I was so excited when I got a copy of Everyone Belongs by Heather Avis from Random House. The cover immediately gripped me. I thought it was so cute. I could not wait to chat with Heather about it!
Heather, welcome! Tell us more about Everyone Belongs.
Everyone Belongs is a story about two sisters who go to the park to put on a show. These sisters have learned how to celebrate and embrace differences, so they know just what to do when lots of other kids with a variety of differences and disabilities want to come and join the show. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens!
What inspired you to write this new children’s book, Everyone Belongs?
The sisters in the book, named Macy and Tru, are my real-life daughters. Both joined our family through adoption. Macy is Caucasian and has Down syndrome, and Tru is African American and Guatemalan and does not have a disability. Both of them find themselves marginalized in multi-ways. As their mom, not only have I been inspired to step up in this world as an advocate and ally, shouting their worth, but I have also been inspired by the ways these sisters work so hard to love and embrace all different kinds of people.
What was your favorite part of crafting this book?
My favorite part of being an author and crafting a book is when the inspiration hits, and I write as quickly as I can. For this particular book, I was sitting at a park looking at a stage when the idea for the book came to me, and I wrote the majority of the first draft in one sitting. Then for a few days after, I would make sure to keep my journal close by and jot down new ideas to fit into the story until I could piece it all together into one final manuscript. It is also important to note that the manuscript then goes to an editor, and together we work out each word until the final outcome. I like to say, as the author, I present the music and the words, and the editor makes it sing.
The drawings are great! Are they exactly what you pictured when you decided to write a children’s book?
Honestly, not at all! I am terrible at drawing. Truly terrible. But I have ideas in my head that I can never get into another person’s head in the exact same way I imagine it! I loved working with Sara Mensinga because she is talented and brilliant. And with some back and forth, she was definitely able to capture my vision, which shifted a lot as she made the characters come to life. In the end, the illustrations are a real partnership. They are not what I had originally pictured, but they needed to grow and become what they did. I love the partnership.
What is it you hope parents and children takeaway from Everyone Belongs?
It’s twofold really. I hope parents who are reading this book to a child with a disability or a child who may not fit recognize just how good they are exactly as they are and this world is a place for them to shine. I also hope that parents who don’t have a child with a disability read this book and that it becomes an opportunity for learning and growth for them and their child. I hope this book can be used as a tool to talk about disability, differences, and how we can work together to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging.
Share with readers more about your parenting journey.
My parenting journey started with a longing to be a mom, followed by years of infertility. This led my husband and I down a path toward adoption, and while we pursued a “healthy” and non-disabled baby, we learned about a little girl with Down syndrome and some serious health concerns. It’s a very long story, but the short version is we said yes to adopting her. I say she was my scariest and best, yes! We named her Macyn Hope; she changed our lives forever and for the better. A few years later, we adopted our daughter Truly, and a few years after that adopted our son August, who also has Down syndrome. Parenting is a sacred, spectacular, and wild ride. I love (almost) every minute of it!
Will there be a book two?
Everyone Belongs is my fourth published book and second children’s book. My debut children’s book, Different, A Great Thing to Be! came out in 2021 and is a story about a girl named Macy who inspires others to see, embrace and celebrate Differently! I am currently working on a third children’s book, which will most likely star a boy named August.
Did you always want to write a children’s book?
I can think back to elementary school and having a deep desire to be a children’s book author. But I’m not an illustrator, so it seemed like a stretch. I went on to pursue education and became a teacher. Then opportunities opened up around me, and one “yes” led to another, and I became an author with real books in bookstores. It’s a dream!
Where can readers find you on social media?
The best place to follow along is on Instagram @theluckyfewoffical
Anything else you want to add?
In Everyone Belongs, the sisters tell the kids about the encounter, “Exactly who you are is exactly who we pick.” So I’ll leave that with you; may it shine light and truth on your life today.
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