After she had a miscarriage and her husband had a heart attack, Glendale author Amanda Malek-Ahmadi picked up the pencil and decided to start writing again.
This led to the creation of her first picture book, “10 Ballet Dancers.”
Her love for writing started in elementary school when Mister Tom visited her school with his book “Messy Cat.” She remembers being “enamored” and wondered if she would be able to be an author someday.
“As kids you’re learning those writing skills and everything like that. So that’s what started everything,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “So that’s what started it, and it was just a huge passion. I was definitely that girl in high school who wrote in a diary, and even through college.”
The idea behind “10 Ballet Dancers” came to Malek-Ahmadi in 2019, after she joined the “story storm,” a concept Tara Lazard came up with, where she encourages writers to come up with 30 ideas in January. Malek-Ahmadi said the journey began on one of the challenge’s first days.
“It was, like, No. 5 on my list, and that night when I wrote it out, it just kind of poured out, which we like to refer to in the writing community as ‘Big Magic,’ and I wrote it,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “I was super excited about it.”
Teaching the concepts of ballet in a counting book was an idea Malek-Ahmadi had for a while. She said teaching the accuracy of dance is important. Malek-Ahmadi also shares her passion of dance as a teacher at Wight Noise Dance Company in Peoria. She’s on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To capture the technicality of dance in the book’s illustrations, Malek-Ahmadi was able to work closely with her illustrator to make sure readers could accurately picture the dance moves as well.
The writer-illustrator relationship is usually one that happens at a distance, where the publisher gives the author the illustrated book, completed. But in the case of “10 Ballet Dancers,” Malek-Ahmadi worked closely with her illustrator, Kathrine Gutkovskiy, to develop a book with accurate illustrations of ballet.
To aid Gutkovskiy, Malek-Ahmadi and her friend, Lalo, took videos so Gutkovskiy could see the kinetic movements of the dances in the book.
“She just captured the moment the best she could when it was a movement from the videos and the pictures that we sent,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “That was a really fun experience.”
Gutkovskiy turned Lalo into a character in the book, which helped Malek-Ahmadi show that boys dance, too. Inspired by Lalo, Malek-Ahmadi named the book “10 Ballet Dancers,” instead of “10 Ballerinas.”
“I just think it was so ingrained in my head, ‘ballerinas,’ because those are the books you see all the time as ballerinas; it’s a little girl and her tutu,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “But no, boys dance.”
When Malek-Ahmadi contacted her publisher about her book idea, she said it was at the same time as the controversy over Prince Williams’ son liking ballet.
“This book wasn’t in response to that; it just happened to come out at the same time,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “It was already written before all that happened.”
“10 Ballet Dancers” shows an ordinary day at a dance studio while teaching children about dance. Malek-Ahmadi said she wants people to enjoy the book with their kids, even if they may struggle with the book’s technical ballet terms.
“The ballet terms are in the back to help people with pronunciations and everything,” Malek-Ahmadi said.
“I hope people just find a love for ballet if they don’t already have it, from this book,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “Go check out some ballet and some dancing.”