The WSP team is pleased to introduce you to the creative mind behind the beloved children’s book, “Elina Ballerina.” In this interview, we learn about the imaginative storyteller Haley Williams, explore the inspiration behind her character, Elina, and discuss Elina’s journey into ballet, the struggles she encounters, and the power of a mother’s love.
“Elina Ballerina” is an inspiring story about a mother and daughter elephant that share a love for ballet. When Elina begins dance class, she also begins to struggle with self-doubt. Her mother takes her to the city, and they see the dancers on the big stage. Elina realized that she, too could become a talented dancer in time with a lot of practice. Her mother reminds Elina of the importance of never giving up on your dreams.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in North Alabama with my husband and four-year-old daughter. I have always loved writing and becoming a children’s author has been surreal. Publishing a children’s book has always been a dream. It’s interesting because my book is about ballet, and I was never a dancer. I had more interest in art and crafting when I was a child and young adult. My daughter has always loved The Wiggles, and when she would see the ballerinas dance— more specifically when the yellow wiggle was Emma Watkins, she could not stop watching. At age two her favorite toy was a ballerina Barbie she named Nina. We started watching more ballet on YouTube, and I enrolled her in a dance academy last year. She loves dancing, and I love watching and supporting her love for ballet.
Q: What inspired you to write “Elina Ballerina,” and how did the idea for a story about a mother and daughter elephant with a love for ballet come to you?
The short answer is my daughter is the inspiration. One night I couldn’t sleep. I write when I have trouble sleeping. I was thinking about my daughter’s love of dancing and how I could write a bedtime story for her. I tried to think from the perspective of a dance mom that deeply loves her child. This was actually before my daughter had started dance classes, and I was not yet a dance mom. I came up with the line “Elina my love, a dancer you’ll be…” and the lullaby was the first thing I had written. I wrote the rest of the story centered around that song/poem. When I named the character Elina, it sounded like her doll Nina, but her name starts with E like elephant – one of my daughter’s favorite animals at the time. The question I asked myself was what obstacles would an elephant face if she wanted to be a ballerina? The story flowed and I wrote it as a note in my iPhone and the whole story took around 45 minutes. I never imagined it would become a published book.
Q: In “Elina Ballerina,” Elina faces self-doubt when she begins dance class. Why did you choose this theme, and what message do you hope young readers take away from Elina’s journey?
I think the main takeaway should be to always follow your dreams. Also, if you love something, keep practicing and don’t give up. I chose this theme because once I decided early on that Elina was an elephant, I thought about how difficult it would be for an elephant to learn ballet, and the judgement she would face from other animals. Representation is a big part of the story. She is able to admire the elephant dancers that look like her.
Q: The relationship between Elina and her mother is central to the story. Can you share more about the importance of familial support and encouragement in your narrative?
As a mom, it is difficult to raise a daughter in this hateful world. Body image and expectations are hard, especially based on societies standards for girls. We love our children, and we want to encourage their dreams. It’s one thing to say ignore the negativity, and a whole new level to show your child their goal is achievable, and you believe in them. I hope my readers recognize how her mother responds. I think about how her mom also loves ballet and was probably also scrutinized at a young age. I think this says a lot about her mom’s gentleness in her response. She could have yelled and pulled her from dance class. She could have insisted all of the girls publicly apologize and embarrassed Elina. Instead, she gives her this wonderful surprise. Elina can visualize her future with famous elephant dancers to admire.
It’s easier to ignore the criticism when she is embracing who she is and has clear goals, while keeping in mind, she is strong and capable. Representation matters. Do I also hope Mom privately informed Ms. Bunny Rabbit, the dance instructor, that Elina was being bullied and having issues with her self-esteem? Absolutely. I didn’t write that part into the story, but I do hope in real life that adults are made aware in a similar situation.
Q: “Elina Ballerina” emphasizes the importance of never giving up on one’s dreams. How do you envision this message resonating with both children and their parents/guardians who may be reading the book together?
I think the book can speak to a number of audiences. It can remind children that just because someone doesn’t fit a mold of what you would expect in a certain activity, we should always be welcoming and encouraging to new friends. It can remind the child that feels discouraged to reach out to an adult to talk about it and learn from those who have accomplished the goal you’re working toward. Finally, parents of children that could be involved in (dance, cheerleading, sports, etc.) find ways to encourage the child not to give up if it’s something they truly love. Show them their goals are achievable and you unconditionally love and support their dreams.
Q: What is next for Haley Williams?
I have spoken to a few people about scheduling reading and signing events for Elina Ballerina in 2024. I am looking forward to those. I’m also so excited to announce I will be publishing another book that will launch in 2024! I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Walnut Street Publishing is a Chattanooga-based independent publisher that specializes in amplifying stories from new and experienced authors and artists. We build a bridge for authors and artists to their audience around the world. We do this by creating avenues for talented individuals to publish their work. We believe in working together to help bring stories to life. We specialize in helping new authors find their voice and assist them in the publishing process while also being a solution to experienced authors who want a more personal publisher.