Padapillo by Valerie James Abbott is launching soon and we’re excited to share all of the details with you! We’ve been working behind the scenes to help Valerie prepare for May 4, when her book will be available. As part of the celebration, we’re bringing you a little behind the scenes look with an interview!
About Padapillo: Little Bridget is acting strangely and no one seems to notice-except her older sister. She notices everything. When the rest of her family finally realize that Bridget has been ignoring the world around her and inventing weird words, it leads to a startling diagnosis no one saw coming. In this touching story, narrated by the attentive, yet incredulous, older sister, we are led through a mystery and into the real-life emotional process family members often experience when a young child is unexpectedly diagnosed with hearing loss.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised on Long Island, but I quickly discovered after attending Hollins College in Virginia that I felt more at home in the South. Padapillo is the first book that I have published, but not the first book I’ve written. I was a senior communications manager at Bank of America when my daughter was identified with hearing loss, and I resigned from my position after 14 years to focus solely on advocating for her and getting her developmentally back on track.
Today, I am a parent-champion for early hearing detection and intervention programs with a specific interest in children with delayed or late-onset hearing loss (acquired after birth). I have served on non-profit boards and state councils dedicated to improving outcomes for children who are deaf and hard of hearing and those who are at increased risk of acquiring hearing loss later in life. I am also co-founder of Late Onset Hearing Loss Awareness Week, which was established in May 2021.
When I am not busy writing short stories about my life or advocating on behalf of families of children with disabilities, I can be found wearing fancy hats or sneaking a taste of my daughter’s stash of Nutella, but generally not necessarily at the same time. I have zero fear of public speaking with no advance notice to a large crowd, but the mention of a small spider or a thunderstorm will force me into hiding. I must say the same prayer at the same time on every airline flight (“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”) and I’ve never crashed, so I have no plans to break that custom. I met my husband at a job interview when we were both competing for the same job (it was also my birthday) and we recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.
Please tell us a little about your book.
Padapillo is based on the true story of how our family came to discover our youngest child’s mysterious hearing loss. She passed the newborn hearing screen when she was born, but lost her hearing as a toddler but we didn’t notice. We didn’t notice the signs of late onset hearing loss, so the book is about how we came to discover that but it is told through the eyes of her older sister, Mary Clare.
Why did you write Padapillo?
The first year after Bridget’s diagnosis was really hard on all of us. We had a lot of emotional baggage we were still carrying around, most of all me. I originally wrote Padapillo as a sort of memoir of my experience and a way of archiving the facts and feelings I experienced. It didn’t begin as a children’s book or really a book at all. About a year after that, I revisited what I had written and started again, only this time creating a tool our family could use with family, friends and teachers. That’s really when the children’s book was born – it was to help our own family. It wasn’t until a few years later I thought it might be helpful to other families.
Who is this book for?
The target market for this book is actually pediatric audiologists, pediatricians, early intervention providers…anyone who works directly with children recently identified as deaf or hard of hearing. My hope is that they keep a few of them in their desk drawer and when a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, and hearing aids are a consideration, that they give Padapillo to the family. Too often, families leave the office without any hope in their hands or their heart. More than 90% of families of children with hearing loss have no family history that they know of – so they are new to the whole thing. Their minds are spinning with a lot of information and emotions. Padapillo validates those emotions, whatever they are, and answers some of the basic questions and offers a helpful index of resources in the back. The end user is families, but the target audience are professionals who support those families. Because the relationship between provider and family is often critical to a child’s long term success.
What is YOUR favorite part of the book?
While the book is technically fiction, because not everything happened exactly in the same order as what happens in the story, my favorite part is in the very end when Bridget’s sister walks her into her classroom and the students notice and ask Bridget questions about her new hearing aids. That scene is totally accurate – including the teacher’s name written on the board and the names of the children and what they said. Those are direct quotes! The only difference is that in the true version of the story I was walking Bridget to her classroom and I was thinking and feeling what the narrator describes. I wondered what her classmates would say and I was very anxious about how that day would turn out. But, it was much more fun to write it from the older sister’s point of you instead of mine and to give the illustrator, Gina Wojtysiak, the freedom to imagine and illustrate the page without any pre-existing ideas about what the students might look like. Seeing the final page of that scene when Gina was finished took my breath away.
How long did it take you to write Padapillo?
I get asked that question a lot. It’s hard to answer. A few weeks? A few years? The story transformed itself several times, and I used a lot of the feedback I received over the years, so it’s hard to calculate how long writing it actually took. When people ask me that question, I generally say that I wrote the first draft of the story 10 years ago and I finished it in 2021!
When did you start writing books?
I was about 12 years old when I wrote my first novel. It was back in 1983. I used three marbled black and white composition notebooks and a pencil. The story was about a 12-year old girl who kept having dreams that included the same boy, and each night the dream would continue. She and the boy became friends during her sleep and went on adventures. Eventually, the girl preferred sleeping to anything else because she valued the friendship she had established, but her parents and doctor became concerned she might have a medical condition that was preventing her from staying awake. When she explained to her parents what was really going on they immediately assumed she had a mental health condition, but she was certain her the life in her dream was just as real as the one her parents knew. Looking back at it now, it really was an incredible feat for me, at 12 years old, to write a novel that had a well-established plot and colorful, unique characters.
When I was finished writing the story, I loaded up the composition notebooks in my backpack and rode my bicycle to the front door of Doubleday headquarters, which was one of the largest publishers in the world at the time and located just a few blocks from my home. I walked in and told the front desk secretary that I had a book that needed publishing. She smiled and gave me a paper application. I sat down next to her desk and prepared to fill it out, but then she asked if she could see my book. I gave her the notebooks and after flipping through a few pages she said, “When you submit your application the pages of your book will need to be typed out with a typewriter.” I remember leaving with my head hanging low because I didn’t know how to type. I didn’t return. But, I did write another novel after that one so that one defeat didn’t stop me.
How is Padapillo different from other books in your genre or niche?
Padapillo focuses on the emotional experiences of family members more than the child identified with a disability. In the story, we hear the thoughts and questions the older sister has about what she is observing and feeling. We witness the unique, love/hate relationship siblings have with each other, and we are reminded that all family members are impacted when a child is identified with hearing loss or diagnosed with another disability. As adults, we notice just how much the older sister is watching what is being said inside the home and how she is processing everything. Other books on this topic are focused more on the child with hearing loss and how they are overcoming the challenges – in Padapillo we are experiencing everything through the lens of the older child in the family.
Do you have any other books? Where can they be found?
I don’t have any other published books, but I do write a lot. Some of the short personal reflections I’ve written over the years are posted to the blog on my Web site. I’ve been a guest blogger for the Center for Family Involvement and I’ve had a few articles published in the Hands & Voices Communicator. But, most of what I write is really just for me – a chance for me to capture and record what is on my mind at any given time. What I notice now that I missed the first time around. I write for myself, not for other people most of the time.
Where is the best place for readers to connect with you?
Anyone is welcome to message me however it works best for them. I absolutely love meeting new people either in person or online and I try to personally respond to every message I receive on Facebook and Instagram, but I prefer email. Email messages are easier for me to keep track of.