Knoxville, Tenn. — Ashlee Latimer’s career has taken her to the Broadway spotlight and to the Tony Awards stage. But her next step – the debut of her first children’s book – happened in her hometown of Knoxville.
Latimer, 30, is the author of “Francis Discovers Possible,” published May 3. A 2016 graduate of the University of Tennessee, her roots in Knoxville run deep. She graduated from Bearden High School and has performed, produced and directed over a dozen plays with Knoxville Children’s Theatre.
She was inspired by her own life to create Francis, a girl who accepts her morphology, as a message to everyone that big characters deserve to take their place in stories and in life.
“One of my goals with this book was, of course, to center an obese child having an ultimately positive experience and learning to love themselves, but really this book is for anyone who has felt wrong about of how they looked in one way or another at some point,” Latimer told Knox News.
Francis’ first suspicions came when Latimer read a Twitter thread from a librarian friend about how little positive depiction of fat is in picture books. She vividly remembers one of her friend’s examples, an illustration of President William Taft struggling to get out of a tub.
“Even though I had noticed the lack of positive portrayal of fat in mid-level books and YA books and of course adult media of all kinds, I hadn’t really thought about that for picture books. “, said Latimer.
In the resulting story, Francis discovers the negative associations of the word fat from a classmate’s sarcastic remark. Francis considered “fat” to be something warm and comforting, but now she is forced to reconsider. With the help of his father, Francis redefines fat by imagining what it can do.
Shahrzad Maydani’s pastel and watercolor illustrations echo these themes beautifully. Big characters glide across the page on roller skates, in swimming pools, dance through ribbons, all to normalize people living full and rich lives.
Latimer said the book is aimed at children ages 3 to 8, but the lessons in it are for everyone.
“I have now become an advocate for people of all ages who read picture books,” Latimer said. “I think they’re so helpful in so many ways, and yeah, I really hope it starts a lot of cross-generational conversations or starts the process of self-acceptance for some adults.”
She’s heard of adults buying “Francis Discovers Possible” for themselves as the first step on their journey to body acceptance. And, she’s heard of parents buying the book as a way to navigate body image conversations for parent and child.
“I really believe in the story we’ve created and the positive impact it could have. … I’ve heard from people how much they love the story, how much Francis resonates with them and that is already really special,” Latimer said.
Inclusions of all kinds are woven into the pages of the book. Maydani’s illustrations feature students wearing hijabs, mobility aids like wheelchairs and canes, and a caring and capable father figure.
“Francis Discovers Possible” has been in the works for over two years, selling to Abrams Books in October 2019.