Author & Teacher Ashley Franklin Strives for Inclusion in Storytelling
Image credit: Tandy Predmore.
Watching the 1997 remake of Disney's "Cinderella" was a pivotal moment in Ashley Franklin’s life. It was the first time she saw a mainstream fairytale embody such a diverse cast — and perhaps even more important, the first time she saw a princess who looked like her.
Knowing what this meant for her, Franklin wants all underrepresented children to be able to see themselves in the stories around them. She’s made it her mission to support them, with the hopes of allowing all kids to dream big about their futures.
In 2019, she broke into the publishing industry with her debut children’s book, “Not Quite Snow White,” published by HarperCollins. Illustrated by Ebony Glenn, the picture book chronicles a girl who's met with pushback after going for the lead role in her school’s “Snow White” musical.
Since 2019, Franklin has published two other picture books: “Better Together, Cinderella” (2021) and “The Little Mermaid: Make a Splash” (2023).
“Better Together, Cinderella” is a follow-up to “Not Quite Snow White” about Tameika, a princess who wants to prove that she can be the best big sister ever even as she struggles to adjust to her new twin siblings.
Chosen by Disney to write a book that goes along with the new live action version of "The Little Mermaid," Franklin's latest publication features a curious mermaid named Ariel who makes a deal with the Sea Witch, Ursula, to allow her to learn more about the human world.
When she’s not writing, Franklin teaches English composition online at Southern New Hampshire University.
The following interview was originally published in 2019.
You recently published your debut children's book, 'Not Quite Snow White,' with HarperCollins. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
It feels like a dream! I’m a busy, working mom with two kids. I wrote this book on borrowed time — while cooking, while sitting at my kids’ afterschool activities, etc.
It makes me feel like I’m practicing what I preach when I tell my students that it may be difficult, but they have the ability to make time for whatever they find important. For them, it’s their degree. For me, it was writing a book.
What inspired you to write this picture book?
There was a Cinderella movie adaptation in the 90s that starred R&B singer Brandy. I’ll never forget the validation I felt at seeing an African-American princess. I wanted to try to give that feeling to a new generation of girls, but I wanted to extend the message. I wanted to share a larger message that kids should be supported as they try to find themselves and their perfect place in the world.
What was the writing and publishing process like from start to finish?
It’s definitely an emotional roller coaster. It’s filled with waiting and uncertainty. The first hurdle was that I had to find an agent because I knew I didn’t want to self-publish and the publishers I was interested in didn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.
I connected with my first agent thanks to a Twitter manuscript pitch party. She sold “Not Quite Snow White” within a year of us working together, but there were several other failed manuscripts before that.
What does it feel like to see your writing on store shelves?
Social media is the best! People have shared pictures of the book on shelves across the country. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s also very humbling. Who am I to have my very first book in some stores like Target and Barnes & Noble? I feel so blessed!
Who should read your book, and what do you hope they take away from it?
“Not Quite Snow White” is truly a book for everyone. I’ve connected with adults who’ve said they’ve cried after reading it, wishing they’d had such positive representation as children.
Children with big dreams who may not look like others who’ve gone before them in certain fields or areas can read it and take away the notion that they have every right to occupy the spaces that they wish to be a part of.
Children who are accustomed to seeing themselves represented will get a glimpse of what it’s like to not have that — to witness the pain that words can cause whether they’re intentional or not.
What advice do you have for students interested in writing? How can they stand out in the publishing industry today?
My advice to students interested in writing and standing out in the publishing industry is to never forget that there is only one you. Within you is a story that only you can tell, so don’t be afraid to tell it.
Also, it’s extremely difficult to be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. Read widely in the genre in which you’re interested.
Why is the study of English composition important to you?
Proficient communication is essential to navigating life. These initial English composition courses give students fundamental skills that they’ll use throughout the remainder of their academic journeys.
For me, it’s a privilege to help students discover their strengths and weaknesses as writers, mine texts for ideas and help them to increase their writing aptitude.
What’s the most important thing you want your students to come away with from your courses?
Confidence! There’s no worse academic feeling than the feeling of inadequacy when it comes to your reading comprehension and writing skills. I hope that students leave my course knowing that they can tackle complex texts and that there isn’t an essay that they can’t write.
With that being said, I also hope that they are confident enough to trust the learning process and know that they can come to their instructors and academic advisors when they need help.
Lastly, why is education important to society as a whole and you personally?
As a whole, education is important to society because it gives us the tools to be great—great readers, writers, thinkers, speakers, doers, makers, etc. A good education helps us to recognize the world for what it is and to identify what we each can do to make it a better place if we choose to.
Personally, education is important to me because it has helped me in numerous aspects of my life. Without my master’s degree, I wouldn’t be able to teach from home and have the availability I need for my kids. Without my bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t have realized that I loved a wide range of literature and enjoyed academic and non-academic writing. Without my high school diploma, I wouldn’t have had the chance to attend college, and I would not have the rich experiences there.
A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU liberal arts program that can best help you meet your goals.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 '22G is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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