Jenny Lacika ’06 never expected to become a children’s book author. She majored in management at MIT and started her career in management consulting.
Then multiple sclerosis changed her trajectory.
Now she is celebrating the publication of her first book, Again, Essie? It’s a feat that has taken a lot of persistence from a woman who had initially quit work because of fatigue and cognitive challenges, but Lacika says the Institute helped prepare her for the unexpected: “Learning to bounce back was a huge thing I got from MIT.”
Lacika started to write because she hoped the mental challenge would prove therapeutic. Inspired by reading to her first child, she focused on stories for children. But she had never done creative writing before, and at first “it wasn’t working because I wasn’t writing about things I was truly passionate about.”
For a long time, books about marginalized perspectives were ... not from marginalized perspectives. I want to celebrate those marginalized perspectives.
Then Lacika saw a call for submissions seeking math-based stories for preschoolers that featured a cultural element. As a Chicana from New Mexico who has always loved science, technology, engineering, and math, she recognized an opportunity to tell a story relevant to her own life. “My son was around the target age, and it was really fun exploring math concepts with him,” she says.
The cultural element of Again, Essie? is subtle—there are a few Spanish words in the English text (the book will also be published in Spanish)—but Lacika says she hopes the children in her community see themselves in the characters. “The reason it’s important to me to have this representation is just having kids see themselves as mathematical thinkers—and having other kids see them as capable,” she says.
In the book, a boy builds a wall out of everyday objects, demonstrating basic geometry. “I strive to create narratives where kids are exploring the math without any special materials or tools,” Lacika says. “In my community, there’s not a lot of room in family budgets to buy tools for math exploration.”
In addition to math-based titles currently being prepared for publication, Lacika has written Take Pride in the Ride, a children’s picture book about the fancy cars known as lowriders; it’s due out in 2024. She is also working on a book highlighting the contributions of disabled people.
“For a long time, books about marginalized perspectives were about marginalized perspectives and not from marginalized perspectives,” she says. “I want to celebrate those marginalized perspectives.”
This article also appears in the January/February 2023 issue of MIT News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.