KidLit in Color author Tonya Abari interviews Ashley Franklin about her new book Better Together, Cinderella released September 9, 2021.
Tonya: What do you hope children and adults will gain from reading Better Together, Cinderella?
Ashley: I hope that they gain a new appreciation for the power of a child’s imagination. Tameika not only imagines a magical evening for herself, but one that encompasses her family.
I also hope that kids with siblings realize that their personal, shining light doesn’t diminish just because the sizes of their families have changed.
Tonya: Just like in Not Quite Snow White, you seamlessly include a classic fairy tale into a modern, yet timeless narrative. Can you explain your process for selecting which parts of the classic fairy tales to feature (and how much you wanted to include) in your own manuscripts?
Ashley: Both fairy tales have oodles of retellings, so I wanted to focus on their most memorable components (in my opinion)—beauty & acceptance for Not Quite Snow White and family dynamics & acceptance for Better Together, Cinderella. I wanted those to be the driving forces behind each of my manuscripts while also exploring Tameika’s princess state of mind.
Tonya: So many children can relate to welcoming new siblings into the family (and Tameika has double duty on her hands!). How did your own experience as a parent and/or sibling inform the crafting of Tameika’s struggle to find her place as a big sibling?
Ashley: I am nine years older than my next sister. In my mind, I was clearly cemented as my mother’s only child, so I was not a fan at first. My bitterness grew when my mom dressed us alike. She’s my best friend now though.
My own boys are 2.5 years apart. For the entire time that they’ve occupied Earth at the same time, I’ve seen them fight hard yet love harder. I’ve helped them navigate their misunderstandings and stood aside as they have aired their grievances. Capturing the complexities of sibling relationships was foundational in how I shaped Tameika’s emotional journey.
Tonya: I just love how Tameika’s best friend and uncle help her navigate becoming a big sister. Can you expand on the theme and importance of community stepping in to help children understand their feelings around life’s changes?
Ashley: Honestly, I hate the idea that picture book characters are expected to solve their own problems. I wasn’t raised like that. There was always a relative, friend, or even a neighbor I could turn to.
I always think back to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The guidance of a safe, protective, and enlightened community helps a child to grow to their full potential. Feelings are big—even for adults. The moments between Tameika and Uncle Derrick where he helps her figure out her feelings are some of my favorites. Why not show the beauty of that bond in a picture book?
Tonya: You are back for the second time working with Ebony Glenn’s lively and colorful illustrations. Tell us about the author/illustration process for this second book – working with Ebony and co-illustrator, Saba Joshagani.
Ashley: It was simple! I was able to ask for things to include (like the girl in the wheelchair and for Khadija’s hijab) and they were great about it. All in all, I really just had no problem putting this story in their more than capable hands.
Tonya: After the success of Not Quite Snow White, did you feel any pressure drafting Tameika’s next adventure in Better Together, Cinderella?
Ashley: Absolutely! I wanted to keep Tameika’s sweetness but also show her frustration with her new big sister role. It was hard to make sure that she didn’t come across as bratty. Instead, I needed her to come across as lost. In essence, she’s a star who feels lost without being center stage.
Tonya: We all know that publishing is very top secret, but can you give us the scoop – or at least a subtle hint – on what you’re working on next?
Ashley: Sigh. So many NDAs 😞. I can mention that I have at least one picture book scheduled for 2023, and that’s Xavier's Voice with Innovation Press. I’m also trying my hand at writing a middle grade novel. It’s a wonderfully terrifying experience to branch out from picture books.
Ashley Franklin is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. She received her M.A. from the University of Delaware and B.A. from Albright College, both in English Literature. Ashley is the author of Not Quite Snow White (2019), “Creative Fixes” from the anthology Once Upon An Eid (2020), “Situationally Broke” from the anthology What We Didn't Expect (2020), and Better Together, Cinderella (2021). She’s also had several pieces published on popular online platforms such as Romper, Complex, About Islam, Medium, and more.
Ashley grew up in Maryland, but she has also called Pennsylvania, Delaware and Louisiana home. She currently resides in Arkansas with her family.