Professor of English & Creative Writing
Children’s Author
Travels from: Norfolk, Virginia

“Malia, writing from an #OwnVoices perspective, illustrates how an autistic child can coexist with neurotypical children, address her personal difficulties, and—thanks to a supportive environment—thrive.” — Booklist

Jen Malia speaks to students, parents, teachers, librarians, administrators, community leaders, and writers about children’s books, autism, and neurodiversity. An autistic mom of three autistic kids, she is the author of the children’s chapter book series The Infinity Rainbow Club and the picture book Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism.

With over twenty-five years of teaching experience, Jen is currently Professor of English and Creative Writing Coordinator at Norfolk State University. She has written for or appeared on the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Parents, Glamour, Woman’s Day, Self, and others.

Jen has a B.A. in English from Bowdoin College. At the University of Southern California, she earned her Ph.D. in English, M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and a black belt in Taekwondo. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Above all else, Jen is an explorer. She has traveled to twenty countries—and counting—around the globe. Some of the highlights include taking a hot air balloon safari in Kenya, hiking the rainforests in Costa Rica, exploring the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, and climbing a waterfall in Jamaica.

Jen lived in the United Arab Emirates for four years where she was an assistant professor of writing at the American University of Sharjah. She enjoyed going on desert safaris, snorkeling with sharks, visiting mosques, and hanging out with camels. Her oldest daughter, Noelle, was born in Dubai.

Jen’s family of five is neurodivergent. She was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in her late thirties and her husband with ADHD in his mid-thirties. They have three neurodivergent kids who have different combinations of ASD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

Jen writes the children’s books she wishes she had growing up as an undiagnosed autistic girl and the books she wants her neurodivergent kids and others like them to have now. She believes neurodivergent kids deserve to see themselves as the heroes and heroines of their own stories. While she writes children’s books especially for kids with different brains, she also wants neurotypical kids to read her books, so they have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a kid with a differently wired brain.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Jen currently lives with her husband and three kids in Virginia Beach.

Jen's Featured Titles

Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament (The Infinity Rainbow Club, 3)

Beaming Books |

Perseverance, thought Connor. To not give up even when it is hard to keep going.

Connor loves practicing taekwondo at his dojang. Having ADHD means he has to work a little harder to keep his focus during sparring sessions, but that doesn’t stop him from mastering new forms and rising through the taekwondo ranks. However, when Wyatt–Connor’s nemesis–starts training at the same dojang, staying focused suddenly becomes a lot harder. Can Connor persevere and find his focus in time for the big tournament?

Written by a neurodivergent author with three neurodivergent children, Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament meets a longstanding need for chapter books written from the perspectives of kids with ADHD and is the perfect addition to any young reader’s shelf.

The Infinity Rainbow Club is a chapter book series featuring five neurodivergent children in a club at their elementary school. The club provides a safe space for stims and different communication styles to be accepted and celebrated.

Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (The Infinity Rainbow Club, 2)

Beaming Books |

The Infinity Rainbow Club is volunteering at the local natural history museum where Violet’s parents work. Violet loves setting up the new augmented reality exhibit, but she worries that something will go wrong. Her OCD has her repeatedly checking for errors. Can Violet find a way to trust her work and enjoy the exhibit?

The Infinity Rainbow Club is a chapter book series featuring five neurodivergent children in a club at their elementary school. The club provides a safe space for stims and different communication styles to be accepted and celebrated.

Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (The Infinity Rainbow Club, 1)

Beaming Books |

When the Infinity Rainbow Club at school competes in a brick builder challenge, Nick can’t wait to participate! Until he learns he must have a partner–the new girl. Nick wants to work alone. But to win, he’ll have to figure out how to be part of a team.

A story about the universal struggle of learning to work together on a team, told from the perspective of an autistic child.

The Infinity Rainbow Club is a chapter book series featuring five neurodivergent children in a club at their elementary school. The club provides a safe space for stims and different communication styles to be accepted and celebrated.

Too Sticky!: Sensory Issues with Autism

Albert Whitman & Company |

Holly loves doing experiments and learning new things in science class! But when she finds out the next experiment is making slime, she’s worried. Slime is made with glue, and glue is sticky. Holly has sensory issues because of her autism and doesn’t like anything sticky! With help from family and her teacher, Holly receives the accommodations and encouragement she needs to give slime a try.


Too Sticky! The Science of Slime and Storytelling

Jen reads a scene from her picture book, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism, where the main character participates in a slime experiment at school. Using the slime recipe in the backmatter of her book, she leads students through a slime experiment while explaining the science of slime. Students tell or write about their experiences. (Grades K-5, 45 minutes)


The Infinity Rainbow Club and Kids with Different Brains

Jen shares her personal story of growing up as an undiagnosed autistic girl and learning about how her brain works a little differently. She leads a discussion of neurodiversity—brains that work a little differently—in relation to the characters in the series. Students brainstorm a new adventure for the Infinity Rainbow Club kids. (Grades 2 and up, 45 minutes)


Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit: Dinosaur Digs, Augmented Reality, and Research

Jen shares her experience hunting for dinosaur bones with her kids when researching Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit. She shows how an old newspaper article, the history of the Bone Wars, and Jurassic dinosaur bones in a natural history museum inspired the book. Students participate in an interactive activity where they experiment with augmented reality by putting a dinosaur in the classroom or library and taking photos with it. (Grades 2 and up, 45 minutes)


Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge: LEGO Masters for Kids and Creativity

Jen reads a scene from Nick and Brick Builder Challenge and shares how the story is based on her kids’ experiences with LEGO. Using the basic principles of engineering, she leads students in building a simple plastic brick build design inspired by the book. Students respond to a writing prompt to come up with a new brick build design of their own. (Grades 2 and up, 45 minutes)


Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament: From Martial Arts to English Language Arts

Drawing on her expertise as a black belt in Taekwondo, Jen leads students in basic kicks while introducing them to numbers, basic commands, and the names of kicks in the Korean language. She uses a scene from Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament to show how we know from textual clues what the Korean words mean. Students practice translating Korean words from another passage in the book. (Grades 2 and up, 45 minutes)


Creative Writing Workshop: From Idea to Story

Using a scene from her picture book Too Sticky! or her chapter book series, The Infinity Rainbow Club, Jen uses color-coded highlighting to show how the story can be broken down into different types of writing like dialog and thoughts. Students write their own story inspired by a photo or illustration. (Grades 3 and up, 45 minutes)


Neurodiversity in Classrooms and Libraries

In a room full of 25 students, at least 5 students have differently wired brains. Jen shares why she writes books like Too Sticky! and the Infinity Rainbow Club series that center neurodivergent characters. She also leads a discussion on the importance of having books by neurodivergent authors in classrooms and libraries to give kids authentic representations of neurodivergence in books. (For teachers and librarians, 45-60 minutes)


Writing Children’s Books

Do you have an idea for a children’s book? Jen offers advice on the choices that should be made on form, genre, age category, and point of view when writing children’s books. Participants respond to writing prompts that will lead them on the path to a promising story. (For teachers and librarians, 45-60 minutes)


Students as the Heroes and Heroines of Their Own Stories

Jen shares how her real-life experiences as an autistic mom of three neurodivergent kids inspires her fiction. She also shows how students can be the heroes and heroines of their own stories by putting their real-life experiences in fictional stories. (For teachers, 45-60 minutes)


STEM and Creative Writing: Using the Scientific Method to Teach the Writing Process

The procedures for the scientific method are a lot like the steps in the writing process. Jen shows how STEM-based fiction books can be used to teach the writing process alongside the scientific method, so students see connections among science, reading, and writing. (For teachers, 45-60 minutes)

Jen’s Newsletter Link

Jen’s Essays Link

Honors, Awards & Recognition

“A Different Way of Thinking: Dr. Temple Grandin and 30 Books About Autistic Mighty Girls.” A Mighty Girl, 2 Apr. 2023
“To Build a Delightful Library for Kids, Start With These 99 Books.” The Washington Post, 6 Dec. 2022
“15 Books for Kids and Young Adults by Autistic Authors.” Multicultural Children’s Book Day, 4 Apr. 2022
“5 Great Kid Books Featuring Characters with Developmental Disabilities.” Macaroni Kid, 31 Mar. 2022
“10 Picture Books for Starting a Conversation About Autism.” Spectrum Life Magazine, 17 Mar. 2022
“10 Picture Books about Sensory Differences.” Pragmatic Mom, 4 Oct. 2021
“A Booklist for Sensory Awareness Month.” A Novel Mind. 2 Oct. 2021
“Read All About It: Children’s Books About Special Needs.” Atlanta Parent, 15 Jul. 2021
“From Awareness to Acceptance: 10 Children’s Books that Accurately Portray What It Is to Be Autistic.” PBS SoCal, 22 Mar. 2021
“Autism-Positive Books for Teachers to Read During April.” Not an Autism Mom, 27 Feb. 2021
“Read Harder 2021: A Children’s Book That Centers a Disabled Character But Not Their Disability.” Book Riot, 13 Jan. 2021
“Ten Picture Books to Boost Discussion of Boundaries.” Nerdy Book Club, 9 Jan 2021
“Disability and Autism.” Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project, 2020
“Children’s Books Featuring Characters with Autism or Asperger’s.” Reading Rockets, 2020
“15 Books to Read for Autism Acceptance Month.” We Need Diverse Books, 1 Apr. 2020
“Nine Books with Disability Representation.” Think Inclusive, 28 Apr. 2020

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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