As a teacher and parent of four biracial children, including a son with autism, Jessica Bennett strives to make sure students see themselves and their classmates in the books she presents. But finding early-learning material that reflects diversity in race, culture and abilities isn’t always easy. So Bennett, a teacher in the Early Childhood Family Center, has published her own.
Bennett wrote This Is Me about a boy with autism whose classmates are learning to understand his differences. She also wrote YES, WE CAN! to show that children of all abilities and backgrounds can aim to be whatever they want, from president to veterinarian to judge.
Your son 4-year-old son, Jeremiah, attends the FCBDD early-learning program on Johnstown Road. He’s also the inspiration and title character for one of your books, right?
Yes. When Jeremiah was about 20 months, he was diagnosed with autism, and I had just started working here. I wasn’t sad because he had autism; I was sad because of how the world might treat him. When he steps outside of this building, reality hits.
And Jeremiah has a twin sister, Harmony, who is developing typically and is enrolled as a peer.
It’s great to see her read to him. The fact that she understands is really reassuring. When you have twins, they’re supposed to be together. They’re bonded. It’s so beautiful – you can’t teach that.
How have your family experiences affected your approach to teaching and writing?
My parents are from Puerto Rico; I was born in New York. My husband is African-American. Having biracial children, I think about these issues all the time. When I was a child and my mom and I would speak Spanish, the teacher would tell my mom to speak only English to me. I remember when my sister would speak Spanish in daycare, they would put her in a corner. I want all kids to be aware that no matter where they come from and where they are, they can be themselves. And they can be anything they want to be.
Why did you also publish YES, WE CAN! as a coloring book?
I wanted the kids to decide on how the characters look. If they want them to be purple, they can be!
Bennett’s books are available for purchase on Amazon. For more information. go to jeremiahscorner.com