Stories and their authors have made their way into Conshohocken Elementary School to teach students about kindness.

Local author shares stories about accepting others' differences

Author Hillary Sussman and her books, Roxy and Maliboo: It’s Okay to Be Different and Roxy and Tully: Words Matter, visited the school for an assembly where students learned about some of the differences people can have.

Author Hillary Sussman reads to crowd of elementary schoolers sitting on floor

Sussman talks to students about treating each other with kindness.

Sussman is a physical therapist. When the pandemic kept her from going into work, she started writing for children. Her main character, Roxy, is based on her real-life dog, who has had several surgeries on her legs. “I thought about creating a character I equated to Clifford from when I grew up,” she says. “I wanted there to be a loveable character that was visibly different to teach kids about representation.”

In the books, Roxy is a three-legged dog who teaches readers about both visible and invisible disabilities. “In my second book, Roxy wears a prosthesis,” Sussman continues. “It’s a great way to educate kids about limb difference awareness and differences in general.”

Students are already demonstrating their comprehension of the message. “Roxy explained to the other dog that it’s okay to be different,” first grader Bridget Heck says. “It means you be kind to your friends if there’s something that makes them different.”

Sussman’s books are helping students understand the differences people can have and showing them how to treat each other with kindness no matter what. “In the book, they were playing together,” notes first grader Liam Shakirzyanov. “They were friends.”

You Matter project helps students understand everyone is important

Elsewhere in Conshohocken Elementary, students also watched a video of author Christian Robinson reading his book, You Matter, to them. The project ran under the direction of the Helping Hands Club in collaboration with No Place for Hate and the Great Kindness Challenge.

“Near or far, big or small, first or last, you matter.” That’s the premise of the book, which takes readers on a journey exploring the world through a variety of perspectives. It’s what drew Instructional Aide Becky Cosgrave to the book, saying, “It’s so simple, but it carries a lot of meaning.”

Mrs. Cosgrave runs Helping Hands alongside Instructional Aide Stacey Baker. They tie each of their activities to a book that fits the theme. “Books are important to make the topics understandable and relatable to the students,” says Mrs. Baker. “The more we read, the more kids will read and develop a love for learning.”

Students were tasked to write what matters to them on heart-shaped paper, now displayed in the school cafeteria. Third grader Michael Coine wrote about his brothers, saying, “‘You matter’ means to be special.”

“Even if you’re big, small, or in between, you still matter,” adds third grader Emma Bergey. “It means that you can do everything and you can be who you want to be.”

Great Kindness Week is a week-long celebration of treating others with kindness. This was the second of three of the school’s No Place for Hate activities. 

Two students stand in front of "You Matter" sign

Michael Coine and Emma Bergey from the Helping Hands club show off the school's "You Matter" project.