Courageous Duluth girl gets colorful day

Mattea Grandaw may have been born with a structural birth defect that left her with two fingers on her right hand, but that's not the way she and those closest to her characterize it.

Mattea Grandaw, 5, colors a drawing during Tuesday’s visit by the Crayola Experience to her classroom. Grandaw was born with ulnar dysplasia, which made her right arm shorter than average and gave her only two fingers on her right hand. Despite the condition “there’s not one thing she’s not been able to do,” mother Brandi Grandaw said. Steve Kuchera /

Mattea Grandaw may have been born with a structural birth defect that left her with two fingers on her right hand, but that's not the way she and those closest to her characterize it.

"I hate that word - 'defect,' " said Mattea's mother, Brandi Grandaw. "Different. I use different. She rock climbs; she paints; she bakes; she gardens. She rides bike and scooter. There's not one thing she's not been able to do."

The 5-year-old Mattea put it even more plainly, saying, "It's the way God made me."

From her carpet square in Connie Toscano's pre-kindergarten school readiness program at Lester Park Elementary in Duluth, Mattea took center stage on Tuesday. For her creativity and confidence in the face of adversity, she was feted with a Crayola Experience.

The afternoon-long event was won when her mother made a convincing appeal after seeing the contest on Facebook. The community event coincides with the opening of Crayola Experience Minneapolis at the Mall of America in Bloomington later this month.


"We did one before we opened in Orlando last year," said Crayola Experience spokeswoman Kelly-Anne Suarez, who arranged the classroom's series of computer and coloring stations to go with a hug-filled visit from a red crayon mascot, Razzmatazz. "This is so much fun for us to get into the community and give back."

Brandi's appeal to Crayola Experience illustrated her daughter's confidence and included colorful drawings by Mattea, including one that traced her right hand and said, "I love my fingers."

Mattea and her many classmates were joined by her sister, 7-year-old Sajen.

"She's her sister's biggest supporter," Brandi said.

Dressed in matching fringe leather boots to go with colorful dresses and ribbons in their hair, the sisters led the class into a hushed room like it was a surprise party.

"Whoa," Mattea said, "what's that crayon doing here?"

Wearing a smile to match an abundance of them in the room, Principal Sue Lehna watched the festivities unfold.

"This is incredible," she said. "It's all her mom's doing. We're just partners in teaching other people's children and when they help us out we are so fortunate."


Toscano attested to Mattea's resilience, saying the young student has learned to print with her left hand and isn't hindered in any way - even displaying fine motor skills that surpass some of her peers.

"She's very proud of her special hand," Toscano said. "Her mother prepared her well for all of this."

One of the Crayola Experience stations featured children wrapping crayons with a label that read "Mauvelous Mattea." Another took pictures of the children posing with the crayon mascot; the resulting printouts looked like coloring pages.

But the highlight of the afternoon was a message from Mattea's dad, a member of the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing who is currently deployed to Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

"Your drawings and adorable smile are always making Daddy's day," said Maj. Jim Grandaw in a recorded video. He thanked his wife, saying, "None of this would have happened without you going the extra mile for our girls."

While Brandi dabbed tears from her eyes, the classroom sat quietly - gripped by the video playing on the Smart Board.

"That's your dad," whispered one student.

There were bright colors and choked-up classroom aides everywhere a person looked.


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