Today, on the blog we welcome debut picture book author Amanda Malek-Ahamdi
Amanda, Congratulations your upcoming beautiful debut picture book 10 Ballet Dancers . It is delightful, entertaining, and inclusive. Parents will love it! Kids will love it! Furthermore, the art by Kathrine Gutkovskiyis gorgeous! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’m excited to hear about your inspiration and about your fun launch project and launch party plans. Let’s get started!
1.I hear you're one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona. Tell me more about your inspiration to write this book.
I don’t know about one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona, but I do love teaching dance and have taught at various places around the valley. I started teaching dance when I was 17 and have taught children ages 18 months and up. I teach several adult classes, too. I am also fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach dance in the entire public school system spectrum, K-12. I’ve even taught at the Community College level. I love how each age group brings something different to dance.
As for inspiration to write this book…being able to combine my passion for dance, both performing and teaching, with my love of reading and life-long dream to become a published author was like two puzzle pieces coming together.
I still remember my first author visit with Mister Tom at my Elementary School. He read us his book, Messy Cat. I still own my copy. It was while I sat in awe of Mister Tom that I dreamed of becoming an author someday.
Fast forward many decades…eh hem (an era) later and here I am with my debut picture book.
For this particular book, I have the amazing Tara Lazaar who hosts STORYSTORM every January to thank for pulling 10 Ballet Dancers out of my head and onto the page. It was only the third day of the challenge, and I had written down 10-15 ideas when 10 Ballet Dancers fought for my attention, demanding to be written immediately.
The seed of the story had been in my brain for so long that when it finally fought its way to the surface it was fully formed. I made very few changes to the text from its original draft. Writers refer to this as BIG MAGIC. When I attended the SCBWI LA Conference in 2019, Mem Fox was the special guest at the luncheon. She mentioned Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes only took “15 minutes” to write. I was excited to learn that I had an experience like Mem Fox.
2. I love that
the art in 10 Ballet Dancers features diversity and inclusivity. Do you find that the
diversity in your book represents the diversity of ballet classes or is this
your dream for the future of ballet?
One of my favorite dance quotes ever by a famous modern dancer, Jóse Limón is:
“Every man and woman has the innate ability to dance.”
As humans dance is part of us. When you look at babies and how they naturally move to the rhythm of the music it’s hard to dispute what Jóse Limón said.
I think the diversity and inclusivity represented in 10 Ballet Dancers is spot on with the world of dance today. However, not every dance class is going to be this diverse.
I would say growing up I was unaware of the dynamics of my classes. I was just there to dance with the people who were dancing alongside me.
The beauty of dance is that it is Universal and when the music is on everyone becomes one with the rhythm.
Today I am very fortunate to dance in a contemporary company, (Wight Noise Dance Company) that is both diverse and inclusive the way that 10 Ballet Dancers depicts the class. The company is slightly different than the book as the members age range is from 20-50+ years old.
Moment of TRUTH! My original title for this book was TEN BALLERINAS!
When I began to think about how I would approach a publisher with my book idea, I planned to ask the company members to take some pictures of the dance moves so I had a visual component to help explain the text for those not familiar with Ballet Terminology.
I caught myself saying, “What am I thinking! We have two men in our company. I can’t write a book about dance that doesn’t include boys!” Luckily, it was an easy switch thanks to both Ballerinas and Ballet Dancers having four syllables!
Speaking of boy dancers: I remember being on a book thread in 2019 (before I had a publishing contract) and seeing a parent ask if a particular ballet book featured boys. The answer was “No.” I screen shot that conversation and thought I’ll get in contact with the woman who asked the question someday!
I contacted her the week of August 17. Her son is now going to participate in my project #flatballetdancers before the book releases. I just popped a postcard in the mail for him, and will be gifting him and his dance studio a signed copy of 10 Ballet Dancers.
Tell us about this project.
I am so excited for this project! #flatballetdancers is inspired by my favorite children’s book author/illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Back in October of 2019 she sent around these cute stuffed dogs named, Rufus and Lucy. We had the opportunity to house them for a week. It was a fantastic experience. Our boys really loved it!
To keep things simple for the project and shipping costs to only one stamp, I chose to send the characters out like a Flat Stanley. When a person receives the dancers they have an “adventure” with them and take a picture. They then post the pic to Instagram using: #flatballetdancers. If they don’t have an Insta account, they can message me via Facebook, Twitter or my website’s contact form and then I’ll post them.
When the dancers arrive at their home, they contact me, and I provide the next destination. As the dancers travel through the USA, I will be coloring in a map for all of their stops. I can’t believe how many travel plans they have already! 26 states have been secured and 35 trips due to stopping in some states more than once.
I would love to see the dancers make it to all 50 States. They will keep traveling until the book’s One Year Book Birthday! I am all for multiple visits to states. I will be putting a tally mark in the state for each time the dancers make a visit. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to contact me to participate via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authormamanda),
Instagram (authormamanda), Twitter (@authormamanda) or my website (authormamanda.com).
3. Ballet has some tricky words, so thank you for providing a glossary and pronunciation guide at the end. What do you say to parents who might stumble over words like dégagé or glissade when reading with their children?
Parlez-vous francais? I love to tell my students that they are getting to learn a different language—French. But instead of telling them I ask them “Do you know what language you are speaking when you say the Ballet words?
For anyone who might stumble over the words—just roll with it!
enjoying the story, gazing at the AMAZING illustrations by Kathrine
Gutkovskiy, and hopefully the
rhythm of the book will also help naturally guide the way you say the words.
Or…sound out the words with your children. Think of how new readers break words apart into their letter sounds and syllables. When my children and I come across a word they don’t know they begin to sound it out. Once they’ve said all the sounds, I then say, “Now SQUISH it” meaning put all those sounds together ‘quickly’ to say the word. I think that children will be in awe of their parents not knowing a word and that the modeling of how to figure out an unknown word would be an invaluable lesson.
If you’re still struggling and really want to make sure that you’ve got the pronunciation correct you can always google it.
3a. I heard you have a funny story about the rhythm of the book. Tell us!
Well…shhhhhh…it’s a secret or I at least try to keep it a secret as long as possible.
I may be a dancer, but I lack internal rhythm. Basically, when the music is on I am feeling that beat and I am “in the pocket” but as soon as that music turns off…I am not the one you should ask to lead the movement with counts alone.
So…when I wrote this book, I wrote it in its current rhythm, but I actually didn’t recognize the rhythm!
I have an amazing critique group named Story Stitchers. We meet every two weeks. I was so excited about 10 BALLET DANCERS. I could just feel in my gut that this story, of all the stories I’d written, was the one that was the most polished.
When I read my manuscript, I read it in an excited yet unrhythmic tone. Almost as if I was reading a textbook. My critique group would say things like, “That’s a lot of words we don’t know how to pronounce,” and “Amanda, we know you’ve worked hard on this, but there just doesn’t seem to be a rhythm to it.”
Completely distraught that night I turned to my husband Mike, who is fortunately a drummer, and said, “Honey, does my story have rhythm.” He said, “Yes!”
He’d already glanced at the manuscript a few times before, but that night as he read he began to drum out the beat on his leg. We grabbed his bongos and recorded on my phone. I practiced along with him until I was able to internalize the beat.
I may not be able to teach the beats to you, however, when I am reading the text now, just like when the music is on while I’m dancing, something just clicks and everything works out.
Two weeks later I was sharing my “new-found” rhythm with my critique group and everyone agreed that it was ready for submission!
4. What do you have planned for your debut launch party in the middle of this tough year?
2020 has really thrown everyone into a new way to navigate our lives.
Lamenting for just a moment. I was really looking forward to having an in-person event. I think my favorite part would have been seeing the smiling faces as I signed the books and watching the children handle the book as they walked away. Would they be hugging it, already flipping through the pages, or checking out their name written in the book. I had also planned a dance class for people to learn the moves from the books. My boss, Rachel Wight, at Wight Noise Dance Company had offered to host the event and planned to invite the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
We are now going VIRTUAL!
Tuesday, October 13 at TBD, Join us on 10 Ballet Dancers Book Birthday, for a read aloud, a drum lesson on the rhythm, a Q&A and giveaways.
Wednesday, October 14 at 4:30 pm, Join my favorite author/illustrator, Michelle Nelson-Schmidt as she reads 10 Ballet Dancers during her weekly Storytime Live. She will be giving away 5 signed copies of the book.
Thursday, October 15 at 3 pm, Join WNDC director Rachel Wight and I as we chat candidly about dance and how the company helped create photos for 10 Ballet Dancers.
Friday, October 16 TBD, Join my former elementary school librarian as she reads aloud 10 Ballet Dancers.
The dance class will still be offered. It is now planned for November; a month after 10 Ballet Dancers launches. A ZOOM link will be emailed to those who have pre-ordered or order during the launch.
To see the prizes offered and any updates on the schedule check my website at www.authormamanda.com
5. What were your favorite books from when you were a child?
As a child, you would find me in my room most afternoons and weekends curled up with a book.
My favorite series was Sweet Valley Twins! I actually still own my copies. I’m so glad I held onto them, because I will get to share that part of my childhood with our daughter who was born in February of 2020.
I also loved reading Beverly Cleary books. I am currently reading through the Ramona series with our ten-year old son. He is loving them and thinks Ramona’s antics are hilarious. We’re reading them in order and just started Ramona and Her Mother. I cannot wait until we get to the toothpaste part. It just might remind Vincent of his own five-year old brother, Antonio, who used to make “cakes” out of toothpaste in the sink last year.
I truly could go on and on about my favorite books. Instead I would like to share what I believe developed a life-long love of reading for me.
In my childhood home we had two huge bookshelves at the end of the hallway that reached from the floor to the ceiling. As a little girl I remember being in awe of its height and excited to dive into all of the books that packed the shelves. At a young age I was reading The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and The Call of the Wild by Jack London. I remember looking at the cover of White Fang by Jack London many times and opting to not open it because the cover looked a bit scary. Maybe now I’m old enough to read it!
Having all of those books at my fingertips led to my passion for the written word and my exploration to express myself through writing. I feel very fortunate to have both writing and dance as outlets to navigate life.
In our home we have books in every room, shelves upon shelves of books. We even have a book nook under the stairs! Vincent, Roman, Antonio, and Francesca love reading and being read to. All of our boys also make their own stories often with folded paper that they staple together. They talk about getting published someday. I hope that the joy our children find in reading and writing never leaves them.
10 Ballet Dancers available from Small-Tooth Dog Publishing Group: buying link
Indibound: buying link
Amazon: buying link
Amanda is a native to Arizona, former elementary school teacher, mother of four, wife to a scientist, dance teacher, professional contemporary and modern dancer and now a children’s book author. Her dream of becoming a published author most likely started with experiencing her first author visit at her elementary school when she was in second or third grade. The book was Messy Cat written by Mister Tom. Amanda still owns her autographed copy. Amanda began pursuing her writing career more actively in January 2017. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in July 2017. Since then she has attended three AZ Conferences and two in LA. In September of 2017, she began taking classes via StoryTeller Academy created by Arree Chung. Amanda has learned so much from the classes and is grateful to have found an amazing critique group through the program. They are called the Story Stitchers. Now, if you asked Amanda when she started dancing, she’d laugh and say, “the womb,” but then laugh again, and say, “technically when I was five.” Amanda’s passion for dance and love of teaching children how to dance has led to the creation of many dance stories. Some dating back to when she was a new dance teacher at the age of 17. Amanda is thrilled that The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group has accepted her debut dance manuscript about ballet dancers to be published in Fall 2020. She looks forward to all of the adventures ahead as a debut author and cannot wait to experience the joy of signing a book for a child at what might be their first author visit.