Maureen (McNulty) Valvassori's desire to see faces similar to her family's reflected in children's books led the 1981 St. Ambrose graduate to a relationship with a purple dinosaur and a career in writing.
Valvassori was a mother of three young children in the 1990s, and her adopted middle son is of African-American decent. At the time, she couldn't find children's books that depicted interracial families. So, she created her own solution.
Using her background in creative writing, she wrote books for her kids enlisting her own family's pictures. Exhilarated by the process and the desire to empower other interracial families, she wrote to a friend in the publishing industry asking if this type of book could be made.
After receiving a resounding ‘yes,' Valvassori was contacted by publishers of the Barney the Dinosaur books. They loved her idea - it spoke to their family life as well - and asked her to write a Barney storybook.
She wrote seven Barney books, and attributes the start of her writing career to her children. "They inspired me to put something together for them when there was nothing," she said.
Fast-forward to early 2018 when Valvassori's ties to SAU sparked the desire to write another children's book. Before she joined an alumni trip to Italy, her curious nature led her to research Saint Ambrose of Milan in the most time-effective way she knew. "If you want to learn about a topic, pick up a children's book," she noted. "They cut right to the chase."
But déjà vu ensued. She couldn't find any children's books about Saint Ambrose. The seed to write her next storybook was planted before she left the States.
In Italy, she journaled about the sites she visited and what she was feeling at each place. Those notes became the foundation for her upcoming alphabet book, A is for Ambrose, set to be released in September.
"B is for bees...When Ambrose was a baby, [legend says] there were bees buzzing around his face, one landing near his lips. Instead of stinging him, the bee left a drop of honey. When his father saw this, he said, ‘my son's words will be as sweet as honey.'"
Ambrose did, in fact, grow up to become an influential speaker and preacher.
While writing the storybook, Valvassori reconnected to SAU in a surprising way. She admits she didn't quite fully appreciate SAU's core values as a young student but they resonate with her now as an alumna.
"[Ambrose] had this incredibly strong foundation of faith, an unyielding spirituality. He was a huge proponent of service and was always advocating for those in need," she said.
Valvassori realized these themes were true in her life as well, and it's those values she wants to communicate to children through A is for Ambrose.
Illustration Credit: Sue Cahill