Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Skaters dish on favorite books

Yamaguchi publishes third children's book; Settlage celebrates Inktober
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Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi shares her new book, 'Cara's Kindness,' with a group of school kids. -courtesy of Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi has already written two picture books for young children, both of them about a skating pig. Her third, Cara's Kindness, is about a skater, too. This time, though, it's a cat.

In the book, Cara the Cat teaches Darby the Dog to skate. In return, she asks him to pay it forward. The act of kindness is passed from animal to animal, and it makes its way around to Cara again in the end.

"It's a message that I want to instill in my own children," Yamaguchi said. "With all that's going on in the world today, the younger we can teach children that an act of kindness will go really far, the better. One small thing can make the world better."

Cara's Kindness was illustrated by Pixar artist John Lee, whom Yamaguchi met on a tour of the Pixar studios with her children. They kept in touch, and Lee sent samples of his work to the publisher, Sourcebooks. They liked what they saw, and with Yamaguchi's recommendation, they gave him the job.

Yamaguchi's children, Keara, 13, and Emma, 10, have gotten too old for picture books. But Yamaguchi is involved with kindergarten pupils on an ongoing basis, as part of her Always Dream Foundation. The foundation promotes early childhood literacy by bringing reading programs to underserved children and connecting children with e-books and technology in classrooms in areas of California, Arizona and Hawaii.

"It's expanding pretty rapidly," Yamaguchi said of the foundation. "This year we'll be in 22 schools, working with over 2,000 students, all at the kindergarten level. It's been very positive, and we've evolved."

Yamaguchi says her work with the foundation comes second only to being a mom. She visits 5-10 schools at the start of each school year and attends "graduation ceremonies" at the end of the year.


As a children's book author/illustrator myself, I was fascinated to see that a couple of figure skaters have been participating in "Inktober." This annual drawing exercise, created by Jake Parker, challenges artists to create one ink drawing each day.

Pairs skater Max Settlage usually works digitally, but he enjoys the challenge of trying out traditional media. This is the second year he has participated in Inktober.

"It was really good for me to practice drawing quickly and with traditional mediums, and to practice things I'm not used to drawing," Settlage said. "I have a whole chart of what character I'm going to draw every day. I took requests from friends, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook."

Along with superheroes, Peanuts characters, Lucille Ball and a drag queen, Settlage did one special tribute earlier in the month for skating judge Staci Montagna-Vail.

"She is going through chemo for breast cancer," Settlage said. "I drew the breast cancer ribbon with a skate going through it and used a pink marker (I usually don't use colors for Inktober). My dad had lymphoma last year, so it means a lot to me."

Settlage has been drawing with an India ink felt-tip pen, but last year a fan gave him a Japanese comic-book artist kit including real fountain pens.

"I feel like when you use traditional media, there's a lot less forgiveness," he said. "It's a good challenge for me, going back to basic shapes and working with your mistakes on paper. Like in skating, you go back to double loops to work on your triple loop."

Former pairs skater DeeDee Leng is trying Inktober for the first time this year. She's majoring in industrial design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where a professor challenged the students to try the project.

Leng said that she would be open to returning to competition if the right opportunity arose, but for now, she's focusing on school.

"I feel like I've finally started my new chapter at school," she said. "New opportunities are opening up for me. I would be able to design any kind of product -- I'd love to design athletic clothing, shoes or even furniture."

Book club

Of all the book-loving skaters out there, ice dancer Isabella Tobias is probably the most intense.

"I am a huge fantasy geek," Tobias freely admitted. "Give me a book with a map of a fantastical world on the first page and dragons, and I will be in heaven."

At the top of her list of favorite childhood books is C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.

"I just love them so much," she said. "All of the different characters and creatures, and the land of Narnia itself, are just so enchanting. I had a picture book of all the different Narnian creatures as a child and would study it for hours. As a child, I did not have many friends and was very shy, so my books and the characters in them were my friends."

As an adult, Tobias is captivated by Homer's Odyssey.

I first read it in 10th grade and was just completely floored," she said. "I finished it in two days. Both the Chronicles of Narnia and the Odyssey are these epic tales in fantastical lands and kingdoms touched by magic. What's not to love?"

Tobias went on to name dozens of her favorite books; the complete list will be posted on The Inside Edge's Twitter account.

Grant Hochstein is another avid reader and Harry Potter fan. He and his fiancée, Caroline Zhang, called to talk about books while on their way to see the movie version of The Girl on the Train.

Hochstein said Zhang was responsible for his Harry Potter fanaticism.

"I read the first three or four books when I was little, and then stopped, but Caroline was adamant that I should read them and gave them to me for Easter," he said. "They start out kind of young, but as the books goes on, the character, the language and the mood grow up, and you start dealing with more adult issues. I actually read the last book in one day."

Hochstein and Zhang have just moved into a new house, and they have filled it with bookshelves, with a special Harry Potter library. Hochstein reads all sorts of books and said reading helps distract him -- a little bit -- at competitions.

"I enjoy taking books that I've read before, so you're occupying your mind but not necessarily taking in new information," he said.

Ice dancer Tim Koleto also likes familiar books at competition time, but he prefers to listen to them.

"Often I read a book I've read before at a competition, often audio books, so I can have some noise in the background so I'm not too bonkers," he said. "It allows me to rest my eyes, and it's distracting but also comforting."

Koleto is not only a reader -- he is a writer who has completed one novel and is well into a second.

"After skating, writing is my first love, and writing is the career I would like to pursue," he said. "I feel like I have so many voices inside of me. It's very easy for me to step into somebody's shoes and write from their point of view. I have so much I want to explore. I have an innate curiosity to want to understand other people."

Meryl Davis is another big fantasy fan, with a particular love of J.R.R. Tolkien.

"I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a kid when my dad read them to me," she emailed. "Growing up with dyslexia, I found reading very challenging. … The magic and fantasy of Tolkien's works absolutely convinced me that there was something special about reading, something beyond the reach of television and film. I grew to appreciate the possibility and one's depth of imagination through reading and became an avid reader myself. I largely attribute my love for reading to the trilogy."

Like Koleto, Brooklee Han wants to be a writer, with the goal of becoming a sports journalist. She took a lot of non-fiction writing courses at Wesleyan University, where she was a full-time student before she moved to Texas to train with Darlene and Peter Cain.

Han has a particular affinity for essays, especially those by Ariel Levy, David Sedaris, Roger Angell and Cheryl Strayed, among others.

"The great thing about personal essays is that they are so short," she said. "It is super easy to sit down before bed and read just one and not feel like I have to peel myself away from the story so I can go to sleep."

For a complete list of the books recommended by the skaters above, follow The Inside Edge on Twitter.