Thursday, November 17, 2022

Q&A with Hillary Homzie



Hillary Homzie is the author of the new children's picture book If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders from Around the World. Her other books include Apple Pie Promises. She teaches at Hollins University and Sonoma State University, and she lives in California.


Q: What inspired you to write If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders from Around the World, and how did you choose the princesses to include in the book?


A: If You Were a Princess started with a prompt during Tara Lazar’s Storystorm ( )where you write 30 ideas in 30 days during the month of January. The prompt that sparked it all was--write about something that you love. Something that just makes you happy. Maybe something a little embarrassing.


For me, that was princesses. As a kid, I gobbled up fairy tales. When I was 6, we lived for a year beneath the Lewes castle in Sussex, England, and so, suddenly, those tales became a bit more real. Princesses were historical figures from the past who actually lived and many still do! I remembered being a bit obsessed with Princess Anne and her equestrian feats.


That’s when I decided to investigate actual princesses from the past and the present. And I discovered princesses from all over the globe who had accomplished remarkable things.


A princess from Iraq with an M.D./Ph.D. who did cancer research at Harvard and founded the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A princess from Korea who loved astronomy and founded one of the oldest astronomy towers in the world. A princess from Uganda who was the ambassador to the United States. The list went on and on.


Honestly, it was very challenging to choose the princesses. I was looking for diversity, of place, accomplishments, and whether they were living or from the past. Honestly, I could easily write two more books on this same subject. There hardest thing was leaving women out. So much of women’s history has been neglected.


Q: What do you think some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions are about princesses, and how does the book address some of these?

A: Princesses have often been portrayed as ornamental beings who are to be appreciated for their physical beauty and who need to be rescued. The book showcases princesses with Ph.D.s in everything from STEM to art history, a princess who served as a remarkable U.N. ambassador, a princess who was an inventor, a princess who saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, as well as princesses who have competed in the Olympics.


My hope is that these strong and accomplished women and girls will challenge pernicious princess schemata.


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: Researching the book started with me reading newspaper and magazine articles about contemporary princesses. Then I began to read books about princesses from the past. Happily, I teach Communications at Sonoma State University, so I have access to their excellent academic library and resources.


One surprising thing was discovering 19th and early 20th century memoirs written by princesses chronicling their own experiences. Some of them were very fine writers!


Q: What do you think Udayana Lugo’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Udayana Lugo’s illustrations are truly uplifting, whimsical and add to the narrative in countless ways. There is a simple text thread that a very young child can follow (as young as 3 or 4). For that story, Udayana created three girls who discover how they can be a princess in their own way, by standing up for themselves and by helping their communities etc.


Udayana also illustrated the sidebar texts, which gives biographical details about the nearly 40 princesses. These illustrations are detailed and, due to the amount of information and the appendix, a child as old as 8 or 9 would enjoy the picture book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently, I’m working on finishing up a science fantasy for middle grade as well as another informational picture book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think I’ll leave you with this quote about If You Were a Princess from Booklist, which summarizes my goals for the book quite well: “Princesses are more than the tiaras on their heads, and this picture book will empower and uplift readers who dream of doing great things.”


Thank you so much for interviewing me today, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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