A Pig’s Tale

TFK talks to Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi about her new book, It’s a Big World, Little Pig!

Feb 19, 2012 | By TFK Kid Reporter Saniya Soni
COURTESY SONI FAMILY

Kristi Yamaguchi has achieved much in her life. She was the first Asian-American woman to win Olympic gold in figure skating. She’s the winner of two World Figure Skating Championships and a U.S. Figure Skating Championship. In 2005, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. And in 2008, she out-danced the competition in ABC’s reality competition Dancing with the Stars. But Yamaguchi is not just an athlete. She’s also the founder of the Always Dream Foundation, and just last year, she wrote her first children’s book, Dream Big, Little Pig!

Now, Yamaguchi has done it once again. On March 6, the sequel to the best-selling Dream Big, Little Pig! will arrive in stores. TFK sat down with the Olympian at the Dublin Ice Skating Rink, where she trained as a young girl, and where she brings her daughters to skate today. Read on to see what Yamaguchi said about writing her new book, It’s a Big World, Little Pig!

TFK:

Your new book follows Poppy the Pig to the World Games in Paris, France. What does she experience at the Games?

KRISTI YAMAGUCHI:

She experiences meeting new people from different countries. This is the first time she’s traveled abroad, away from America. She just has those eye-opening experiences of meeting people who speak a different language and are a little different. It’s a good learning experience for her to know that they are more alike than different.

TFK:

What got you interested in writing children’s books?

YAMAGUCHI:

I think just having children of my own and spending a lot of time reading to them and understanding how important books are in their life. I wanted to do a story just for them, so they can say, “Mom wrote that for us!” They were pretty much my inspiration.

TFK:

Is Poppy the Pig based on your personality and life experiences?

YAMAGUCHI:

Not necessarily. It’s not meant to be, but of course, I pull from a lot of personal experiences and incorporate them into the book. So, I guess ultimately there are some traits and experiences that she goes through that are similar to mine... Like how she tried different activities until she found skating. That’s something I experienced. Also, Paris was where my World Championships took place. I was very excited when I first started traveling internationally and meeting new people. I thought that would be neat to incorporate.

TFK:

When Poppy meets a snowboarding Panda from China, a Maltese skier from Italy, a figure-skating crane from Japan and a speed-skating kangaroo from Australia, what does she learn from her experience?

YAMAGUCHI:

I think what she learns is that people speak different languages, they look different, they dress different, and they have different customs from their own country. But they have the same fears, and they have the same interests in music and fashion and food. And she also learns that all it takes is a smile to open up a door to a new friendship.

TFK:

What is the message you would like readers to take away from your book?

YAMAGUCHI:

It’s all about embracing differences and learning that all our basic needs of friendship are the same.

TFK:

When attending the World Games in Paris, Poppy is given support from her friend Emma and her family. When you were growing up and pursuing your dreams, do you feel you were given the same amount of support from your family and friends?

YAMAGUCHI:

Absolutely. I feel lucky that I had a lot of family support and a lot of friend support. A lot of my close friends were fellow skaters. It definitely takes a lot of support to add to your confidence, to help you when you’re discouraged and to get you through those tough times.

TFK:

What inspired you to start the Always Dream Foundation, and what does the Foundation work to achieve?

YAMAGUCHI:

The Make-A-Wish Foundation inspired me. It was the first organization I worked closely with. It opened my eyes to the different needs out there that can be met with effort. So, I decided to start my own foundation and focus on children’s needs and do whatever we can to help embrace the hopes and dreams of children. Now we’re actually turning and focusing on early childhood literacy.

TFK:

Your motto is “always dream.” What does dreaming mean to you?

YAMAGUCHI:

It’s always finding ways to bring on new challenges. At 20, I won the Olympic gold, and I thought, “Is this going to be it for me? Is 20 the highlight of my life?” It would be sad to think that. But after that, I had a 10-year professional career. I had goals as a professional skater, and I wanted to start a family, and I did Dancing with the Stars, and now this book. So, it’s always putting projects in front of you that are fun and that are going to keep life fresh and exciting.

TFK:

How have your life experiences as a figure skater helped you in life?

YAMAGUCHI:

There are so many lessons I learned as an athlete, and I continue to try to apply those things in life. One of the things my coach would say, and I always say, is that “there is no secret to success; it’s hard work.” You have to be willing to put the work in and the effort in to reach your goal. And that’s not only in skating, but in everything you do. I think as an athlete you learn there’s disappointment, but there’s a way to overcome obstacles when you face them.

TFK:

When you look back at all your achievements, which award meant the most to you, and why?

YAMAGUCHI:

The Olympic gold medal. The opportunity of representing my country was an honor, and the gold was just icing on the cake. I think it’s easy to say that moment of winning changed my life.

TFK:

Do you think you will write a third book about Poppy?

YAMAGUCHI:

It’s possible. It’s been a fun learning process. I have a lot of ideas, whether it’s the same character or something new. It’s been a really neat world to get into. I’d like to, but I don’t know for sure.

TFK:

Do you have any plans for writing books for an older age group?

YAMAGUCHI:

I haven’t thought about that, actually. I thought I’d maybe test the waters with the children’s books. When I have more to say, possibly.

TFK:

Do you have any advice for young dreamers?

YAMAGUCHI:

I would say, keep that dream in mind. You’re going to have ups and downs, but find a way to work through and use those hard times as motivations to make yourself better. I think the most important part is to believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing, because if you’re not sure, then it won’t happen. Just believe and go for it.