life. He would be a fantastic role model for children growing up with a developmental delay. I contacted his parents and they invited me to their home. They were all excited to have his story told.
Vera and I decided we wanted a young boy in our book so other young children could relate to the story. We connected with Dylan’s family and then introduced Dylan to Joe to start developing the story we would write.
Here’s a plot summary:
Dylan has an awesome friend. His friend, Poppin’ Joe pops and sells popcorn. Poppin’ Joe has a very fun job. It’s noisy fun! Dylan learns from Poppin’ Joe how to do a job you love.
You’ve chosen photography over illustrations. Who’s your photographer and why is she perfect for your book series?
Our photographer, Mary, is the perfect person for us to work with on these books. Mary worked as a videographer at the organization where Vera and I were working. She created many videos of the families we served. Mary also has a degree in theater education. It’s much more difficult than you would think to look at a manuscript and get photos to show the story. She understands how to visually capture the feelings needed and put them together like a play presentation.
Mary designs all our books. Each book has its own colored background and interior design based on the interests of the child or the background of the story. Poppin’ Joe’s story has two colors. Orange represents Joe with his energy and green represents Dylan with his interest and desire to learn.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
We feel this is the most powerful book we have created because it shows clearly that any child can follow their interests and strengths to find their place in their community. Joe is so amazing and his business is very fun. We think this is a great story for all children. The reading interest level is 4 to 8 years so it is written for early elementary school readers. Also it is a good fit for older children with developmental disabilities reading at a lower level. It’s a book with a very positive message.
Where does this book fit into your series?
I Want to Be Like Poppin’ Joe is included in the six book Finding My Way series that we’re working to get into schools and libraries. Our current goal is to create a leveled reading library with 14 books sharing true stories of inclusion of children with disabilities. All our books are leveled readers, large print and bilingual. We have educational resources for each book on our website: vocabulary list, discussion starters and classroom activities, and lesson plans.
How do you find your stories?
I’m often asked that question. We started with stories from families we knew through our work. Then stories started finding us. Mary is not only a photographer, she is also a Pilates instructor. Three stories have come through her clients. She was invited by one of her clients to be included in a grant to visit Tanzania. We created two books through this grant and this started us on finding international stories.
Can you give us a brief overview of others in the Finding My Way Books series?
Kaitlyn Wants to See Ducks
Kaitlyn loves ducks. Her family loves all the animals. Seeing those apes and lions and elephants and goats and giraffes and bears, just isn’t what Kaitlyn wants to do. What’s a girl to do, when it’s family day at the zoo?
Kaitlyn has Down syndrome.
I Don’t Think I Want a Puppy
It seems like all boys want a puppy. But not Ethan! He’s happy playing with his cars. His older brothers have a different idea. They talk Mom and Dad into getting them a puppy. It’s a good thing that Ethan is around when they discover their idea didn’t work out the way they thought it would.
Ethan was born with a congenital heart condition that resulted in developmental delays especially in his speech development.
Marco and I Want to Play Ball
Isiah and Marco share their love of baseball. Who’s going to hit the ball farther? Who’s going to hit the ball higher? Whose ball will hit the barn? Cousins like to tease and play when Grandpa is pitching.
Isiah was born with Spina Bifida and he wears leg braces.
OE Wants It to Be Friday
OE is counting down the days until Friday. It’s her favorite day of the week. Each day she has fun, but she knows she will have fabulous fun on Friday. She can’t wait for her special time with Dad and her coach, Austin.
OE and Austin have cerebral palsy. They both use wheelchairs and communication devices.
Waylen Wants to Jam
Playing the drum is so much fun. Waylen could do that all day long. But learning to be in a drumline is different. How will Waylen learn to drum with his line? What happens when Waylen is jamming?
Waylen is autistic.
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
I do ‘Skype in the classroom’ visits all over the world. I have discovered that children are very interested in learning about other children. Our books share stories that need to be shared so that all children feel included. Everyone’s story is important!
Discover more about Finding My Way Books:
- Buy I Want to Be Like Poppin’ Joe in English or Spanish on Amazon*
- Buy Waylen Wants to Jam in English or Spanish on Amazon*
- Finding My Way Books website
- Finding My Way Books on Facebook
- @fmwbooks on Twitter
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- Kindness is the Answer in Wiggle Woshers
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- More books by autistic authors
- More curious interviews with interesting authors and entrepreneurs
- Shop in our Amazon Influencer Autism Book Shop
*The links to buy the books are our affiliate links. By purchasing using these links, you will not only support the author, you’ll be raising funds to support our autistic team of contributors for their work too.