A special calling: UA Little Rock alumna Brenda Harrison writes a children’s book inspired by her nephew 

When Brenda Harrison’s 3-year-old great nephew Oliver Goodwin was born with Down syndrome, she didn’t worry a bit. As a longtime special education teacher and graduate of UA Little Rock’s Master of Education in special education program, Harrison knew she was prepared to be a resource for Oliver. 

“When my nephew was born, I kept thinking about the little things Oliver was doing. I’d look at him playing and feeding himself,” she said. “Down syndrome babies are so lovable. The little things they do are things we tend to take for granted.”

His journey inspired Harrison to write “Oliver’s Adventures,” a children’s book based on Oliver’s life. The book, illustrated by Dennis Davide, was published by Xlibris and is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her first book signing will be held on Saturday, Aug. 3, at 2 p.m. at Pyramid Books, at 1001 Wright Ave. in Little Rock.

“Years ago, I said I’m going to write a novel,” Harrison said. “I remember being in church one Sunday during the time I was writing the book, and the preacher preached about faith and believing anything is possible. That gave me some encouragement, and I thought ‘I’m gonna do this.’ Through prayer and faith, I got it done in about three months.”

Harrison never envisioned she would be an author, or even a teacher.

“My goal in high school was to be a nurse. When I got to be a high school senior, it shifted to special education simply because growing up, I used to see adults with disabilities, but I didn’t know what it was about. My heart would break, and I wanted to be able to do something to help. I wanted to help individuals who needed help who couldn’t help themselves.”

And that’s exactly what Harrison has been doing for the past 37 years – teaching in special education classes. For the past seven years, she has taught at Little Rock’s J.A. Fair High School, and this year she’ll be teaching at Pinnacle View School in Little Rock.

She earned an undergraduate degree from elementary education at Henderson State University with a minor in special education. Then in 2006, at the age of 48, Harrison enrolled at UA Little Rock to pursue a master’s degree. She graduated in December 2008 with a Master of Education in special education.

“I waited until my daughter was an adult and returned to grad school, something I’ve always wanted to do,” Harrison said. “I was working full-time and went straight through, summers included.”

At UA Little Rock, Harrison met Dr. Jennifer Hune, associate professor of special education and graduate advisor in the School of Education

“She was truly an inspiration to me,” Harrison said. “I enjoyed my time getting my master’s degree.”  Simply put: “I grew,” she said.

Hune was the first person Harrison called when she passed her master’s certification exam.

“Mrs. Harrison was one of those students who absolutely wanted to teach children with disabilities,” Hune said. “She wanted to be better so she could help her students be better. That was the part of her that I adored. My program is not one that’s easy. I give my students  a lot to think about. I teach them all of the content and capabilities that will help them be good special educators. If they don’t have the skills, they don’t need to be in the classroom. Children like Oliver deserve people who know how to work with them and how to engage in the strategies that help them.”

Oliver is the son of Jansen and Dee Goodwin of Little Rock. Harrison recently visited Oliver’s preschool class at UAMS Kids First, a pediatric day health care program for children with special health care needs. Harrison read the book to Oliver, to whom she dedicated the book, and donated a copy of her book to his class.

“You have to know how to help and receive them,” Harrison said of children born with special needs. “If your receive them as a person of worth and take the time to teach them, these little people will bloom and blossom.”

In the photo above right, Brenda Harrison reads to her great nephew, Oliver Goodwin, who inspired Harrison to write a children’s book. Photo by Benjamin Krain

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