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Before Michelle Kwan, before the whole Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal, there was a figure skater who exhibited that perfect balance of power and grace: Kristi Yamaguchi. She had the high jumps and fast spins, but she also had a style and effortless elegance no one else could match.

OK, so why am I gushing? I used to be a competitive figure skater, but no where near the level of Kristi Yamaguchi. She was a role model to me. So today I’m very pleased to share with you her new picture book, IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG! And yes, it’s about figure skating!

First, let me introduce the main character, Poppy. Isn’t she cute? In her first book, she had the courage to DREAM BIG and chase after her goals.

Now, in the sequel, Poppy receives an invitation to Paris to compete in the International Games. She musters up her porcine prowess to travel far from home–with encouragement from her friends and family, of course.

When Poppy arrives in Paris, she’s overwhelmed. She doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t know where to go. But Poppy is great at making friends. She bumps into Li, a panda snowboarder. And Poppy finds out that even though they are from different countries, they “both smile in the same language.”

According to John Sellers, children’s reviews editor for Publishers Weekly, “There’s certainly a need for books that portray, mirror and show the value in all kinds of families: same-sex families, mixed-race families, stepfamilies, families with grandparents as guardians.” I also believe that books should reflect the diversity in the world around children. In my own neighborhood, there are families from Brazil, India, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, China, Taiwan, Denmark, and Mexico. So I was pleased to see that Yamaguchi’s book introduces readers to animal competitors from all over the world.

Tim Bowers illustrates with such adorableness (is that a word???), bright colors and a jovial quality. You can’t help but smile at the wonderful world he’s created.

IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG brings together many cool themes (besides ice): following your dreams, making friends, diversity, independence, and doing your best. And it’s all rolled up in a figure-skating package! What could be more perfect?

Well, I’ll tell you! One hundred percent of Kristi’s profits from IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG will benefit early childhood literacy programs supported by her Always Dream Foundation.

One winter morning in 1976, my father was reading the Sunday paper when he stumbled across an ad for ice-skating lessons. He snapped the paper in front of me and asked, “It says you have to be able to skate across the length of the ice to sign up. Can you skate across the ice?”

“Of course I can skate across the ice,” I said, and then gulped a spoonful of oatmeal.

A minute later he was on the phone, registering me. What on earth made  him believe a five year-old who had never put on a pair of skates could cross a slippery arena, I’ll never know. But I was excited to begin lessons and I imagined zooming around in circles, faster than everyone at South Mountain.

The next week I proudly stepped onto the ice in my new skates.

And promptly fell.

And fell again.

And again.

Then I learned to hold onto the side. And then I learned what it’s like to hit the boards AND the ice. And this was in the days before helmets.

A guard helped me off the ice. She told my father I could not be in group lessons. I thought I might cry. Then she suggested I spend a private lesson with her, learning to skate. My father agreed and by the end of the lesson, I was indeed moving across the ice.

I took group lessons every winter for a few years, earning my USFSA patches faster than everyone else. And when I had completed those patches, they told me I was ready for a coach and private lessons–lessons my family could barely afford.

I went for one private lesson and waited for my coach in the corner, practicing simple figures. The older skaters yelled at me because, unbeknown to me, I was hogging the JUMP corner. I was trying to stay out of the way, but I was totally screwing up their double lutzes.

And then when my father heard what time the coach wanted me at the arena–5:30am twice a week–that was the end of private lessons.

Over the years, I skated recreationally instead, going to the arena once a week and trying to teach myself. I was able to do a scratch spin and a waltz jump, crossovers in every direction, and a few fancy turns. But my real desire was to compete. I always thought…some day.

That day came as an adult. As soon as I had my own money, I took lessons. And like I had done as a child, I quickly moved up through the ranks. I hired a coach. I competed. And I won. In 2002, I competed at Adult Nationals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, after winning Gold at Eastern Sectionals and two other Golds, a Silver and a Bronze in other competitions that year. It was a dream come true.

I thought–if I can do this, I can do anything.

And now, here I am today, accepting an offer of literary representation. Skating gave me the confidence to pursue another dream, that of becoming a published children’s author. And now I’m one step closer to that dream.

I’m here to tell you–work hard, believe in yourself and your talents, find a great critique group and writer friends who support you, and go for it!

You will stumble. You will fall. But brush yourself off and soon you’ll hit your stride–or in my case–glide!

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