Yamaguchi launches It’s a Big World, Little Pig

12 Mar

By Lynn Rutherford

Kristi Yamaguchi hasn’t performed on ice for two years, but family,  philanthropy and a new career as a children’s book author keep her plenty busy.

When the 1992 Olympic champion learned that one in four U.S. children grow up not knowing how to read, she resolved to use her Always Dream Foundation to do something about it.

Her 2011 debut book, Dream Big, Little Pig, reached number two on the New York Times’ bestselling children’s book list. This month, the second volume of Poppy the pig’s adventures, It’s a Big World, Little Pig, hits the shelves. Yamaguchi is donating all of her personal profits to help promote childhood literacy.

“Childhood literacy is a new goal and a new direction that my foundation has been turning to for a couple of years,” she said. “It’s taken that long to kind of get our ducks in a row. Now we have a couple of reading programs we’re launching this year that will hopefully be integrated into schools.”

“We’re going to pilot at some schools in [California’s] Bay Area but eventually we are hoping it will take off from there.”

It’s a Big World, Little Pig follows Poppy, a budding figure skater, as she leaves home to compete at the World Games in Paris. Although nervous at first, she ends up making new friends.

The message that a smile can start a conversation in any language hit home with Yamaguchi, who began traveling abroad when she was 14.

“My first international competition was junior worlds in Sarajevo in 1985, and I just took the inspiration and experience I had then, and twisted it into a fun little story,” she said.

Yamaguchi, married since 2000 to retired NHL defenseman Bret Hedican, used daughters  Keara Kiyomi, 8, and Emma Yoshiko, 6, as a built-in focus group.

“Emma is Poppy’s best friend in the book, and Keara actually named Poppy,” she said. “Keara’s middle name is Kiyomi, the name of the crane in the second book.

“I would ask the girls for advice, read them the rough drafts, get ideas from them. They had some good little suggestions.”

She opened her seven-city tour publicizing It’s a Big World, Little Pig with an appearance at Morristown, N.J.’s  William G. Mennen Sports Arena that drew hundreds of children, parents and grandparents to the ice rink, where a public skating session was in progress.

“I read her first book to my three-year-old daughter all the time,” said Jackie Kulik-Palawasta, Mennen’s skating director. “I asked her, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if mommy could get Kristi to sign this?’ So I contacted Kristi’s publicist and arranged it.”

Kulik-Palawasta hopes the large turnout gives Mennen’s learn-to-skate program, already one of the largest in the tri-state area, a boost. Her helpers hand out bookmarks featuring group class discounts and everyone who bought a book got a free session.

“It’s so important to get kids into sports and activities,” she said. “That’s part of the message here.”

Yamaguchi, who brought her message to NBC’s Today show later that week, agreed.

“Writing the book is all about trying to give children the lessons I learned when I was young,” she said. “It’s fun to see them kind of taking in the story and hopefully getting them to enjoy reading as well.

“I tell them, ‘Take this book home and have mommy read it to you over and over again, and then go skate or pursue your dream,  whatever it is.’”

Click here to view pictures from Yamaguchi’s appearance at the  Mennen Sports Arena on Sunday, March 4th.

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