MHS alum tells a different kind of story

Carla Siravo’s recently published her first book, “Hugh Manatee for President.”

Special to the Sun.

Growing up in Moorestown, writing was simply an outlet for Carla Siravo to express her creativity. She sort of gave up the hobby while she was attending Rutgers University. But her time with Teach for America showed her young students have important stories to tell, and she wanted to tell them.

Inspired by her students at Mastery Charter School — Cramer Hill in Camden, Siravo has created a different kind of children’s book. Her first publication, “Hugh Manatee for President,” tells the story of students who fear facing discrimination, and she hopes her story helps cultivate a little more empathy among the next generation.

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“We can unite our children by teaching them to be empathetic and compassionate,” Siravo said.

Siravo attended Moorestown High School, and in college, she was interested in applied behavior analysis. She ultimately found herself in the urban education sector and was later certified to teach reading intervention.

She joined Teach for America after college and began working with students at Mastery Charter School. The days were long, hard and emotional, so she would go home and journal about what her students were experiencing.

Through her reading intervention work, Siravo was reading children’s books every day, and she began reflecting on the strong messages these stories had to tell. She found herself thinking the stories she was writing in her journal also had powerful messages, so she began crafting stories about her students.

In her stories, she transformed her students into sea creatures. “Hugh Manatee for President” follows Hugh, the sole blue manatee among a classroom of grey manatees, who is eager to run for class president. He’s insecure because of the color of his skin, and he thinks because he’s often excluded that the other manatees won’t vote for him. Ultimately, by reaching out to other excluded groups and by advocating to bring people together, Hugh becomes empowered and convinces the grey manatees to vote for him.

The story is based on a particular student from Mastery Charter. In 2015, one of Siravo’s students was interested in running for class president, but he wasn’t sure if people would vote for him. Then President Obama visited Mastery Charter, and the student realized just how much Obama looked like him. He asked Sirvao to help him write his speech for class president and won the election.

Siravo said the experience at Mastery Charter was also personally transformative. Ultimately, she ended up staying at the school several years beyond her Teach for America commitment because she felt passionate about the work they were doing.

“They are doing incredible things for kids, and they taught me everything I know about empathy,” Siravo said.

She recognizes not every student will relate to the story, but her hope is every student can empathize. She said whether she is reading the book in a suburban area or inner city, young kids can feel the emotions the character is experiencing and have empathy. She said she hopes young students extend that empath beyond the book to their fellow classmates and out into the world.

While she values common core, what Siravo enjoys most about reading intervention is she can tackle the messages teachers may not have time for in the classroom. She said children’s stories teach students about empathy, awareness and kindness in ways that the common core can’t.

While “Hugh Manatee for President” is the first to published, Siravo has a whole “sea-ries” up her sleeve. She said, in her other stories, her sea creatures have disabilities, deal with homelessness and have dealt with trauma. Her goal is to create a series that exposes students to the different kinds of experiences other children are going through.

“Working in Camden and suburban neighboring towns taught me that all kids already have compassion in their hearts for one another, and they already believe in equity and unity,” Siravo said. “Adults have to show them that we value these things, so that they keep compassion in their hearts for one another.”

Siravo will have a read aloud and signing on April 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Cherry Hill. “Hugh Manatee for President” is available on and To find out more about Siravo, visit

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