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ABC Your Way to Confidence

Velena Collins Smoot is the author of the picture book ABC Your Way to Confidence, illustrated by Whimsical Designs by CJ, and self-published. She's family with someone I consider like family (Hi, Winsome!), and I was happy to be able to learn more about her very personal and heartfelt project. Follow @abcyourway on Instagram and visit abcyourway.com to see the book and adorable merch.

EG: Were you a reader as a child?

VCS: When I was a child, if you’d asked me if I was a reader, I would have said, “No.” That’s because I didn’t read standard story books unless I had to for school. The books in school did not interest me. The material was not relatable. This led me to believe I was not a reader. I went from an A student to a B- student in reading comprehension quickly. My teacher recognized my disconnect and got me a Harvard student tutor. I was given vocabulary and reading comprehension tests. It was clear that I could read but had little to no interest in the material given. Once I was given packets on topics that I enjoyed, my reading comprehension score increased. My tutor told me, “Everyone likes to read. You have to find what interests you.” She was right! I was a reader as a child. I enjoyed animal encyclopedias, geography books, magazines such as Word Up, Teen, Vogue, and my favorite, Scholastic News.

EG: What has been your self-publishing journey?

VCS: Doing anything you are unfamiliar with takes research. The internet is your best friend. I didn’t have a go-to person to ask for help. Hannah Diop, founder and creator of Sienna Naturals, said, “If you can read, you can find your way and figure it out.” I called publishing companies to inquire about their requirements and protocol. Some publishing companies require an agent to represent you. Most publishing companies advised me that self-publishing may be the best route for me based on my needs. One question led to the next question which led to solutions and more leads. Self-publishing is not hard to do. It was more time consuming learning the process and gathering the right information.

EG: How did you choose which ABC words to use?

VCS: My book is based on spiritual enlightenment, abundance, and repetition. My book is meant to be read daily. The way we feed our bellies daily is the same way I want to feed my reader’s confidence. I want my reader to acquire an abundance of self-love. The adjective for each letter had to fall into the category of spiritual enlightenment, which is what I call confidence.

Most of the words came naturally. However, it was challenging to find positive adjectives for the letters X, Y, Z, and V. But on the flip side it was fun looking up words to use. And I also learned a few new words. It never hurts to expand your vocabulary (ha ha). I definitely had a moment of word overload. I looked through the dictionary several times to make sure I didn’t overlook any word. I chose words that made me feel good.

EG: Were you involved with the illustration?

VCS: I informed my illustrator, Whimsical Designs, of the theme and vibe I was going for, and that was it. I told her I wanted my characters to go on a fun adventure. And she nailed it! She exceeded my expectations. I have received so many compliments on the vibrant colors and quality of the illustrations. I gave the illustrator creative control. I believe you should let an artist shine in their gift to elevate your gift.

EG: X is hard for an alphabet book, but this is perfect for your message. “Unknown variable – adaptable. You are limitless.” How did that all come together?

VCS: I was having a hard time finding a word for X. There are not many adjectives that start with X! I even looked in the Urban Dictionary. But when I did find a word or two, I was not sold. I felt like I was reaching and settling. I didn’t want to settle just because it was time consuming or because I didn’t have many options. I took a couple of nights off. I needed to think with a clear mind. Sometimes you have to give your brain a break. And when I did just that, I had a new approach to finding a word for X. I said to myself, “What is X?” I repeated it a few times until it clicked. I am an algebra geek, so that mathematical definition came to mind. “X” is an unknown variable. (My sixth-grade math teacher Ms. Daniels would be so proud. Her motto was: Math is EVERYWHERE!) X can be anything. And with that in mind, the affirmation came with ease. “You are limitless.”

EG: “Your imagination is your superpower.” How do you hope that idea is amplified?

VCS: First of all, I am happy that you chose this quote. And I am glad that you asked this question. “Your imagination is your superpower” is the most popular quote that sticks with my readers. This is my favorite quote from the book as well. It is very important to me. I stand by this. I believe this is our way out of many bad situations. I am designing merchandise based on this quote to help spread the message, so stay tuned!

I want people to understand the power they possess; that the mind is a muscle that should be strengthened and challenged. I want to nourish the growth of thinkers—to think with no limitation. I believe creative minds are not nourished properly. Far too often, “unusual” ideas are looked at as crazy, weird, or far-fetched. But those ideas are usually life changing. For example, the idea of the internet was far too advanced and not tangible for people to understand and believe it would exist or rule the world. But now the internet is a part of our everyday life. Ideas need to be flushed out, treated with care, and intellectually questioned. Your imagination can literally save you. One idea can get you out of poverty, into school, lead you to be a CEO, founder, creator, inventor. The opportunities are endless. I want to get back to creative learning. I want to spark the growth of more young entrepreneurs.

For more on ABC books, read Lolly Robinson's 2008 Horn Book Magazine article "Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: What Makes a Good Alphabet Book?"

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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