Monday, November 13, 2023

Q&A with Carina Ho




Carina Ho is the author, with Jesse Byrd, of the new children's picture book Mighty Mara. Also a music producer and dancer, she is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Mighty Mara, and for your character Mara? 


A: Mighty Mara's journey is loosely inspired by my own journey of getting back into dance after acquiring a disability and finding myself a full-time wheelchair user.


Growing up, I trained in contemporary dance and ballet, and dance was always a huge part of my self-expression. However, initially after I was injured, I felt that dance was no longer accessible to me because the idea of a disabled person dancing seemed like a contradiction.


Then a dancer friend recommended that I check out AXIS Dance Company, an integrated dance company (they hire artists both with and without disabilities), based in Oakland, California, near where I lived.


I started with AXIS as an apprentice and after six months I was hired as a full-time company member. I ended up performing, teaching, and touring with them for over two years and learning a lot about how the arts are a great vehicle for inclusion.


Personally, the process of identifying as a dancer with a disability and finding the confidence to put myself on stage again was definitely a journey because I would often encounter a lot of bias, or people assuming that a person with a disability shouldn't or couldn't be as beautiful of a performer as their non-disabled counterparts.

Q: What do you think Mónica Paola Rodriguez's illustrations add to the story? 


A: Every time Mónica sends illustrations to the team it's like opening a present -- her style is so playful and expressive. Her art is a huge contribution to building Mara's world, and showing her sassy, feisty personality in the face of homogeneity. 


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it? 


A: Jesse and I co-wrote the story and though we initially had no idea how the story would end, we gradually began to fall in love with the characters and seeing Mara as an ongoing series. That's why we left a bit of a teaser on the last page to make room for a sequel. 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book? 


A: In addition to taking away the theme of disability inclusion, I hope any kid who reads Mighty Mara feels empowered to embrace whatever makes them feel like they stand out.


Whether that's a disability, personality trait, or random quirk doesn't really matter because one of the other central themes of the book is discovering the self-confidence to be one's authentic self even when it doesn't fit into the mold of one's surroundings. 

Q: What are you working on now? 


A: Jesse, Mónica, and I are working on book two! We're introducing new characters who will put her in new and challenging situations that I think young readers will find interesting. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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