Elizabeth Street Meets Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi’s awards record isn’t too shabby. Her accolades range from an Olympic gold medal in figure skating to, more recently, a Dancing With the Stars mirror ball trophy. She also added “author” to her resume when she released her children’s book, Dream Big, Little Pig!, a story about a pig named Poppy who follows her dreams and becomes an ice skater. With Kristi’s second book, It’s a Big World, Little Pig!, the adventure continues as Poppy jets off to Paris for the World Games.

Professional successes aside, Yamaguchi has also been celebrated for her charitable work with her Always Dream Foundation, which supports organizations and programs that have a positive impact on children. Kristi is married to retired ice hockey player and Stanley Cup winner Bret Hedican. They have two little girls: Keara, 8, and Emma, 6.

Elizabeth Street chatted with Kristi about her second book, her admirable foundation and, of course, her daughters.

We love that your second book has a multicultural feel, from its Parisian setting to Poppy’s friends. Did you know, from the beginning, that you wanted this book to have an international emphasis? 

Yes, definitely. It’s about Poppy experiencing new situations with people from different parts of the world, with different customs. She really discovers that they are all more alike than different.

In both books, the illustrations complement the text so perfectly. How closely did you work with (illustrator) Tim Bowers throughout the process of this? 

For the second book, I was able to get more involved, which was really fun. I wasn’t directing Tim, but I made a few suggestions about Poppy’s wardrobe, and the general design and coloration of the book. I also requested that we stress an international feel throughout the book. It’s really great to work with Tim, and see my ideas come to life. He has done an amazing job.

One of the themes that really resonates—for readers of all ages, I think—is the importance of having support from family and friends. What has being a mom taught you about the importance of encouragement? 

Well, I absolutely think kids gain confidence from encouragement. Growing up, I felt unconditional love from my parents, and nowas a parent myself—I try to convey that to my own children. You know, “I’m proud of you no matter what. But you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to do this…” Guidance is possible, but let them know that ultimately you want them to succeed and be happy.

What are some of the most popular children’s books in your own home?

My older daughter is into chapter books now. She’s really into the Magic Treehouse series and Junie B. Jones books. The younger one still loves pretty much everything…she’ll even pull out a baby book! Jamie Lee Curtis has a couple of great books, too, and of course we have all the classics.

Can you talk a bit about the Always Dream Foundation, and how it came about? 

Well, it’s been around for almost sixteen years now! Quite simply, I wanted to work with children. The Make a Wish Foundation inspired me years back, and I wanted to do something that was centered around kids, and that helps them in some way. At the moment, we’re focusing specifically on early childhood literacy, so the majority of our efforts are going in that direction.

How do you balance motherhood with your professional and philanthropic endeavors?

It’s tough. My priority now is my family, being a mom, and looking after the needs of my kids. But now that they’re a little older—and are both in school—I have more time during the day to do other things. I’m also not travelling as much as I used to, and that gives me time to think about the Always Dream Foundation and the goals we want to accomplish.

Do you think your daughters will end up on the ice? You and your husband are both such amazing skaters.  

It’s hard to say. The little one, who is 6, just started skating lessons. She’s not serious yet, and is just having fun with it. The older one wants to be an artist—actually, she wants to be a writer—and who knows, maybe she’ll even write children’s books someday! —Cat Buckley

Read our review of It’s a Big World, Little Pig!