This Is Rutherford
This is Andrea Mondadori Llauget
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Andrea Mondadori Llauget
As an educator, coach, and Student Council advisor at West Essex High School for over twenty years, Andrea Mondadori Llauget has inspired many students to reach outside their comfort zones and learn about what else might interest them. In an essay, Andrea wrote for the Governor’s Educator of the Year Award that she earned for the 2020-2021 school year, she explained, “Make your students feel like they are the most important thing in the world to you at that moment so they know someone believes in them and is trying to make a difference in their life. It is only through our engagement in the lives of our students that students are able to engage in the material that we are tasked with teaching them.” Recently, Andrea wrote and published her first children’s book, Cosmic Cousins Visit Jupiter. This is Rutherford spoke with Andrea about her new book, which is the first book in a series, and why she chose to write it.
TIR: What inspired you to write this book and book series?
Andrea Llauget: My son Colt is in Pre-K4 and both my husband and I are high school teachers. When we were shut down in March and in quarantine, it was a challenge to do both. We found doing our own teaching in the morning and working with our son in the afternoon was the best way to go. We found that his memory was really strong but he lacked the imagination component for children his age. At night, I would read him books (which he loved). I realized that if I can take a subject of something he already knows and is interested in (the solar system) and connect it to something he can use his imagination with, it would ignite something. I started making up stories about him and his cousins and let him decide what the next moves would be. My sister had this Melissa and Doug rocketship in her living room that the cousins (Nathan, Colt, and Jake) would play with. So I would start the story by saying "we are going to take the rocket ship in the toy room and which planet do you want to go to?" Colt would say "Jupiter" so we started there. Jupiter has a giant red spot, so I would ask, "Which game do you want to play?" and he would answer "hide and seek". So it started as a simple story that we would create together and eventually, it became a trip to each planet. We would play a different kid game on each of the planets. On Saturn (book 2), we have a race on the rings and the rings look like a high school racetrack, on Venus we play the Floor is Lava, on Mercury we play crater tag, on Mars we play Red Rover, Red Rover, and on Earth, we play Marco Polo. While the kids are exploring the new planet, they learn facts about the planet. One of the best features of the book is making it interesting for both the adult and the child, making it educational, and also relating it to games that kids play. The Cosmic Cousins are my son Colt (4), Kayla my sister Dawn's daughter), Jake, and Nathan (my sister Leah's children). You can learn more information on the website. There are other cousins that make an appearance later on in the other books.
TIR: This book is part of a series. What types of adventures can readers expect to see the Cosmic Cousins take part in?
AL: Yes- we have 8 books planned if all goes well. My idea is to see how the first couple of books go and keep rolling it into the next book. Right now, Saturn is in the works for book 2.
TIR: As an educator for twenty years and a parent of a preschooler, what have you learned about the importance of instilling a love of reading?
AL: Reading books at an early age is the most important thing you can do for a child. Reading builds a child's vocabulary, imagination, and a passion for learning.
TIR: Which age groups do you think will most enjoy this book series?
AL: I would say ages 3-9 would be the perfect age for the book.
TIR: What have you enjoyed about this experience (writing the book and having it published)?
AL: The most amazing thing about this process was seeing it come to life with illustrations. I had images in my head but I never thought it could be brought to life the way the illustrator, John McNees, did it.
TIR: You grew up in Rutherford, went through the Rutherford public schools, and graduated from Rutherford High School in 1998. What do you remember most about growing up in a close-knit community?
AL: I think the best part of growing up in Rutherford was spending all of my time at Memorial Field. We lived there. Whether it was our own sports, or my parents playing in their adult volleyball and softball leagues, we made so many friends at that park.
"Several years ago, Andrea reached out to find ways to engage students at West Essex with Angelwish. It has been one of the most creative and meaningful relationships we have had with the next generation of givers. From student councils to athletes to her business students, we’ve been fortunate to benefit from her creativity, thoughtfulness, and ability to juggle so many things that it is no surprise she has been able to develop the Cosmic Cousins series during a pandemic," explained Shimmy Mehta, CEO of Angelwish and Andrea's friend.
TIR: Are there are any Rutherford educators who inspired you to pursue a career in education?
AL: John Arlotta (former softball coach and teacher at Rutherford High School) is the person I have to thank for hiring me as a teacher at West Essex. He truly believed in me and my career and gave me opportunities. I owe my entire career to him. When I graduated from college in May of 2001, I was headed for corporate America in NYC. I began interviewing all over, including the World Trade Center. I quickly realized that I wanted to change course after the interviews. John called me in early June of 2001- he was director of Business, Math, and Science at West Essex and the Accounting teacher just retired and they needed to quickly fill the position. He asked me if I ever considered teaching- while I didn't major in education, I come from a family of teachers. I entertained the interview and I fell in love with the profession quickly after spending the day observing teachers and coaches. I was able to do the alternate route program and be hired to start in September. The rest is history.
I recall my Physics teacher senior year of high school, Dr. Adams. Dr. Adams took a combination of artists, athletes, and disengaged students who were averse to learning physics and connected each and every physics lesson to best to what she had learned that we were passionate about. I found a deep connection to the class material and to the amazing world of complex physics problems. The most rewarding feeling I have as an educator is when an art, music, or computer science student sits down in my classroom on the first day of school and tells me that they decided to take accounting because they wanted to experience the teacher they heard about. The even more rewarding part is when I accept the challenge to find a way to relate what they know to Accounting I and they find true passion in the subject. At the end of the day, I have Dr. Adams, a physics teacher from Rutherford High School to thank.
Mr. John Arlotta told TIR, "Anything Andrea does will not surprise me. She was a successful athlete, teacher, and coach. All of these experiences have shaped her parenting, and I am sure led to this book."