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Arkansas Author Ashley Franklin and Her Disney Dream


While sometimes controversial with their storytelling, Disney is often a go-to for tackling some of the tough topics kids face today. That’s probably one of the pieces that drew the Disney team to Arkansas-based author Ashley Franklin for the written version of the 2023 live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid.

To understand the journey of a Bentonville, Arkansas, author writing a Disney book, we probably need to back up a few years and meet a book-loving, young black girl from the northeast.

OIA: Did you grow up wanting to be an author?

Franklin: Are you kidding? As a little girl, I just loved to read. Through my younger years and into college, I wrote to process my life and experiences, but I never had any intention of anyone seeing what I was putting on paper.

OIA: Did anyone influence your love of reading?

Franklin: I was an only child until I was nine and grew up living with my grandparents. They did what they could for me. My grandfather worked hard and provided for us. And my grandmother created memorable experiences for us, always finding a way to keep books in front of me. Whether it was the library or thrift stores, she always found a way to give me access to books.

OIA: How did books in those early years inspire you?

Franklin: Books gave me a place to escape and see that other characters were dealing with things that felt familiar. As a kid, I went to a bookstore owned by the parents of a classmate. I’d never been to an independent bookstore. But the owners were black people and books by many Black authors and with Black characters. And it was the first time I realized that many of these people were still alive. Until that point, most books I read were by dead people. But I discovered that people who looked like me were writing books, and they were still alive. I started new dreams right then.

OIA: You studied English. Was that an easy transition to writing?

Franklin: I thought I wanted to be a professor of English, but my master’s program required me to teach, and I didn’t like standing up in front of people lecturing. So, I finished but did not go on to get my Ph.D., which was no longer my path. I started working at a day care because I thought that was an excellent way to see if I liked children. What I learned in that space was how children interact with books, how they become involved and in love with a character, and how it’s a way to create a space for hard conversations.

OIA: What do you mean by hard conversations?

Franklin: Children’s books are supposed to be 500 words or less. They should be fun, introduce a character, a conflict, a process to resolution, and have to keep children’s attention. So, they have to get to the point quickly. I’ve learned over time that meeting characters, whether a truck, dinosaur or princess, who are experiencing similar things gives parents and children a launch pad to articulate and use words to process their feelings and experiences.

OIA: Tell us about your first book.

Franklin: Not Quite Snow White introduces Tameika and why she feels inadequate for a role she is “made for.” I had to go back to some of my childhood experiences and dig deep into how I felt as a child, getting into the emotions of a kid, not just my observations as an adult. I’ve heard from many adults who could relate to the experiences and wish they had this conversation tool when they were kids.

 “You’ve got enough of all the right stuff!?”

OIA: How did you get to work with Disney?

Franklin: Well, I almost didn’t! Seriously, I nearly didn’t answer the email and sent it to spam. I checked the sender’s email address and it said “disney.com” at the end, so I thought it might be real. The woman who reached out saw my book on a shelf at Target and thought I might be a candidate for their book project.

We settled on a plan for The Little Mermaid: Make a Splash. They gave me access to the script as they were working on it. They outlined pieces of the story that needed to be in the children’s book and it unfolded from there.

In a similar but unconnected way, another team from Disney Marvel reached out, and I partnered with them on  Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. That was a big year for me. And it wasn’t until I was tying up The Little Mermaid book that my contact asked what was next, and I told her about the Marvel book. She had no idea I was working on both projects. That was a dream; who knows what else will come from it!

OIA: What else happened with this opportunity?

Franklin: With that kind of exposure, Highlights (magazine) invited me to be part of a fellowship. And, while I was away on my retreat, I got a call from an unknown number, but it said Los Angeles, so I tried to answer it, except I was in the mountains. Literally, with my arm in the air trying to get a signal, they asked if I could come to the movie premiere next week. It was shocking but so memorable. I met Halle, and she was so gracious and thanked me for making the movie come alive in book form and helping introduce the story to more people. I kept asking my husband if this was real and watched my little dreams unfold.

Xavier’s Voice book cover was just revealed on February 1 and will be released in the fall.

OIA: What’s next?

Franklin: Well, for now, I’m back writing some of my own work and it’s refreshing. I’m an adjunct professor and teach some online classes. I’m spending time with my middle school-aged kids, and this new stage gives me ideas for writing topics. I’m even starting in on a couple of novels. We love exploring Northwest Arkansas and watching our hometown of Bentonville explode.

Follow Ashley online and learn more about her upcoming book releases!
AshleyFranklinWrites.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Book Collection | Buy Online

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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