Home Essex CountyCaldwell Meet Melissa Brady Petrillo, an Essex County Teacher + Children’s Book Author

Meet Melissa Brady Petrillo, an Essex County Teacher + Children’s Book Author

by Victoria Marie Moyeno
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Melissa Brady Petrillo is a Caldwell resident, an Essex County special education teacher for seven years, and an author who recently published a children’s book about autism called Sometimes. As an educator, Melissa has noticed the lack of literature about characters with disabilities and wanted to publish another book that children can read to learn more about autism. She recently spoke at the New Jersey Teacher’s Convention about how characters with disabilities are portrayed in literature. The text is told from the perspective of a biracial, female child with autism. Read on to learn more about Mellissa and her new book.

About Melissa

melissa brady petrillo teacher author

Melissa Brady Petrillo is an educator with a passion for promoting empathy and inclusivity in her classroom. Melissa earned her Education and English degrees from Caldwell University in 2014, followed by her master of arts degree in educational leadership in 2018.
In college, when Melissa completed a research project about how children’s ability levels are portrayed in literature, she implemented her research to write a book from a child’s perspective.
Her goal is to help students and families understand that everyone encompasses a unique mindset that must be valued in our world today. In her free time, Melissa enjoys reading, traveling, and working on extracurricular leadership activities with her students. Melissa is ecstatic to publish her first book and hopes she can shed light on Samantha’s perspective of the world.
Sometimes can be purchased through several local bookstores, including Little City Books in Hoboken, WORD Bookstore in Jersey City, [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, and Amazon. “[words] Bookstore in Maplewood has a wonderful mission to employ adults on the autism spectrum. I think it is imperative we continue to support these businesses,” Melissa told Montclair Girl.

Montclair Girl: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration for the book?

Melissa Brady Petrillo: All of the students I have worked with throughout my career have been my inspiration for this book. Prior to teaching, I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Hope through the ARC of Essex County while I was in high school and college. Through my work at Camp Hope and throughout my teaching career, I have met so many wonderful children and young adults who inspired me to write this book. In order to create a more inclusive future, we must all work as individuals to understand one another.

MG: Why was it important to offer the perspective of a biracial female child?

MBP: When earning my undergraduate career at Caldwell University, I completed a research project in which I studied the topic of disabilities in children’s literature. After conducting several book reviews, I learned that a majority of books featured neurodiverse white males as the main characters of the story. Literature should serve as mirrors for children and young adults. As a result, I published a book narrated by a female, biracial autistic child. It is imperative that autistic females can identify with Samantha as a character. It is also so important that we read books to children that feature people of color as main characters. Additionally, it is important that readers see an array of neurodiverse characters throughout literature so they can understand different perspectives of people in our world.
melissa brady petrillo

MG: What are your goals for this year?

MBP: Throughout this year and the upcoming years, my goal is to create a more inclusive future for children and young adults. One way to create an inclusive future is by providing more literature for individuals, parents, and educators to access that features characters of different ability levels. Additionally, I am going to continue to support local businesses that employ adults who are on the autism spectrum. It is imperative that we support members of our community throughout their educational career, as well as adulthood.

MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?

MBP: A typical day in my life includes teaching, self-care, and advocacy work. Each morning, I wake up and prepare for my day of teaching. This preparation can take place in the form of preparing lessons or grading. I am always excited to begin a new school day and I am inspired by the students, educators, and administrators I work with on a daily basis. When I come home, I think it is important that I practice self-care. I exercise self-care through exercising by walking through Grover Cleveland Park or taking a spin class at Evolve fitness. Sometimes, my self-care routine will include sitting on my front porch with a good book, getting my nails done, or meeting a friend for coffee. Then, after making dinner, I begin my advocacy work. I am grateful that I have worked with the New Jersey Education Association to present information about disabilities and children’s literature at the teacher’s convention. At other times, I am arranging virtual read aloud with schools or contacting businesses to ensure we have diverse libraries. My day is very busy, but I love every second of it!

What has been the highlight in your life so far?

MBP: The highlight of my life right now has been the positive response I have received about “Sometimes.” Many parents expressed to me that this story helped them to have a conversation about neurodiversity with their children. If we begin to have these conversations with our children, we can take more positive steps towards creating a more inclusive future.

Local Fun

melissa brady petrillo

MG: What are your favorite restaurants in Montclair + Caldwell?

MBP: Villalobos in Montclair and Dough and Xunta in Caldwell.

MG: What are your favorite boutiques in Montclair + Caldwell?

MBP: Culture Couture in Montclair and On Bloom in Caldwell.

MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?

MBP: I love eating at all of the wonderful restaurants in Essex County! You can always find a restaurant based on your interests.

MG: Is there a business in the area you admire?

MBP: Montclair Bread Company is truly a business I admire. This business is not only inclusive but it is run by strong individuals who have good hearts and host some wonderful classes. Plus, the donuts are delicious! Also, Watchung Booksellers has such a wonderful array of books! They are always willing to help you expand your reading and help you find the book you are searching for and [words] Bookstore in Maplewood has a wonderful mission to employ adults on the autism spectrum.

MG: What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Essex County?

MBP: The Overlook at South Mountain in West Orange has a beautiful view of the skyline! It is one of my favorite places to drive to and think about life. I also love going for walks in Grover Cleveland Park and Verona Park.

MG: Where do you go out with friends in the area?

MBP: Since my friends and I have all been trying to stay outdoors, we love hanging out at the MC Hotel Rooftop or Eagans in Montclair. We also enjoy grabbing a cup of coffee at Rockin’ Joe’s in Caldwell. We also love to stop by Just Jake’s to hear some live music!

MG: What is something you think needs to come to Montclair or Caldwell?

MBP: I would love to see more restaurants that host cooking classes in our area. I think this is a great way for people to meet one another and learn some new skills! I would also love to see more businesses that employ neurodiverse adults in our community. I think many members of our towns would be happy to support these businesses.
To keep up with Melissa, follow on Instagram at @melbrady10. For more information on her book Sometimes, watch the book trailer here.

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