Interview — Stephanie Lecce, author of Amelia the Not-So Small Superhero
– by Julie Rankin
Local third-grade teacher, Stephanie Lecce, recently finished writing her first children’s book, Amelia the Not-So Small Superhero. A collaboration with local illustrator Elaine Chen, the book follows the adventures of Amelia, a fictional character who is inspired by real-life kids to make the world a better place. The duo recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of their book.
The Snipe caught up with Lecce to find out more about the book and how readers can use it to inspire themselves, or the not-so-small humans in their lives, to find their own super powers.
Julie Rankin: Hi Steph, thanks for chatting with me for The Snipe and joining me at the beach today.
Stephanie Lecce: It’s a pleasure, this is so great.
JR: Great, so what inspired you to write a children’s book?
SL: This book was inspired by a unit I feel real passionate about, it’s a super hero unit and it starts with me talking about historical figures that have done really incredible things to make the world a better place, and then I go into kids in the world right now that are doing really inspiring things. It’s basically to encourage kids and remind them that they don’t have to be an adult to change the world. All they need is a passion and to use their talents and they can do anything that they put their mind to. I really wanted to branch out and reach other kids outside my classroom and do the same thing, so it actually was inspired by that.
They inspire me just as much as I inspire them and I love seeing how excited they get every time this unit unravels and basically the big idea at the end is that you can make the world a better place too!
JR: That’s basically the answer to my second question, which is how much inspiration do you get from teaching and the kids you teach?
SL: Oh yeah, the whole book is written with my teacher-self embedded within the entire thing, and there are so many teachable moments in the book because of that. The book is inspired by the kids that I teach and this unit that I do at school evolves every year because of the kids. They inspire me just as much as I inspire them and I love seeing how excited they get every time this unit unravels and basically the big idea at the end is that you can make the world a better place too! They get so excited about it, especially when they hear about these kids that are doing real things in the world, like Katie Stagliano and Mikaila Ulmer (who are the two super hero kids in the book that I feature), and it’s just more meaningful and more real when I’m teaching them about other kids and not reading them a story about fictitious characters. I’m teaching them about real human beings and that’s more meaningful to them and they get more excited. They’re like, ‘wow she was only eight when she started Katie’s Krops’, or, ‘Wow, Michaela started saving the bees making her lemonade when she was five or six’. It gets them so excited and you can see that lightbulb moment when they realize that these kids were their age.
JR: What made you decide to launch a Kickstarter campaign to publish the book? Did you consider a more traditional publishing route?
SL: Me and my partner Elaine, who’s the illustrator for the book, we did talk about it, and we kind of weighed the pros and cons of doing a Kickstarter or trying to go through a publishing house. I think because it was a passion project for the both of us it wasn’t really a mission to make money, and I think that we both just realized that going the Kickstarter route would be more rewarding, because even if we only sold a few copies, those were people that really care about our message and want to inspire kids as well. It could have been years trying to get into a publishing house and it would take so much longer for things to maybe get picked up and even then you don’t have the freedom to do the marketing, you don’t have as much control over the book, so with this it was totally us, doing everything, making the decisions and we’re going to see the direct reward right away with all the people who have backed us, those books are sold right away.
JR: Right, and you’re already over 90% funded with two weeks to go, so how excited are you right now?
SL: We are 94% funded which is super exciting! It was a really, really just overwhelming experience the second that we launched and it was so exciting and we received so much support right away. More so then I could have imagined. People were reaching out, people that I hadn’t spoken to, were saying how impressed they were and how great the message is behind the book. It wasn’t just people that know myself or Elaine, it was strangers, that were excited about it. And hearing that librarians from different schools in Vancouver found out about the book and were interested in it and they were spreading the word to other librarians and it’s just word of mouth with all of these people just loving this message, loving the illustrations, loving the art, the story and wanting to share with kids. It’s just really exciting.
JR: How did you and Elaine meet?
SL: We met volunteering through Sofar Sounds Vancouver, which I’ve been saying since the second I started with them, that it was a life-changing experience for so many different reasons. I’ve met so many of my closest friends through Sofar and they’ve been my support and my lifeline here in Vancouver. Sofar changed my life because I MC for them and I realized how much I love doing that. Elaine is also a live illustrator for Sofar and I met her and if I didn’t start with them my life wouldn’t be where it is now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
JR: What was your writing process like?
SL: It started with an idea, and I think growing it from the idea to the plot of the story was probably the longest process, but once I get an idea and an outline I can write pretty quickly and get my ideas down on paper. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a book about this message. So that kind of was the little idea for a long time, where I’m like, who would be in it?, what character would I have? Then I was really trying to think, where do I want to go with this? Do I want to feature some of the superheroes? A lot of that pondering is the longest part really. With my kids, I actually have a creative writing club, it’s called CW Club. Every Friday we meet and then we all write our stories. And the funny thing is, I was writing my story alongside them, and we would sit together on Fridays and share our ideas of where our stories were at, and they’ve been there every step of the way watching this story develop, which was kind of cute.
JR: Oh that’s so cute, I need a writing club, can I come?
SL: Absolutely, join us.
I was writing my story alongside them, and we would sit together on Fridays and share our ideas of where our stories were at, and they’ve been there every step of the way watching this story develop, which was kind of cute.
JR: Do you have any advice for other first time writers? Is there anything you learned during this process that really stands out?
SL: I learned that it’s not as easy as I thought it would be and it’s not as quick of a process as I thought it would be. Because I can write very easily, but I thought that that would make the process really quick, but really it took so long to develop and it’s such a long process to get a book published, because you have to fine-tune and you have to make sure the story makes sense. What’s the theme? What’s the big idea? Are your characters interesting enough? Do they stand out? They can’t be forgettable characters, kids won’t really respond to that. So all of these little things just make it such a long process.
What I also learned is that, and this is also advice to new authors, is that even though you self-publish, that doesn’t mean that you’re putting in minimal effort and that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cheaper route. If you want a quality end-product you have to put in the money, you have to invest in yourself and believe in your project because if you don’t it won’t go anywhere. I invested in a really, really good editor, I invested in an amazing graphic designer and found an incredible illustrator and all of that comes together and it really makes a difference when you look at a book. Even learning from the graphic designer that the text has to be a particular size for the age group the book is geared towards. Those are things that you don’t realize. I made sure that this book was going to be the best product in the end. I invested in myself because I believed in it, and that’s what makes me so confident to promote it to other people. Like I’m selling my soul because my blood, sweat and tears went into this book and I feel proud and confident that it’s a good quality book with an amazing message, incredible art and I feel good about it.
JR: Some of your Kickstarter rewards come with teaching resources, did you develop these yourself?
SL: I make my own resources and so I’ll be making the resource that parents and teachers can use in their classroom. It will probably have pre-reading questions, post-reading questions, journal prompts, creative activities and maybe some art. I’m still thinking about it and discussing it with different educator friends of mine to see what they would like in a resource, and using that to create this for parents and educators, so that’s in the works right now. It’s going to be my summer project.
JR: How can they use the book as an education tool?
SL: I did my teaching program at UBC and was one of the first classes to adopt the new redesigned BC curriculum, so a lot of the core competencies have links to the book which is great. I wrote with that in mind, so it really sparks conversations about social awareness and positive identity, also social responsibility, critical thinking and growth mindset—getting kids to realize the difference between a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset, where if you put in the work and the effort you can do anything. You can accomplish things using your own talents. That’s a whole awareness of yourself and your positive attributes.
I did two test read-alouds with my kids and there are so many parts where I want to stop reading and teach them. That’s all I want to do when I’m reading the story is stop and have them think about Amelia, who’s the main character, and ask them, what do you think her talents are and what are you noticing in the book? What kind of positive attributes can you see? What can she do with those positive attributes? How can she make the world a better place with those? And then kind of linking that to themselves, well what are your special talents? What are your superpowers? How can you use that to make a difference and to help other people? And that’s actually what I do in my classroom. I do this whole lesson, but now I actually have a tool to do it with. We also use the book as a starting point to talk about social justice issues. They explore their own causes and what issues speak to them and then brainstorm how they can make a difference and how they can contribute to that cause.
In the story, Amelia gets really frustrated because she’s trying to do what the other superheroes are doing to make the world a better place and not focusing on her own talents and what she’s passionate about, so she’s getting really frustrated. That’s another discussion that you can have with the book, is how do you self regulate your frustrations and what do you do when you feel like giving up? Which is that fixed mindset. And me and the kids will discuss, well you can take a walk, and you can count to ten, you can take big breaths, you can draw or listen to music. We talk all about self-regulation and what you can do to overcome that, as opposed to giving up, you don’t want to give up, you want to keep trying and find something that speaks to you.
There’s honestly so many things that you can do with it. You can research other kids, going beyond Katie and Mikaila to look at other kids that are helping the world and seeing what they do. Then you can have them do informative writing and teach about a cause and find other kids that are helping that cause and then share about that.
JR: You’ve basically answered my next question which is what do you hope readers will take away from the book and it sounds like you want them to find their superpower.
SL: Yes, that is the big idea, using your talents, your superpowers to make the world a better place.
JR: What advice do you have for children, or people in general, who want to make a difference in the world?
SL: My advice is you need to find your driving cause and not force something that you don’t really care about. Because if you’re not passionate about it, and your face doesn’t light up when you speak about the cause, then it’s just not for you and you won’t put in the hard work and the dedication and the sacrifice to help that cause. So you need to find what you strongly care about and think about your talents and your passions and use that.
JR: Thank you so much Stephanie. I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me today and I can’t wait to read Amelia the Not-so-Small Super Hero soon.
SL: Yeah, hopefully we get the support and it gets published, so we can make it a reality.
Update: Since the time of this interview, the Kickstarter campaign for Amelia the Not-So Small Superhero surpassed its goal and is officially funded. There are still fourteen days left to pre-order your copy and help the campaign meet a number of stretch goals, including dust jackets, a small human local superhero event and launch party, as well as a few mysterious super rewards.