by Brenda Lange
In spite of a challenging childhood, Susan Love, teacher, author and activist, tapped into her inner happy child to create a magical book for kids that reminds them they are special and can achieve whatever they set their minds to.
In 2014, Love published “Ms. Love’s Mystical Island Adventure” on Kindle. The animated fantasy book features youngsters who find themselves on a secluded island, where they brave the elements and solve mysteries to save a magical orchid that shields the Earth, repairing its ozone layer. As a hurricane approaches that threatens to destroy the bloom, the children and Ms. Love race against time to discover clues to find and fix a sacred crystal, the island’s power source.
Written for children from 2nd through 6th grades, the book includes colorful, whimsical illustrations and animations by artist Patrick Harrington. Last month, the book was published in a hard cover version, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. “My goal is to be an example for children who feel lost and trapped,” Love said. “Here (in her book) they find light after the storm and keep moving toward their dreams and find people who believe in their abilities.”
Love, 50, knows firsthand how important it is for children in the foster care system to have a strong support system and mentors. At 5, she was rescued from a fire that destroyed everything her family owned and left her mother unable to care for her and her siblings. As she lived with various foster families, she endured verbal abuse and a sense of abandonment — feeling as if she did not belong anywhere. Throughout her childhood, she found solace and escape by writing stories, playing the violin and participating in gymnastics.
Love graduated from Cedar Crest College in Allentown in 1992, where she majored in education and psychology and minored in art and philosophy. She also participated in dramatic and dance productions. After graduation, she worked as a juvenile probation officer and developmental specialist, then serving as supervisor for the after-school childcare program at Allentown’s YMCA.
Love earned a master’s degree in education from Arcadia College in Glenside and then joined the School District of Philadelphia, for which she has been a primary and middle school teacher since 1998. A former Chestnut Hill resident who lived in the neighborhood for years, she is currently a 2nd grade teacher at the Patterson Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia and lives in the Northeast.
Love also advocates wherever she can for children who live with foster families. She is working on a proposal for ways to reform the system, starting by interviewing adults who were once in Philadelphia’s foster care system. She calls their stories “heartbreaking” and will share with state officials these stories that prove the system is failing and has not improved over decades. “My documentation (gleaned from interviews with those who left the system from five to 40 years ago) shows the same problems over time, just in different years … little to no improvement within the system in Philadelphia.
“Life in foster care can be devastating … I didn’t feel like society believed in me or expected anything from me.” And yet, through the years, it’s those experiences and ideas she got from conversations with friends and others that gave her ideas for the book.
Love also is greatly inspired by her students. Their assignments often ended in stories centered around the island theme with which she had decorated her classroom — complete with thatched-roof reading areas, plants, flowers and a gurgling waterfall. Many times, the students’ island stories included a character named Ms. Love, which encouraged her to write her own island adventure.
Love is a strong believer in the power of gratitude and gives thanks to those who have acted as beacons in her own life. She mentions three examples: Donna Waitz, a retired social worker from Lutheran Children & Family Services, who “believed in me as a child and saw talent in me at a young age. She encouraged me to go to college and pursue my goals,” said Love, who calls Waitz a “miracle” who helped her move past her lost self-esteem to find a purpose in life.
Dr. Carol Pulham, an English professor at Cedar Crest College, showed Love that she did not need to allow her past to interfere with her education. “She showed me that I will be stronger and more capable as long as I stay the course.”
And as an adult, Love found comfort from Maya Tsysina, M.D., her family physician in northeast Philadelphia who inspired her to achieve her current level of success. “When despair attacked me, her wise and comforting spirit inspired me to live on.”
And Love is quick to act similarly with her own students.
“It’s all about spreading love and encouragement.”
For more information, visit mslovesmysticalisland.com