Children’s book promotes message of kindness and compassion


By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Grove City resident Lia-Mae Kass is the author and illustrator of a children’s book that is centered around hidden disabilities and how the choices people make, big or small, always have an impact on someone else. “To Whom it Concerns” was inspired by the one year her son played youth baseball and the support his coaches, teammates, and strangers in the stands showed him throughout the season even though he did things “a little bit differently.” Kass said the book serves as a thank you to those who have shown her family and her son – who has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is on the autism spectrum – compassion, kindness, and patience during their life journey and also a reminder for others to try to extend those same courtesies to everyone you meet. “To Whom it Concerns” can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble while copies can be reserved through the Southwest Public Libraries website.

The summer break was winding down and the anxiety was ramping up for Lia-Mae Kass.

Having been employed as a special education teacher for nearly two decades, she had become accustomed to the transition between that extended break and the headfirst dive into a new school year but this time was proving to be a genuine challenge.

“I was trying to prepare for my child to make his transition from one school building to another,” said the resident of Grove City.

She explained that a change in routine had never been easy for her son, Michael, and she did not know how he was going to react to the new environment and, most importantly, how others would react to him.

Looking from the outside, Kass said that her son has the appearance of a typical child but the way he processes things internally makes him different from his peers. For instance, he may act in a certain way when in uncomfortable situations or he may say things that come across as rude even if he does not mean to cause offense.

“Because he has these hidden disabilities, people who do not know him often are quick to pass judgement and then they never get to learn about who he is inside and what a truly wonderful person he is,” said Kass.

Feeling as if she needed to do something that could ease her son’s transition to a new school building, Kass took out a pen and paper and wrote a letter to the administration and the staff about his differences. She addressed the way his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder can make him act, the way his emotions are affected by his anxiety disorder, and how his autism can often make it easy for him to be misunderstood.

“I am not sure what the goal of my letter was,” said Kass, “but I think I just wanted them to remember to be kind and patient with him as he adjusts to an entirely new setting.”

The letter sat at her desk for days as she mulled over the pros and cons of sending it out into the world. Ultimately, she decided that it was not to leave their home.

“It was one of those moments where, as a mom, you’re like ‘I need to let this go,’” she said. “I needed people to meet him, to get to know him, and just hope that everything would be OK.”

What she did not – and could not – know at the time was that the unsent letter would soon inspire her to begin to fulfill a dream of writing a book about finding the beauty in differences and accepting others for who they are.

Kass said she has always had an interest in writing but it wasn’t until her freshman year of high school that the idea of becoming an author began to percolate in her mind.

“I had this really wonderful English teacher who shared one of my fairy tales as a part of our class one day,” she said. “And she just went on and on about how great it was and I was like ‘Ah, someone else really loves what I did.’ It was just one of those really encouraging moments that stick with you forever.”

Although she said she wrote some great assignments for projects throughout her high school and collegiate studies, she never did take the plunge and try to write that inspirational children’s book she had always wanted.

Then one day in church years later, she was praying over her son and that unsent letter when fragments of a memory popped in her head: It was that of a woman in the stands who acknowledged Michael’s effort during his lone season of playing youth baseball.

“I think everyone saw how hard it was for him to go out there but she turned to me and told me that he was having a great day,” said Kass. “I wasn’t able to verbalize it at the moment but it made me feel as if she had really seen my son and his attempts to keep pushing through situations that were made more challenging for him because of his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and his sensory issues. It was a really powerful moment for me as a parent and really comforting to me too.”

Putting her art skills to use, Kass began to sketch out scenes from that day and a very rough first draft of a children’s book with an uplifting message began to take shape.

Over the course of the next four years, Kass meticulously wrote and illustrated a book that is centered around hidden disabilities and the idea that the choices people make, big or small, always have an impact on someone else. It is partially addressed to the reader in a letter format by a mother who is worried that people will be quick to judge her son when he takes the field and does things “a little bit differently.”

Kass said she wanted her book “To Whom it Concerns” to serve as a thank you to those who have shown her family and her son compassion, kindness, and patience during their life journey and also as a reminder for everyone to try to remember to extend those same courtesies to others.

“You really never know what someone else is going through and how many hundreds of little mental steps they are taking just to get through the day,” said Kass.

When “To Whom it Concerns” was signed by Proving Press, an imprint of the Columbus Publishing Lab, Kass said she did not have any real expectations for it.

“I joked that I would sell six copies,” she said. “Two to my parents, two to my husband’s parents, and maybe a few friends.”

But then her fellow educators bought copies for their classrooms, their friends bought copies for their relatives, and complete strangers started to order copies through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Recently, the book – which was selected as a finalist for the American Writing Awards children’s book division – was picked up for circulation at the Southwest Public Libraries and a local organization that advocates for individuals with special needs ordered more than 40 copies to be distributed at elementary and intermediate buildings in the South-Western City Schools District.

Lisa McCarty, a member of the Grove City Buddy Ball board, said she loved the book and its perspective from a parent who has a child with disabilities, especially one that is more hidden than others.

“I think it really holds true to how all of us parents are about how we just want our kids to be accepted,” said McCarty. “It is a book that really hit me and I think it has a great message for all of us to be positive and to be inspiring, to be loving and accepting.”
Kass said she has been “over the moon” with the reception to her first children’s book and hopes that it can make a positive impact on the community.

“I think what we say or do as adults can be one of the most powerful things that happens to a child,” she said. “And if they walk away with messages that are positive and accepting then we will have raised a community of children who are going to have such an impact on the world because they have that awareness that what they say or do can affect someone else.”

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