Q&A with Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic figure skating champion

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Melissa Seymour: Hi, Kristi! Thanks for speaking with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Kristi Yamaguchi: I’m an Olympic Gold medalist in figure skating and mom of two daughters, ages eight and ten. I’m also the founder of the Always Dream Foundation, and Tsu.ya by Kristi Yamaguchi active wear. I am also the author of two children’s books called Dream Big Little Pig! and It’s a Big World Little Pig!

MS: Could you tell us about the 1992 Olympics? What was it like discovering that you won? Can you remember the moment or how you were feeling throughout your routine?

KY: It was an incredible honor to represent our country at the Olympics. My coach Christy Ness and I were backstage when we heard the news and we pretty much just screamed with elation. Every emotion imaginable went through my mind.

MS: Why did you decide to create the Always Dream Foundation?

KY: I worked closely with the Make A Wish Foundation after the Olympics. I love working with the kids and their families and realized that I could make a difference. That inspired me to start Always Dream. To make a positive impact in the lives of children.

MS: You’re an Olympic Champion, author, artist, mom, philanthropist, and now you have your own clothing collection! Do you have any advice for those trying to juggle many passions?

KY: It’s tough to juggle. My advice is to figure out what your priorities are and go from there. I keep my family in #1 and let everything filter down from there. And make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. I do that sometimes and that’s when it gets stressful.

MS: We would love to hear about your 2014 Fall/Winter TsuYa Collection. What was your inspiration behind this collection?

KY: Soft, warm, and comfortable were inspirations. Our colors are a teal, a deep pink (sterling), heather grey, black and white. Along with some intricate functional active pieces we have some cute cozy layering pieces. We are proud that Tsu.ya is a product with purpose with a portion of proceeds going to support the work of the Always Dream Foundation. http://Www.tsuyabrand.com and http://www.always dream.org.

MS: What’s your favorite piece in this year’s collection? Why?

KY: It’s hard to pick just one. I’d probably go with our Mica jacket in French terry. It’s moto inspired and adds some edge to the collection.

MS: Who is your hero?

KY: My mom is my hero. She’s selfless and giving and always thinking of others. An amazing mom for me to aim to be like.

Thank you so much, Kristi!

 

For more information, check out Kristi’s website here: http://kristiyamaguchi.com/

Please “like” Fempower Q&A’s Facebook page for more great interviews: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fempower-QAs/231118800406295

 

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Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon, artist and children’s book illustrator

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Melissa Seymour: Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for speaking with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Elizabeth Zunon: I am a children’s book illustrator, working mostly in oil paint and collage. I love bright colors, funky patterns, and hearing stories about people and their passions. I lived in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), West Africa, where my Dad is from, until I was twelve years old, and many of the books I have illustrated take place in Africa.

MS: When did you know you were an artist? Did you draw as a child?

EZ: I think I always knew I was an artist- I’ve loved to draw, paint, color, create, and use my imagination ever since I was a child. I knew I was an artist maybe the first time that I drew something and felt very proud of it.

MS: How did you get involved in illustrating picture books? What do you love about them?

EZ: I studied Illustration in college at the Rhode island School of Design. After that, I submitted my portfolio to book publishers in New York, all the while attending author/illustrator conferences and events. Eventually I met my agent, who has helped me get published! I’d always loved the format of picture books, having being read to by my Mom and grandmother as a child (and loving to watch “Reading Rainbow” on TV!). I love that the images in a picture book often tell a story all on their own without the words, and the words of course tell a story, but when you use both words and images together, the depth of the story is reinforced into one complete and very unique package.

MS: What’s your favorite type of picture book? Why are you drawn to it?

EZ: My favorite type of picture book is non-fiction, because I love learning about real places and real people I might never get to experience in person.

MS: What’s your process for creating picture book illustrations? Do the characters appear in your mind or does it take some work to create them?

EZ: The characters are usually the first thing to appear in my mind when I read a manuscript. I feel if I can see them, if I can draw them, it helps me get to know them and try to put myself in their shoes. I plot out the picture book into a storyboard first, where I doodle and play around to figure out which images will go on which pages. Next, I look for reference images of certain things in the story, like clothing, houses or animals. Sometimes I take photos of myself to use as reference, posing in various situations from the story. Then, I create larger drawings, one for each page of the book, with more detail, and transfer my drawings on to the final paper I will paint them on. Finally, I break out the oil paint and get to work! Sometimes, once my paint is dry, I will add collage elements of cut paper onto the illustration.

MS: What motto do you live by?

EZ: “Don’t worry about it. Just do what you do- And do it good.”- Bill Withers

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

EZ: Hmm… I admire many different people, artists, musicians… I would say my hero/heroine is anyone who pursues their passion.

 

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Check out more of Elizabeth Zunon’s work here: http://lizzunon.com/

 

Q&A with NYT Best Selling Author, Andrea Beaty

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Melissa Seymour: Hi, Andrea! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Andrea Beaty: I am the author of ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT, ATTACK OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES and other books for kids. I previously studied biology and computer science and worked in IT for many years. Now, I write books about wonder, passion, and killer alien rabbits. I also visit schools around the world (in person and via skype) to share my passion for creativity, writing, and books.

MS: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Why?

AB: I never set out to be a writer. I was about thirty when I came to it. Before that, I was busy exploring everything that interested me: biology, computers, literature, history, music. Everything. When I started reading books with my kids, I started getting ideas for stories. My exploration ultimately made me a writer. It gave me stories to tell. That is why I tell kids to read everything they can and to explore all the things that interest them. Everything is connected. You never know where it might lead!

MS: We absolutely love Rosie Revere, Engineer! Why did you decide to write this book?

AB: Thank you. I also love this kid. She is smart and curious and passionate. (This seems to be a theme in my books.) I wrote the story after I saw David Robert’s illustrations for IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. David is simply brilliant.

The students in Miss Lila Greer’s classroom intrigued me. As in any group of kids, they have their own personalities and talents. I was especially curious about Rosie after I realized that she never reveals both of her eyes in the book. She shyly tries to hide behind her swooping bangs.

I knew I wanted her to be an engineer because I figured she would have lots of great ideas. (And I wanted to see what wonders David would help her create.) As always, his illustrations were amazing. As with IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT, the illustrations are deceptively simple looking, but they contain so much humor and funny hidden details. I have read each book hundreds of times and still find things I had not seen before. Also, there are lots of tiny references between the two books. Kids love finding them.

MS: What was it like finding out that your book was a New York Times Best Seller?

AB: It was terrific affirmation that Rosie was reaching kids. Authors and illustrators send our books out into the world and have no clue how a book is doing for six months and often longer. I knew immediately that Rosie was connecting from the wonderful letters parents sent. Rosie inspired their kids to start inventing. They also wanted to hear the book over and over again. The NYT list was proof that lots of families were finding the book.

One of the most exciting things for me is that Rosie helps kids embrace the idea that it’s okay to fail as long as you don’t give up. That is an enormously big deal. Kids are so often their own toughest critics and they shut down if things don’t go the way they envision. Rosie shows them that it’s okay. Brush off the disappointment. Figure out what you can do differently. Learn from it and enjoy the process. And have fun! Joy is such a key to learning.

It is also thrilling to see so many girls read ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER and immediately decide that they want to be engineers. For many, it will be a passing idea. Personally, I had 7,000 careers before I was twelve. But for some, it will become a lifelong goal. And in either case, for engineer to be on that list of options for girls is terrific!

MS: Why are strong girl characters so important in children’s literature?

AB: We read literature for lots of reasons. It amuses us. It takes us to places and times we can’t visit on our own. It builds empathy. At its best, literature teaches us how to deal with life.

We can see ourselves in characters that are not exactly like us. That is why boys also connect to ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER and girls like IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. But when a reader sees a character that is like them, it makes the story much more real.

Identifying with a character lets us envision ourselves facing and overcoming the same problems. If a shy girl named Rosie can overcome doubt, create a crazy cheese-copter, and deal with its failure, maybe a girl reading the book can make an invention to help someone. That belief makes her stronger and braver and bolder. That belief sets loose an energy that knows no bounds. I truly believe that when we embolden and empower girls, we change the world.

MS: How do you think women are represented in the media? Do you think this affects girls?

AB: The way media represents women is destructive and it affects our girls and our boys. I think it is a mistake to focus solely on how this affects girls. Both must have realistic views of themselves and each other. Neither can develop a realistic view of women (or men for that matter) based on the unattainable, hyper-photoshopped mutant models presented in advertising and the media.

When my daughter and son were very young, I made it my job at every single trip to the grocery store to point out the crazy stupid magazine covers. It was tedious and annoying and crazy-making, but it taught them to question the messages they see all around them. It is absurd and warped that anyone should have to teach their kids what women (and men) really look like. Our species has survived for a long, long time without having to do that. And yet, here we are.

I do take heart—a little—that people are starting to wake up about this. The backlash to the Princess Merida changes by Disney made my heart sing. Ultimately, though, we control this. We have got to pony up and stop buying into the nonsense. And that means stop supporting magazines, toys, movies, video games, or TV shows that distort how women are portrayed. Stand up and call people out on it. Money drives this whole thing. Stop making it profitable. Then it will change.

Also, we need to change how we talk to girls. We so often make appearances the focus of what we say to girls. We don’t do that with boys. I have been guilty of this many times and am trying to break this habit.

Now, when I meet kids at events, I ask each of them one simple question:  What do you make? The answers amaze me. AND, they do not follow expected gender boundaries. They are a wonderful jumble of art and engineering and everything else all tossed in together.

Every kid has something they are passionate about. Find a way to make that the first thing you discuss with them. It shows them that you care and that what they do is far more important than how they look. Ultimately, that is the best weapon to fight off all the other nonsense.

MS: What was your favorite book as a child?

AB: Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman was my favorite. I spent hour upon hour pouring over the illustration at the end and contemplating what I would do if I was invited to a big dog party like that. (We had dogs, but they never invited me to their parties.) The dogs in this book had a trampoline, a trapeze, and cake!  How could a person choose? As I got older, I loved Nancy Drew & Trixie Beldon mysteries. I even had a detective club after school with my friend. Our pledge was the Miranda Act. Clearly, I also spent too much time watching Dragnet.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

AB: My biggest heroes are my parents. They worked so hard their entire lives so that their six kids could have good educations. My success is only possible because of them. My mom gave us all an enormous love of books. I was raised in a town of 300 people and our house had more books in it than the rest of the whole town. Including the school. That made an impression.

My other heroes are my in-laws, my aunts and uncles and the people of their generation who literally saved the world in WWII. ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER is dedicated to them. We have an unpayable debt to them for doing what was needed when it was needed the most.

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