SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — Seeing yourself represented in books, movies, and TV shows — can mean a lot to little kids.
It’s why Dr. Jessica Hoefler started Piper’s Key in 2020.
The Summit County-based nonprofit gifts inclusive books to children with disabilities, showing themselves.
Kids in wheelchairs, using hearing devices and ventilators, dealing with mild to severe autism.
“I really wanted them to be able to open a book, look at it, say ‘That’s me! they look just like me,’ and get excited not only about literacy and reading, but just having that confidence that being different is OK,” Hoefler said.
Piper’s Key is named after the daughter they lost, Piper Grace, who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy type 0 and passed after just 27 days on earth.
“Really, I wanted a way to still be able to parent her,” Hoefler said. “As a mom that’s bereaved, I wanted to be able to say her name every day without that heavy grief.”
And Piper’s legacy is lasting.
In the less than two years since Piper’s Key was started, they have gifted more than 5,000 books all over the United States and Canada.
The goal is to empower children and their families.
Hoefler drops off books by the arm full at Akron Children’s Hospital for doctors and nurses to hand out, and mails out books any time she gets an emailed request.
“So if someone emails me and says, ‘hey do you have a book on this disability or someone using this tool?’ I will find one,” Hoefler said.
And if she can’t find one, well, she often finds an author to write one, like Megan Higgins.
Her 5-year-old daughter Isabella has a neuromuscular disorder.
“When she was 18 months, I knew she was going to need leg braces,” Higgins said. “So at that point, I was looking for a book because children learn best about the world through books.”
When she couldn’t find one that fit, Higgins decided to write a book herself — featuring her daughter, her adorable dimples, and her leg braces.
“Her book is called Super Special Magic Shoes and that’s what we’ve always called her leg braces. Her magic shoes, her super girl shoes, it was something fun,” Higgins said.
The majority of books featuring children with disabilities are written by the parents, the children themselves, or by specialists; major publishing houses rarely produce or carry them.
“And it’s because parents like us realize what needs to be out there,” Higgins said. “So we know what we would want to see for our children.”
If you’d like to request a book, you can email Piper’s Key by clicking here.
If you are interested in donating to the nonprofit, click here.