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World Languages and Literatures alum spins childhood dream into reality
By Michael Wu
Inspired by her memories of dancing as a child, Rhiannon Wallace brings a joyful tale of artistic passion and self-acceptance to life in her first children’s book, Leopold’s Leotard.
Wallace is currently a public librarian and her love of books and story connects her to visitors of all ages. She has also been writing stories since her youth, when she dreamt of becoming a ‘real’ published author.
“When I was in elementary school, our teachers got us to write and illustrate our own books which they and the parent volunteers would then ‘publish’ (i.e., laminate and bind) for us to take home. It was always so exciting when the teacher handed out our published books! I also used to write and illustrate books with my brother and sister, to share with family members. I always hoped that some day I would be a ‘grown-up’ children’s book author, but I still find it hard to believe that I’m having a book published.”
The World Languages and Literatures (WLL) and International Studies alum says studying literature in translation in a smaller program allowed her to focus on more than one area of interest and gave her the ability to bring a unique lens to her writing.
"Studying world literature taught me to think carefully about every small element of a text and the ways in which those elements contribute to the work as a whole,” she says.
This practice of ‘close-reading’ helped her understand the format of the picture book.
“Children’s literature often needs to convey very strong childhood emotions and experiences with even less space and vocabulary than adult literature. I am fascinated by the way common children’s formats like picture books and read-along audiobooks combine words, images, and other art forms like music to achieve this.”
“I wanted to write a story that would be fun for an artist to illustrate, and dance is a wonderful subject to explore in this format,” she goes on, “since it involves so much movement and emotion.”
As for the message of Leopold’s Leotard, Wallace notes that it is to celebrate and honor your passion.
“It is an expression and celebration of children’s passion for the things they love to do. I wanted to show a child who overcomes his frustrations and fears in a way that the people around him may not expect, but that makes complete sense to him – a story about how kids respond to those situations, and the surprising, funny, and lovely moments that can come out of that.”
When asked if she has advice for fellow aspiring authors and writers, Wallace suggests writing down every idea that comes to mind and not to be daunted by getting a rough draft started. “Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re finding it difficult to stay motivated,” she continues, “if sitting down and writing is too difficult on a given day, try something like thinking through your ideas while out on a walk, or even recording yourself talking through your ideas. It might feel a bit awkward, but it can be really helpful,” she says.
Wallace herself is already drafting ideas for Leopold’s next adventure, and she has plans to write other picture books and even novels for middle-grade readers. She is also keeping her childhood dream alive in her work as a librarian in children’s and youth services, surrounded by amazing books for kids and teens that inspire her to keep reading and writing with passion.