New Book on Disability Rights- Publishes Sept 15th


 Albert Whitman & Co. Sept 1, 2021

An inspiring true story of the people who helped make every public school in the nation a more inclusive place.

My life as an author, illustrator, mother, and disability rights advocate has merged. 

Over the past few years, I have researched the history of education for children with disabilities. What I discovered was a painful past, one in which children with disabilities were seen as useless, worthless and a burden on society. 

I was surprised to discover that as recent as 1970, millions of children with disabilities were excluded from public education classrooms. A small number of children with mild disabilities were sometimes allowed to attend public school, only to be segregated from their peers and given an inadequate education. The majority of children were placed in institutions, hospitals or stayed at home and given no education at all. The schools argued that children with disabilities were unable to learn, would distract the other students, and require too much time and funds.

I delved deeper into the subject and stumbled across a lawsuit that changed everything. In the early 1970’s seven brave families from the Washington, DC area, whose children had a variety of disabilities, joined together to fight for the right of their children to attend public schools. A group of lawyers sued the Board of Education in US District Court on their behalf and WON. The case was called Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia.  It was a class action suit, representing not only these seven children, but over 18,000 other children in the Washington, DC area, who were also excluded from public education. This landmark case paved the way for the creation of important laws ensuring children with disabilities would receive a free, appropriate public education.  

While researching this book, I was very fortunate to connect with the last surviving lawyer on the Mills case, Attorney Paul R. Dimond, who generously gave me first-hand insight into this case and the times. (Later, he graciously agreed to write a note, which appears in the book.) Paul coined the term, "The Quiet Revolution” because this momentous civil rights case and subsequent laws did not receive the attention or press it deserved. We talked about this. We wondered,"Why?" Could it have been that people with disabilities did not have the voice or the support needed to catapult this “fight” into the public eye? Or perhaps, society's pre-judgments and prejudices created a belief that people with disabilities were not deserving of these rights. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but based on the history of the times and the discrimination that existed, both scenarios are entirely probable. 

As I gathered my notes, I realized that my daughter Janine's life would have been very different had she been born prior to 1970. I told  her about the Mills case. I listened as Janine reflected back on her own education as a student with disabilities around the 1990s. She immediately recognized, as did I, that these brave families stood up and changed many lives, including her own. I asked Janine to partner with me, to help tell the story from her perspective. She agreed – and together, this book was born.  

A Note From Janine:

In 1985 I was born with Cerebral Palsy, which affected my muscles, vision and cognitive abilities. Throughout my 15 years in public school, I learned side by side with my classmates. I thrived because of the interactions I had with my peers and made many friends. I received the therapies and accommodations I needed to succeed in school and go on to College where I earned my BA. I am grateful to those students and families who stood up for OUR right to attend public school in 1971.

I often get asked, if I could snap my fingers and not have any disabilities, would I? There is only one answer, NO. I will never drive, ride a bike, or tie my shoes, but my challenges made me who I am today. It is the inside that counts.  I focus on what I can do, not what I cannot do, and continue to live my best life. I hope you do too.

Our book publishes on Sept 15, 2021 by Albert Whitman & Co. 

We hope you will share it with your families and your classrooms.

We want to get the word out...if you know of any podcasts, blogs or organizations who may want to know more about this book and our story, please reach out to Maryann at mcleffler@aol.com or the Publicity Dept at Albert Whitman & Co.

Warmly- Maryann & Janine


Announcing - Our Upcoming Book:

We Want to Go To School! The Fight for Disability Rights

Albert Whitman & Co. Sept 2021

Did you know that before 1971 children with disabilities did not have the legal right to attend public schools? Well, it is true. The history of education for children with disabilities was grim. 

In 1971, seven families in the Washington, DC area, who's children were denied a public school education because of their disabilities, joined together to fight for their childrens' rights, and won! Because of their bravery, children with disabilities all over America now have the right to an appropriate public school education.

This is their story.

I am very proud to have co-authored this book, with my daughter Janine. We look forward to sharing it with you.

Above- The Publisher's Weekly announcement

Our book is publishing in September 2021 by Albert Whitman & Co.
 Stay tuned...More to come!
Keep Fighting-
Maryann & Janine


Check out: Same Way Ben



Same Way Ben 

A new book by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Maryann's inspiration for this book came from a child with autism who had difficulty 
with change, though this book would help every child with transition.

Description:
Ben likes things the same way every day at school—he sits at the same table, eats the same lunch, and likes the daily class routine. But when his teacher leaves to have her baby and a substitute teacher comes and changes everything, Ben gets upset—he liked everything the way it was before! But Ben starts to think differently about change and realizes that doing things another way can be fun.

Review:
Bright, cartoony drawings make the daily routine of a classroom come alive, worthily representing the center of this child’s world…Young readers, including many not on the spectrum, can empathize with the character’s reluctance to embrace change, so the book could be a good discussion starter. Sensitively pragmatic.  - Kirkus Reviews

Same Way Ben  Published by Albert Whitman & Co.  2019

Lessons Learned

I have visited many schools this Spring reading JANINE and Janine and the Field Day Finish. These books opened up discussions about the importance of being proud of who you are, 
being kind and inclusive and standing up for others. 
These Kindergartners & 1st graders from Hampstead, NH certainly got the message:









THANK YOU to the schools who hosted me this Spring and to the children 
who gave me hugs, sent me cards and showed me kindness. You are all Spectacular!
As you compete in your own Field Days...remember...
"Being a Winner is not always about being Number ONE!"
XO Maryann
and Janine!

Show Your Ribbons!

A HOT NEW FAD is making it's way around schools! JANINE has inspired kids to be Spectacular by tying ribbons to their shoes...Just like Janine...
REMEMBER....Being a WINNER is not always about being Number One!


READ AND SHARE and show your Ribbons!



Time for School Visits


Most of the time I visit schools "in person"- but sometimes I'll visit a classroom 
via Google Hang Out or Skype-
Today I visited a first grade class in Drayton Valley, Alberta Canada 
and shared the new Janine book, Janine and the Field Day Finish.
Thank you to the entire class for your great questions and for performing 
the JANINE CHEER!
You are SPECTACULAR!