Alum shares published children’s book with Shawnee middle, high schoolers

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

When Hannah Spitzer graduated from Shawnee High School in 2019, she never anticipated she would return years later to present a Book Talk.

Spitzer, who will graduate from the University of Cincinnati next week, is the published author and illustrator of “Mateo,” a children’s book addressing barriers experienced by students learning English as a Second Language (ESL).

“I never went into college imagining that I could, or would ever want to write a children’s book,” she told Shawnee middle and high school students. “I was on track to finish my student teaching, write my final thesis paper, earn my Bachelor of Fine Arts (degree) and teach art in Cincinnati.”

Spitzer said as her plan was unfolding, it was her student teaching semester that diverted her course of action.

“(It) made me realize that teaching as a career is so much more than just education,” she said. “I would see talented artists give up or do the bare minimum because they didn’t understand or didn’t feel understood.”

Spitzer credits her high school Spanish teachers for encouraging her to speak Spanish often so she could communicate with Spanish-speaking students about their struggles in the classroom.

“Hearing their stories made me see not only how much of an impact these language barriers have on learning, but also that no one seems to have an answer to this problem,” she said.

From her experience in the classroom, her book “Mateo” was born.

“‘Mateo’ is a story about my real experiences teaching art in several Cincinnati Public Schools with heavily populated immigrant communities,” said Spitzer. “Every day I was witnessing frustrations in the communication between teachers and their English … like ‘Mateo.’”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“These complex relationships are what ultimately inspired my idea for the book,” she said.

Spitzer shared with students her journey from high school graduation, through college and the entire publishing process. She explained storyboards, receiving constructive feedback and achieving the end goal of becoming a published writer and illustrator.

She also offered advice for young artists and authors who are just starting out, encouraging them to be true to themselves, value feedback, and be a lifelong learner.

Most importantly, she said, “Take advantage of every opportunity.”

“Take every opportunity that comes your way, even if you’re scared or it’s not exactly what you thought you’d be doing,” she said. “If it doesn’t work out, see everything as a learning opportunity in the journey of getting where you want to be.”

Spitzer said attending college opened many doors for her, but she is also a proponent of self-teaching and “YouTube University.”

“Don’t cancel your dreams because you can’t go to college,” she said.

Spitzer said she doesn’t know if “Mateo” will solve the issues of language barriers in the classroom, but she hopes that it inspires and serves as a reminder of how far small acts of kindness, a little bit of empathy and a lot of heart can go.

“Writing ‘Mateo’ has been one of my greatest adventures so far and it has reached groups of people I never thought it would,” she said. “My stories are heavily influenced by the people I meet, the students I teach and the things I experience as a young adult transitioning out of college.”

Her goal was to sell 30 books, but almost 200 copies of “Mateo” have been purchased since March 4. Spitzer would like to also publish “Mateo” in Spanish.

Shawnee English teacher Whitney Adams said it is important for other students to see success stories and how they can positively impact others.

“Our goal is to help students find their passion or passions,” she said. “It’s a blessing when we see an alumni take their passion and run with it. We are so proud of Hannah and all that she is accomplishing.”

Mateo is available on for $11.99

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