Two-year-old Kena didn’t notice that her hearing aids were attracting attention during storytime at the library—but her mom did. “I can’t let other kids define who Kena is,” her mom, Krystyna, confided to Kena’s grandmother that evening. “I want her to be fierce.”
The conversation resonated with Grandma Becky Cymbaluk, so she started writing. When she finally put down her pen, her granddaughter was a superhero in a children’s book titled “Super Kena, A Girl Made Fierce with Hearing Aids.”
The colorfully illustrated book stars Kena, a girl with hearing aids, as she works through issues with classmates who don’t understand her hearing loss. With the help of her mom, Kena realizes her hearing aids give her ears “super powers” and makes plans to form a team of her other differently-abled friends in an effort to explain their super powers to the class during Show and Tell.
The hardcover book is available at www.superkena.com for $ 14.95 or as a digital download for $ 2.99. Coloring pages for each of the characters in the book are also available at no charge on the website.
Kena was born with mondini dysplasia, an inner ear malformation that is present at birth. While normal cochleas (the snail-shaped part of the inner ear) have two coils, those with mondini dysplasia only have one and a half coils. The rare disease can affect one or both ears and occurs in the seventh week of gestation.
Kena, who has mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, received her first hearing aid at three and a half months. She was 18 months old when she received a second hearing aid in the other ear.
More: Infants and hearing loss
Grandma is fierce, too
Cymbaluk said she wrote the book because she couldn’t find any children’s books with characters who wore hearing aids.
As she thought more about content, she realized she wanted to include other children who might be struggling with challenges day to day and drew on personal experience to create the characters. Her daughter, Anna, now a pediatric endocrinologist, encouraged Cymbaluk to include a diabetic in the book. Her son, who used to stutter, saw a speech therapist and was in a wheelchair for a time after surgery. Kena’s mom, Krystyna is a teacher and had children with peanut allergies in her past classes. Cymbaluk, herself an asthmatic, included a child who needed an inhaler.
“It was a huge labor of love for me and I did it because of Kena,” Cymbaluk said. “I included the Show and Tell aspect to let kids know that they can explain to the class ‘what this is and what it does for me.’ A big step to acceptance is helping little kids understand why.”
Now three and a half, Kena recognizes the character on the book’s cover as herself and frequently wears the purple superhero cape grandma bought for her around the house. The first time she saw the book’s cover, she pointed at the hearing aids and said “just like me.” Her favorite part of the book is the white poodle, which resembles Lola, her own little white dog. The last time she visited grandma, she put her fist in the air and proclaimed “I am fierce!”
‘Everyone has a different challenge’
“She’s becoming more aware of what they do for her,” Cymbaluk said of Kena’s hearing aids. “It’s a journey. It will change as she goes.”
Super Kena is geared toward children in grades K-2. Cymbaluk has donated the books to several libraries and hopes one day to see them in pediatrician’s offices. She wants every child who reads the book to feel more confident, strong and compassionate towards others.
“I hope they realize that every child is fighting something,” she said. “Everyone has a different challenge. Sometimes it’s on the outside, sometimes it’s on the inside. We are all fierce. We are more alike than we are different.”