Author Sue Fliess’ latest children’s book, ”I’m a Figure Skater!,” is filled with messages about falling down, getting back up and persevering. It also spotlights putting in the work to be good at something and the importance of confidence.
“Like many people who get started in children’s books, it comes from reading lots of picture books to my kids,” Fliess said. “Fortunately, I had already been a writer.”
Fliess was not a skater, but part of her inspiration came from a friend’s daughter who recently took up the sport. She envisioned a young skater just taking up the sport and then training until she’s ready for her first competition. In addition to watching skating videos on YouTube, Fliess met with a coach to discuss some elements.
This is Fliess’ 10th book for Little Golden Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s books. Total, she’s had over 40 children’s books published. Typically, the author of children’s books doesn’t pick the illustrator, but Fliess does get to offer a few comments about the illustrations. She said she wanted the central character to be a girl of color.
“I always want to make sure that my books have representation across the board, whether that’s the main character or supporting characters to make sure that kids of all backgrounds see themselves in my books,” said Fliess.
The book’s illustrator, Nina Mata, said the art director suggested to her that the main character be a girl of color. “It felt right for the main protagonist to be African American,” said Mata. “It’s a great time in publishing right now. We’re seeing so many stories from different cultures and there’s a demand for representation and diversity. It’s really empowering and reassuring for me as a person of color and the mother of a child of the next generation.”
Mata said it’s important for all children to see they can be passionate about art, dancing, skating, etc. She wanted to show how a young skater prepares for competition, and one illustration is of the mother braiding the skater’s hair. The emotions of competition are also depicted and the images convey a sense of joy.
One skating coach posted a photo of herself and some of her students holding up the book. “That melted my heart,” said Mata. “She said she never saw any book like this. There was a group of African American skaters and she wanted to get books for all of them so they could see themselves in the book.”