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Special kids star in OTC instructor’s special book

Mary Datema was surprised how easily the idea for her book about kids with special needs became crystal clear.

“I was driving in the car when it came to me. It took about 20 minutes,” said the OTC adjunct Early Childhood Education instructor.

And now Datema’s book “We Are All Stars” is available through

“I can’t believe I did this,” said Datema, who also is an early childhood special education teacher for the Springfield Public School district.

In Datema’s book, young readers are invited to visit a rollicking and welcoming, inclusive classroom where children of differing abilities learn and play together every day.

The book is filled with colorful drawings of children playing in rooms. Datema came up with the rhyming verses and the publisher provided an illustrator.

“The book shows that everybody is good at something no matter who they are. I wanted the book to be about all the things children with special needs can do, not about what they can’t do,” she said.

“I wanted to show that kids with special needs could be strong, too.”

The book is dedicated “to all those who support, encourage and befriend.” Datema said she has two more ideas for books.

Datema began her teaching career at age 16, working at a local child care center after school for $1 an hour. She attended Springfield Catholic High School before college.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education (early childhood) and a master’s degree in reading as well as early childhood special education certification, both of which she earned from Missouri State University (then known as Southwest Missouri State College).

Mary Lou has taught at the preschool, kindergarten and college levels in a variety of settings for 34 years. She has been at OTC for 11 years.

“I was just drawn to special education and kids who had more of a need,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time at OTC.”

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