A Step Inside the Story: An Interview with Amelia Vastola

Today, GenreCoach interviews Amelia Vastola, an ambassador for Barefoot Books publishers. Barefoot Books is an independent children’s book publisher that offers diverse, inclusive and inspiring books for infants, toddlers, and young children. The company’s success is indebted to their unique, all-inclusive brand which validates family stories not typically depicted in media. Barefoot is also leveraging its vibrant, timeless family brand by launching a social selling model that sanctions women entrepreneurs. This week, Amelia has offered to share her expertise on “living Barefoot,” which requires working with Barefoot Books publishers, being a first-time mother, her strong Italian heritage, and her own journey to empower children and women of all backgrounds through the power of words.

Question 1: Can you tell me a little more about Barefoot Books and their mission as a company?

Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland, two young mothers living in England. Their mission is to share stories, connect families, and inspire children, and I believe they have done just that.

Not only are the books beautifully illustrated and textured for a more engaging learning experience, but the stories themselves fundamentally let us appreciate who we are. They depict all different types of family situations: Fathers on leave, divorced parents, same-sex parents, biracial families, ethnically inclusive families… these books provide a place where children can look at the page and see themselves represented. But on top of empowering children, they also empower women and mothers as well. It’s truly amazing. And plus, the covers are manufactured with vegetable dyes so they’re not dangerous for babies to put in their mouths!

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Co-Founders Nancy (left) and Tessa

Barefoot Books has printed over 20 million books nation-wide and 600 plus books for global awareness. The books come in various languages, including English, Spanish, and French, but we are working to gradually expand our bilingual field into other languages. I personally put in a request for Italian!

Question 2: How did you originally get involved with Barefoot Books? Was publishing a field you were interested in when you first joined?

Amelia and her son

Amelia and her son

Currently, I am also a hospice social worker, so I’ve studied up on the humanities and social sciences.  I was raised to appreciate multiculturalism and brought up in a church that accepted many different types of faiths. I realized at a young age that I wanted to pursue this exploration of what it means to be human, and to also support others through their own experiences.

All my life, I have been interested in communication and psychology for these reasons, but literature has always held a special place in my heart. I love to read, and I feel that books offer a time and place for families to come together, turn off the TV, and engage in conversation. I think this connection is a really important aspect of growing up. But I digress!

To answer your question, no, publishing was not a field I was originally interested in. But about five years ago, I attended a friend’s home party where she had a Barefoot ambassador presenting these books. I was immediately inspired. The books were so diverse and multicultural. Even though I hadn’t had children of my own yet, I thought of my nieces and nephews and how these books could impact their lives. I ended up purchasing a baby book for children I didn’t have!

Question 3: Why were you interested in publishing for a younger audience rather than a mature audience?

I felt like this job was an opportunity for me to learn about different paths and offered exposure to what life could be like outside of my immediate world. I work with adults all day long, but I love working with kids as well and seeing the potential that they hold for the future. I was never introduced to these types of books as a child, and I want to be sure that my own son is nurtured to appreciate multiple ways of living and really acknowledge human existence. I know that Barefoot Books will validate my son for who he is and who he will be. And for now, pondering over these books with a younger child just seems so natural. I love seeing the look on my son’s face when I read to him and he can touch the page and try to mimic the sounds I make. Overall these books just offer a really intimate learning environment.

Another reason that I decided to become involved with younger audiences is due to the impacts we as adults can make on their lives. I know from personal experience how conflicting it can be for a child if they are unable to fit the standard comforting outline or narrative that many children’s books have set. Finally, I feel like our country is moving in a direction where we are becoming more mindful each year of human distinction, and I want to help progress this movement even further by raising children properly.

Question 4: What do you feel is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is knowing that these stories, as well as a life philosophy that I hold dear, are making a positive impact on both the people that I love and the lives of others.

Amelia's son with barefoot books

Amelia’s son with his Barefoot Books

Also, my son’s library is huge because I am an ambassador. We totally identify as being the working poor, we have gone through a lot and are still struggling, but it feels good to supplement my income, be an ambassador, and get to know the amazing stories of others. Being given this opportunity in my position is a huge blessing.

Question 5: How has Barefoot Books improved the lives and literacy of children? Are there specific statistics to illustrate this change?

Barefoot Books have helped so many children come out of their shells and become more interested and interactive in their learning experiences. On top of all the books we currently publish, including multilingual options, we have books without words, so that children can make up their own stories or use it to learn sign language. There is also My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words which labels over 700 people, places and things for vocabulary building. We’ve also created cartoon video sing-alongs to go with each book, which come included in the back of every book. All of these creative techniques have helped children of all different ages and backgrounds.

April is also Autism Awareness Month, a cause that we proudly support. Barefoot Books has really resonated with many kids on the autism spectrum, especially those who are nonverbal. Last April, we had an online sustainability event for Autism Awareness, and vowed that, for every book purchased from Barefoot, we would plant a seed for a tree. Our goal was to plant 20,000 seeds and we ended up planting 26,917! So the books are really beginning to make a name for themselves which is super exciting.

J0906114 US Case 3rd.ps, page 1 @ Preflight ( J0906114 US/UK Cas

Up, Up, Up! by Susan Reed and illustrated by Rachel Oldfield

An important thing to note, however, is that these books don’t only help young children… a lot of the ambassadors I work with are interested in sharing these books with older people, specifically those who have dementia or memory loss. The stories provide a soothing sensory experience for elders in the same way that they stimulate the minds of children. By combining a classic story line with the great visual illustrations provided, these volumes might bring the older generations back to fonder memories and times. One of our volunteer coordinators is currently working on creating volunteer kits for those who have dementia.

Thank you for joining us! For more information, log onto www.barefootbooks.com 

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