CdM student, who went from stuttering to success, pens children’s book

Luke Ianni, 17, holds up his self-published children's book, "A Standing Ovation," in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
Luke Ianni, 17, holds up his self-published children’s book, “A Standing Ovation,” at his home in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Luke Ianni was an intelligent child growing up in Newport Beach. The words, though, were often a bit slow to come.

“Luke’s brain would be on word five or six, but he would be stuck on word one or two,” said his mother, Nicole. “He was already thinking so far ahead, but we were stuck back here. Really, from the time he started talking, he just had a stutter.”

Luke and his family and friends would often use music to communicate. His speech also got better as he made his way through Mariners Christian School. By the time he got to Corona del Mar High as a freshman, he said the stutter was largely gone.

Now an incoming senior at CdM, Luke Ianni decided to write a children’s book about a boy who lives with stuttering.

“For the summer, I really had nothing going on,” he said. “I wanted to have a project, and I thought there was no better project I could do than to raise awareness for people. I know what it felt like to not really have a voice for myself. Now, I find it so important to be a voice in my community for those who can’t speak for themselves, because of my personal experience.”

The 24-page book, “A Standing Ovation,” is available in eBook format on Amazon and in hardcover at

"A Standing Ovation," a self-published children's book created by Corona del Mar High student Luke Ianni.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It tells the story of a boy entered into a speech meet competition who uses grit and determination to overcome his stutter.

“Eventually, at the end of the story, he does a speech meet competition and he does super-well,” Luke Ianni said.

The crowd gives him a standing ovation, hence the name of the book.

Luke found an illustrator online, sent her the words and voila — the book came together. He said he plans to read it at local elementary schools this fall.

His third-grade teacher at Mariners Christian, Christina Vanian, would certainly be glad to see him back. She said she remembers that Luke would often talk quickly and stutter back then, but she also knew him as a sweet and attentive child.

“What an ability for him to take something that he was so aware of in his own life, and be able to then share his story,” said Vanian, who is entering her 27th year teaching at Mariners Christian. “When people share, it brings to life anyone else who’s struggling, whether it be with a stuttering issue or a learning ability. They look at Luke and go, ‘Oh my gosh, Luke is amazing.’ What an opportunity for them to look ahead and see where he is at is where they can be eventually as well. He’s a positive role model for younger kids, and anybody for that matter, young and old alike.”

Luke looks for ways to contribute. At CdM, he’s a member of the Unified Sea Kings club, which works with special needs students.

"A Standing Ovation," a self-published children's book, tells the story of a child who struggles with stuttering.
“A Standing Ovation,” a self-published children’s book, tells the story of a child who struggles with stuttering.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It’s a trait that Nicole and Tayt Ianni hope for all three of their children. Brooke graduated from CdM in 2018, and Alex in 2020.

“Kindness matters,” Nicole Ianni said. “If Luke was having a bad day and he felt bad about his speech or couldn’t communicate, and someone smiled at him or was nice to him, that [went] a long way.”

Athletics also bring challenges to overcome. Tayt played soccer at UCLA and later in Major League Soccer, and all three children played club soccer growing up. Nicole’s the daughter of former longtime UCLA football coach Terry Donahue, who also lived in Newport Beach and passed away last summer after a battle with cancer.

Luke plays center midfielder for the CdM boys’ soccer team, and also kicked for the football team as a freshman and junior.

What he has learned in life, and on the field, is that pressure creates diamonds.

“We really all have our own challenges,” he said. “It’s just how we approach them.”

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