At 9 years old, Katherine Magnoli wrote her first story about a parrot getting its colors by flying through a rainbow.
“Writing has always been a passion,” she said.
Magnoli, now 30, is writing books to help kids better understand and cope with disabilities.
Her series of books, The Adventures of KatGirl, follows Katherine, a young girl trying to go to school, make friends, deal with bullying and overcome obstacles that come with being in a wheelchair. And when the book’s main character isn’t teaching bullies a lesson in not judging people by their appearance, she’s a superhero whose wheelchair lets her fly.
“I wanted to write stories about a superhero in a wheelchair so kids living with disabilities can have someone to look up to and so kids without them can see disabilities in a different way,” she said.
Magnoli was born with spina bifida, a defect in which the bones of the spine don’t form properly around the spinal cord, causing paralysis of the lower limbs.
Up until age 8, Magnoli attended a children’s rehabilitation center in New York. After that, she was transferred to public school. Magnoli said she was often bullied in school.
“It was like a culture shock,” she said, “I went from being surrounded by kids just like me to being in an environment where I was the only person with physical challenges.”
When she moved to South Florida in 2005, she started volunteering at a Jewish day school in North Miami and decided to pursue a degree in special education. She said she thinks being special education teacher and being physically challenged helps her connect with students in a different way.
“I want to help kids with disabilities as best as I can,” she said.
Now, as an author of four books and a part-time student at Miami Dade College’s School of Education, she takes pride in her accomplishments and in proving she is more than her wheelchair.
“I’ve always had people tell me I would never be able to do certain things and that I was aiming too high,” she said. “I prove them wrong every time. There’s more to me than meets the eye.”
Magnoli hopes to continue publishing books. She also wants to create an after-school care program for kids with and without disabilities to come together to do homework, play sports and do creative projects together.
“I want them to be together and do things together as equals,” she said.
She wants kids with disabilities to know they can achieve their dreams and have a great life just like anyone else.
“I’m an author, I’m going to school, I play tennis and go out with friends,” Magnoli said. “Don’t let anyone knock you down.”
Magnoli presented some of her books at the Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 book fair and family night Wednesday evening.
She sat surrounded by more than 20 children who listened to her read and asked for her to sign their books.
Friends Suzane Gomez, Natalie Carmouze and Angelina de la Vega, all third-grade students at Edelcup K-8, read some of Magnoli’s books and approached her to tell her how much they enjoyed reading her books before the presentation.
“It’s a special book and teaches a good lesson,” Suzane said.
“Don’t judge someone by how they look,” Angelina said.
“And don’t bully,” Natalie added.
Caroline Mathews’ daughter Taylor also attends the K-8. Taylor read two of Magnoli’s books the day her mom bought them for her.
“She’s an avid reader,” Mathews said. “And she was excited to meet an author for the first time.”
As a parent, Mathews said she thinks the lessons taught in Magnoli’s books are good for kids.
“I think she has an amazing ability to reach children,” she said. “She really listens to them.”
The school’s Parent-Teacher Association arranged Magnoli’s visit.
“This is the first time I see the parents listening to the presenter,” said Larisa Svechin, president of the school’s PTA. “She was very inspirational.”
If you go
Katherine Magnoli will be holding other book talks in the community over the coming weeks.
▪ May 8: Lakeview Afterschool Program, 11500 NW 12th Ave.
▪ May 20: Career Day presentation at Vineland K-8 Center, 8455 SW 119th St.
▪ May 21: Career Day presentation at Kinloch Park Elementary School, 4275 NW 1st St.
▪ May 27: Career Day presentation at Palmetto Elementary School, 12401 SW 74th Ave.