Creating a New Kind of SuperheroMelissa Miles is changing the way children view superheros. Her new book, Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day, is getting lots of buzz for its unique protagonist--a child with a tracheostomy. Since its release in April of 2019, children and adults have fallen in love with the book and what it represents.
Melissa has worked with children for most of her life. She started out as a nurse in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care, and she later became a school nurse at Rincon Elementary. She then earned her Masters in Elementary Education and taught four years in Effingham County before returning to nursing.
Though she didn’t begin creative writing until 2013, she quickly realized she enjoyed it. Since then, she has published three novels in addition to Jeremiah Justice, which is her first children’s picture book.
Whether she was nursing, teaching or writing, Melissa’s love for children and the desire to make a positive impact on their lives continued to grow. The idea for a special needs superhero came when her years of pediatric nursing met her talent for writing.
That is how Jeremiah Justice was born. “Special needs kids are underrepresented in children’s book publishing, and if you see special needs kids, they’re usually not the hero of the story,” Melissa says. And she plans to change that.
As the mother of a special needs child herself, Melissa knows what it’s like for her child to be labeled as “different.” Her son is on the Autism spectrum, and she has witnessed first hand how hard it can be for children and their parents.
What makes Jeremiah Justice so special is that the one thing that sets him apart-his tracheostomy– is his source of power, not a setback. “People see that plastic tube on the surface and immediately they think of it as a weakness, something that makes the child vulnerable,” says Melissa. “So I wanted that to actually become the source of his power versus something that was a weakness or something that made him less than somehow.”
In the beginning of the story, Jeremiah Justice starts to fall, but is saved by a surprising blast of air that comes from his tracheostomy tube. He deems it his “Super Tornado Blaster.” With that “PASHOWWW” from his tracheostomy, Jeremiah Justice ultimately uses his Super Tornado Blaster to save the town from supervillain, Mr. Menace.
Once the story was written, Melissa wanted to share it with the world as soon as possible. She believed in the book, and so she decided to raise the money to publish it herself. Through a Kickstarter Campaign, she earned enough money to make her dream a reality.
“It was a crowd sourcing, grassroots effort,” she says. “It took a village to make this book.” Now her supporters are reading the book they helped fund, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Crystal Napier and her son, Noah, were among the first to fall in love with the book. Like Jeremiah Justice, Noah has a tracheostomy, so he was excited to see a superhero with one, too. “Not only does this book give him a character that he can relate to,” Crystal says, “but it also gives his peers an opportunity to understand more about what makes Noah unique.
“For many children, differences make people ‘scary’ and it sometimes results in children--or even adults--avoiding him altogether,” Crystal adds. “This book takes a big step toward encouraging my son's progress and his friends' appreciation of him for the special gifts that he has to offer. My heartfelt appreciation goes to Melissa Miles and Rashad Doucet for this window to acceptance for my son and many other special people.”
Rashad Doucet is the illustrator behind Jeremiah Justice, and his talent is well known in the lowcountry. Melissa first discovered him at the Savannah Children’s Book Festival but admits she had to ask him a few times before he had the time to illustrate the project.
In the end, Doucet proved to be the perfect illustrator for the book. “I love his art. I love his style,” says Melissa. “He made it better than I had imagined, and he’s just an incredibly nice person and wonderful to work with, so it was a great choice.”
But it wasn’t enough for Melissa just to write a book about a special needs superhero; she wanted to get it into the hands of children whom it would impact the most, so she created Superhero Success Foundation, Inc. It is a nonprofit dedicated to creating more characters with special needs and donating the books to children’s hospitals, schools and camps for special needs kids.
Camp Trach Me Away is the first and only overnight summer camp in Georgia specifically for children with tracheostomies, and The Superhero Success Foundation will donate books to every child in attendance this summer.
That is one of the best aspects of the book. All proceeds from book sales go to The Superhero Success Foundation. “The reason we can donate all of the proceeds is that we raised the money up front to publish the book,” she explains.
Melissa has donated a copy of the book to every K-8 school in Chatham County and to the Child Life Specialists at the children’s unit at Memorial Health University Medical Center. Local ENT, Dr. Michael Poole, has also been given copies for his pediatric patients with tracheostomies.
Even before the book launched, Melissa has been promoting it and working tirelessly to assure the success of the nonprofit organization. Tax laws, publishing minutiae and live television interviews are admittedly not her element; and while it hasn’t been easy, it certainly has been worth it.
She has participated in career day at Sandhill Elementary and Ebeneezer Elementary, and she and Rashad Doucet have also read the book at Daffin Park’s “Books and Blankets” event. She hopes to continue sharing the book at as many events as possible.
Melissa is extremely pleased with how well the book has been received so far. “It’s been overwhelming how much positive support it’s gotten, not just from special needs moms, but just from anybody that understands there was a need in children’s book publishing,” she says. “They see this as filling a void that’s been there.”
Kelli Davis is one of those people. She teaches special education at Springfield Elementary, and her daughter, Emmory, has had a trach since she was seven months old. She has both physical and cognitive disabilities, and they often get stares from younger children who are curious.
“Melissa’s book is the absolute perfect way to introduce differences in the classroom,” Davis says. “I love the fact that the superhero has a trach, so Emmory’s peers, or any child with a trach for that matter, can see a story book character that is like them.” She plans on including the book in her classroom next year when she talks to her students about her daughter.
Melissa wants everyone to know how much it means to her to have such support from the community. From the fundraisers and donations to publicity and book sales, it couldn’t have happened without everyone rallying together for a worthy cause.
Her goal is to continue to grow Superhero Success Foundation Inc. and to create more books with more special needs superheros. If the success of Jeremiah Justice is any indication, that goal could easily become a reality.
No matter what Melissa does next, she will continue to motivate and inspire children through her writing. She sums it up best when she explains what it means to be a superhero. “I think that all of us have strengths,” she says. “We’re all unique and special. I think we’re all kind of superheros in our own way.”
For more information or to make a donation to Superhero Success Foundation, visit www.superherosuccessfoundation.com.
Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day is available at any online retailer and at Teach Right and Largesse Boutique in Rincon, GA.