( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Alongside the Positive Message of “Am I a Unicorn?” Comes Philanthropy, With 10% of the Book’s Proceeds Going To Children’s Charities
ENSPIRE Contributor: Adam Cetorelli
Each child is unique, with their own interests, perspectives, and personality. Kids are often passionate about somewhat niche things or have distinct mannerisms that help make parenting humorous and joyful. But some of the qualities that make children unique can become sources of pain as they enter a new school, meet people who don’t understand them, or notice that other kids around them receive praise for things they lack. Insecurities can develop from within a child–or worse, other kids might bully them for just being their authentic little self.
Teaching kids that it’s important to accept themselves despite the accompanying hardship can be a difficult lesson, as can teaching compassion for others’ differences. While touring schools and attending book events, children’s book author and mother-of-three Stephanie Sorkin realized that a lot of kids feel insecure about their unique qualities, inspiring her to write “Am I a Unicorn?” to help parents teach their kids the value of individuality. The best-selling author’s fourth children’s book follows a unicorn who breaks her horn and has to overcome losing the physical attribute most crucial to her identity.
Read Sorkin’s interview below on the writing process and message behind “Am I a Unicorn?”, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, and her donation of a portion of the book’s proceeds to childrens’ charities.
What made you decide to write “Am I a Unicorn?” and why did you choose a unicorn as the protagonist?
I decided to write my latest book, “Am I a Unicorn?” after being inspired by the thousands of kids that I’ve met at school visits and book events over the last several years. Based on many of the questions that the kids would ask after my presentation, I realized that a lot of kids felt different, whether it was physical, emotional, or even academic. I saw this as an opportunity and my idea developed from there.
I chose a unicorn as the protagonist for a few reasons. First and most simply, I’ve always loved unicorns and have wanted to write a story about one for a long time. As a writer, I had to wait for the idea to come rather than just try to write a unicorn story. Once the idea was there, everything else sort of fell into place. When the idea did come to me, raising the question, “Are we still who we are without our most distinguishing feature?” the unicorn immediately came to mind, as of all animals and mystical creatures, a unicorn is known for having a horn. I chose to challenge that as I developed the storyline!
How do you see the COVID-19 pandemic impacting young children (yours and others), and how will “Am I a Unicorn?” help address these impacts?
The pandemic has definitely impacted my children (ages 13, 15, 17) with an increase in their anxiety. There is so much uncertainty and that is very unsettling. My children have become hypersensitive to what is going on in the world around them, which actually has turned into a positive thing. I’ve seen their level of empathy go through the roof, as they have realized that not everyone is in the same situation right now and that the pandemic has hit different families in different ways. I don’t take for granted that just because my children are O.K.—not GREAT, but O.K.—doesn’t mean that others aren’t struggling. While some kids are at home making tie-dye pajamas and baking banana bread, that isn’t really the norm.
For many children, school was their safe place. It was at school where they were well cared for and fed breakfast and lunch. Some children live in chaotic environments, making it difficult to learn. Others have unreliable WiFi. There are children in rural communities who may be very isolated from others their age. What about children with one or two parents working from home, making it difficult to help them with schoolwork during the day, if needed? Some children are in a new school finding it difficult to make new friends in a mask while socially distanced if they are in person. Many children are easily distracted, making it difficult to learn virtually. There are children who have health issues or who live with elderly relatives that make in-person learning risky. There are children with special needs who desperately need structure and have limited access to services and a change in routine can be a major setback. I can go on . . . but you get the idea.
Books, however, are a great escape for both kids and adults. There’s a quote that I love by Mason Cooley, “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” This really is very timely, even though it was written many years ago! Also, a Maya Angelou quote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” There is nothing like a picture book with its bright colors and playful pictures. I also love that picture books can calm children, as there is often a conflict but there is typically a solution. That’s a great lesson—problems can get resolved for young children in the environment that we currently live in. I don’t think that children should have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. It’s nice to be able to get away from reality from time to time.
I hope that my books help children address some of the issues that they are dealing with during the pandemic. In “Am I a Unicorn?” the theme is that we are all different and that we should celebrate being one of a kind and loving ourselves. With children being isolated right now, my book should both comfort and empower them. I use a diverse array of animals, rather than a land of strictly unicorns, to further address that we are all different. We also have differences right now with rules. Some families are ok with kids playing inside with no mask, while others only allow their kids outside with a mask. These situations create more questions. I hope that my book can indirectly help with them. Lastly, I do include a fun cupcake recipe at the end of the book. It’s a great family activity that I hope my readers enjoy!
How long does it take you to write a children’s book? What is the process like, and how do you go about teaming up with an illustrator?
The time frame for writing a book varies greatly! For example, my book “Nutley, the Nut-Free Squirrel” needed very little editing and the illustrations were nearly perfect from the beginning. Even with hitting very few bumps in the road, it still took 15 months from start to finish. “Am I a Unicorn?” took longer, as anything that could happen did happen, from the illustrator living in Italy and having to quarantine to the printing facility in the United States shutting down, forcing us to send the books to South Korea to print.
Finding an illustrator is also a very detailed process. The publisher has portfolios of many artists that I was able to view. Based on the style that I wanted, I was able to narrow it down to three. From there, they provided me with test sketches, and finally, I picked the illustrator that I wanted to work with. What‘s nice is that, as the author, I provide the illustrator with “Illustrator’s Instructions”, meaning I give them a guideline to follow after each verse. This helps the illustrator capture what the author is envisioning. As you’d imagine, the pictures are just as important as the words in regards to telling the story, so this is a piece that must be handled with great care. Next comes production, like the layout and actual construction of the book. It’s a lengthy process, and as an author, you need an incredible amount of patience.
You donate a portion of the proceeds from your books to charities that support children. What are these charities and what percentage of the proceeds goes to them?
I love that my readers help me raise money for various organizations with the purchase of my books.
With my book, “Nutley, the Nut-Free Squirrel,” I donate 100% of my book’s proceeds to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) as they are dedicated to food allergy research and education. This hits very close to home, as two of my three children have life-threatening food allergies.
Another organization that I’m proud to support is Soles4Souls. I love that they donate new and gently used shoes to those in need both domestically and internationally. I donate 10% of proceeds from the sales of my book, “Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces.”
My book, “Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend” has a bully prevention theme, so I chose to donate 10% of book proceeds to The PACER National Bully Prevention Center.
With “Am I a Unicorn?” I have decided to stick with the 10% donation, but instead of choosing one charity, I am going to be changing the charity quarterly. I’m excited to support the Garden of Dreams Foundation while I continue to research which organization that I will work with next!
Released December 8, “Am I a Unicorn?” is now available for purchase in hardcover on Amazon, Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million, alongside her other books.