Author Spotlight: Stephanie Wildman

For Today’s Author Spotlight, I’m thrilled to be chatting with Stephanie Wildman about her debut picture book Brave In The Water.

Stephanie M. Wildman served as John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law and directed the school’s Center for Social Justice and Public Service before becoming Professor Emerita. Her books include: Brave in the Water (2021); Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America (2021) (with contributions by Armstrong, Davis, & Grillo); Race and Races: Cases and Resources for a Diverse America (with Delgado, Harris, Perea, & Stefancic) (2015); Social Justice: Professionals Communities and Law (with Mahoney & Calmore) (2013); Women and the Law Stories (with Schneider) (2011). She is a member of the Writers Grotto. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she is able to sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about Brave in The Water. Do you want to start out by telling us a little about yourself and the book?

I have always wanted to be a writer. Some would say I have been a writer already because I’ve published many nonfiction books and articles in my life as a law professor. NYU Press recently published a “classic edition” of my book Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America (with contributions by Margalynne Armstrong, Adrienne Davis, and Trina Grillo) (updated with new material). But it is fiction, especially for children, that I want to write. Brave in the Water is my debut picture book.

In Brave in the Water the reader meets Diante, who is afraid to put his face in the water. He would like to play in the pool with other children. He’s not afraid to hang upside down though, and he is surprised to learn that his grandma is afraid to be upside down in an inverted yoga pose. Can Diante help Grandma and become brave in the water?

Spoiler alert: He can and he does. Grandma tells Diante about the feathered peacock yoga pose that she aspires to do. Diante wants to try it. Grandma explains that “Breathing is important for trying something new.” They practice slow, deep inhalations and exhalations together, before Diante returns to the pool.

What inspired you to write Brave in the Water?

I grew up with a deep fear of water, instilled by my parents who couldn’t swim. My grandfather took me to swimming lessons, but I couldn’t learn. It’s hard to learn anything when you are fearful. I hope this book can help children want to learn to swim and see how much fun they can have in the water.

Title: Brave In The Water
Author: Stephanie Wildman
Illustrator: Jenni Feidler-Aguilar
Publisher: Lawley Publishing
Published: April 27, 2021
Format: Picture Book

What advice would you give parents with children who are fearful of the water like Diante?

I do think that one important parental role is helping a child learn to swim and to be water safe. Good swim lessons are available in many places. Spending time in the water with a child, helping them to get a sense of buoyancy is a good step prior to lessons. For some children going to lessons with a buddy is helpful. For others, if they are very fearful, a private session or two might “break the ice.” Warm water helps, too.

Diante’s grandmother teaches him to find a calm sort of bravery through yoga. Was yoga helpful for you in facing your own fears of swimming?

I didn’t learn to swim until I was 26 years old, and I didn’t start yoga until my late fifties, so yoga didn’t help me with being fearful until later in life. But it has helped me face other fears and reprogram my neural pathways.

Though you have written other books previously, Brave in The Water is your picture book debut. How did the writing process differ from your other titles? How was your experience working with an illustrator for Brave in The Water?

The writing process was not so different. For both nonfiction and fiction, I needed lots of rewrites and editing. But having Jenni Feidler-Aguilar, the illustrator, bring the story to life was an amazing experience. I am not a very visual person and seeing the story through her drawings for the first time was a thrill I won’t forget. It really made my heart sing. Jenni has a YouTube channel where you can learn more about her work:

If you had to describe Brave in The Water in three words, what would they be?

Breathe . . . Breathe . . . Breathe . . .

Do you foresee any more picture books in your future? 

I hope so. I have several works in progress. I will keep you posted.

Are there any books that inspired you to write?

I made up a pen name in the 4th grade. I was in love with Beezus, Ramona, and Pippi Longstocking.

What book (or books) are you currently reading?

I am almost finished with Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s a tour de force. I have also been reading books by many of my Writers Grotto colleagues like Vanessa Hua, Bridget Quinn, A.H. Kim , Katherine Seligman, and many others.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive readers?

My debut group is full of diverse books and creators. Please check out these stories. It has been a joy to go through this book launch process with this wonderful group and to learn about their books.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today and introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s Readers.

You can also find Stephanie online at her website, and on social media at Twitter and Instagram.

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