Before Andy Male was a husband to Maggie, dad to Max and Madeleine, and an investment banker in Cleveland, Ohio—-he was a preemie.
Born at 27 weeks, his parents spent three months caring for him at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. The experience inspired them to give back gifting a book for every graduating family of that NICU for a year that wanted one. Seeing his family invest in other NICU families inspired him to give back, authoring a book, Go Preemies!, with fellow preemie and illustrator, Jamie Rockwell.
I stumbled upon Go Preemies! during my research for launching Preemie Mom Camp and couldn’t wait for the day when I could introduce them to each new preemie mom I met. Not only is the book beautifully done, Andy and Jamie make it easy to donate a book back to a NICU or Ronald McDonald House of your choice on their website. Check out this post on how you can win your own copy.
“Every time we see an order in a new city it makes us smile,” Andy said. “I am particularly thankful to be able to go back to my NICU and see our book there. Anytime a preemie family sends a picture with their preemie and our book, it really doesn’t get any better than that.”
Got to know Andy and the story behind Go Preemies!
Q. Where did you get the idea for Go, Preemies!?
A. Mostly from two sources: first, thinking about my parents’ three-month experience in the NICU and talking to recent NICU parents and preemies while volunteering. Parents who spend hundreds and thousands of hours in the NICU have little encouraging or fun materials to read to their preemie. And second, thinking about my 7-year-old self, struggling with developmental delays, and what I would have loved to have read at that time.
Just knowing one of the ten stories we highlight in Go Preemies! would have given me that little bit of encouragement to push through adversity. The stories of these characters are well known within the preemie community and the illustrator, Jamie Rockwell, and I thought parents would enjoy having a fun and inspirational book to read to their preemies in NICU and also have that keepsake as a book for the preemies themselves to read as they grow up.
Q. What was the process like? Tell me about taking the book from an idea to reality.
A. For years I had been wanting to make a meaningful contribution to the preemie community. I had been a preemie research participant, done some advocacy work and fundraising, as well as consulting for other preemie product companies, and really wanted to create something unique. I had been aware of most of the preemie characters having read about their premature birth in books and on websites. I thought “Wow, I would have loved to have known these stories” and about how fun they would be to tell a young preemie about. I had nine characters originally, but wanted more so I researched to see who else I could find. Once I discovered the Wilma Rudolph story I knew we had enough and a great balance of characters. From there I did a lot of research on each character, sketched out the pages and themes and then sought out an illustrator.
I got proposals from dozens of illustrators from all over the world and was overwhelmed by the responses. In the back of my mind, I thought I had the perfect illustrator here in Cleveland, my lifelong friend, Jamie Rockwell. Jamie is a world-class illustrator. We met to discuss the book, he sketched out his ideas and, our friendship aside, he was clearly the best fit. Jamie and I turned a few versions and before we knew it had a draft that could go to a printer. My favorite story during the making of Go Preemies! was that Jamie casually showed his mother what he was working on and she told him that he, too, was a preemie! We had not known at that point and took that as a fortuitous sign. Jamie’s illustrations really bring the stories to life and are what we get the most compliments on.
Q. Did you see a void for this kind of book?
A. Yes, both for parents who want a book to read to their preemies in the NICU and for young preemies to read themselves as they grow up. Parents are often asking for books to read in the NICU, for example some will finish the Harry Potter series. There are tons of medical-focused NICU books and the classic children’s books…we figured parents would like to have a fun, engaging and inspirational book to read to their preemies. We want all preemies to know what preemies can achieve and strive for despite the challenges of their preterm birth. We are not all going to be as smart as Einstein and Newton, witty as Twain, fast as Rudolph or sing like Stevie Wonder…but we can aspire and strive towards our own goals with confidence.
Q. You allow buyers to donate a book to a NICU. Tell me about that decision.
A. Giving back to NICUs has always been a driving force for me. I was fortunate to have been cared for by the professionals at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and one of the first large donations my family made was a book for every graduating family for a year that wanted one. That was pretty special and we figured that other families would like to give back to their NICU in a meaningful, yet cost effective way. We can’t all write the big checks that hospitals court, but for $20 you can give an impactful gift to another preemie family going through a similar experience in the same NICU.
Q. How many books have been donated so far?
A. We have books distributed to about 150 NICUs and preemie charities so far. With over 1,000 total NICUs and Ronald McDonald Houses in the U.S., we are just getting started to meet our goal. We have a section on our website called “Gift a Book to a NICU” that allows readers to select from a drop down box their favorite NICU or charity. The address information is auto-populated at check-out and we include a custom bookplate so that the NICU families can see who the book was gifted from.
Q. What do you see as the next evolution of Go, Preemies!? Are there plans for any additional books or products?
A. We have an app in development. All of our characters stories are voiced by different professional actors. For example, the Winston Churchill page is read by an actor that sounds just like Winston Churchill. Mark Twain sounds like you think Mark Twain would. There are also fun “Easter eggs” throughout so when you child presses certain parts of the page they get a funny surprise (hint: Einstein’s tongue). We are also looking at some unique ways to distribute our content with other preemie support partners.
Q. How does the typical preemie mom or gift hunter find you?
A. We do not have a marketing budget, so we really rely on recommendations. Preemie families find out about us mostly through word-of-mouth or from seeing our book in their NICU respite room. Once preemie parents (and grandparents!) find us they will usually gift a copy to their preemie and their NICU. Families also learn about us through the preemie support community like Preemie Mom Camp. The preemie community is blessed to have preemie families like yours that give back with their time, energy and resources. Go PMC and Go Preemies!
Q. What kind of feedback do you all get from people who order and receive books?
A. Overwhelmingly positive. Our Facebook and Amazon reviews are very heartwarming and exactly what we hoped for when we started sketching out the book. We have received pictures and thank you notes from many families and just seeing one of those makes the many late nights creating the book and the expense of publishing worth it many times over. I am very thankful to know that we have benefited preemie families in a positive way, even if that total is a drop in the bucket of the 500,000 families that experience premature birth every year. We wake up every day excited to meet our next preemie friend.
Want to win a copy of Go Preemies!? Check out this post for instructions to enter.