Vicky Weber knew the story behind Disney’s “Encanto” long before this week’s release of the film.
Disney reached out to the Gurnee author last year to write a Step 3 Step into Reading book based on the movie.
“I thought it was fake,” Weber said of the initial email she received from Disney. “I thought it was one of those Prince of Nigeria emails. I’m like, ‘That’s not real. … Disney would not reach out to me.’ ‘’
Turns out, it was real. “Mirabel’s Discovery (Disney Encanto)” soon joined the list of Weber’s published books. The award-winning, bestselling author has published 11 children’s books so far, with more on the way.
Weber’s latest book, “Gingersnap Snatcher,” will be released Dec. 7.
Infused with what Weber describes as “vocal exploration opportunities hidden in the illustrations” and featuring a bonus song, “Gingersnap Snatcher” tells the story of Abuela’s missing after-school Gingersnap cookies.
Weber’s favorite holiday traditions inspired the story.
“I feel that this is a story that kind of fuses my experience, my culture, my Americanism and music into just a happy lighthearted fun book,” Weber said.
As part of the film’s release, Weber collaborated with BaKIT Box, a Chicago-based subscription box. Along with a gingersnap recipe for readers to enjoy at home, BaKIT Box (www.bakitbox.com) is offering a holiday box ($33 plus tax and shipping) featuring gingersnap cookies and a paperback copy of the book.
A Puerto Rican author of Taíno descent, Weber bases her books on her heritage or her background in music education. Disney sought out Latinx authors for books based on the “Encanto” screenplay, and Weber said she was impressed with the amount of research done for the film.
“Encanto” tells the tale of a family who lives hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a magical house in a charmed town called Encanto. The film depicts Colombia in detail, Weber said, “down to what the roofs look like.”
While authoring “Mirabel’s Discovery (Disney Encanto),” Weber had to sign a release not to talk about the story. At the time, the film’s title hadn’t even been released.
Publishing her first book less than two years ago, Weber never imagined she would be where she is today.
She previously taught music and STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Creativity and math education – in Lake Bluff before deciding to take a year off.
Her husband, Mark, had asked her, “What is something you’ve always wanted to do and never done?”
When she responded, “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but that’s not realistic,” he told her, “Let’s make it happen.”
Her first book, “Aurora’s Orchid,” was written as a Christmas gift for her father and is based on the true story of her grandmother. Her grandmother had planted an orchid with her children, but the orchid didn’t bloom until the day she was buried in Puerto Rico.
“It’s about how the people who love us never really leave us,” Weber said of the book. “They find a way to show us what really matters.”
Weber’s book “Rhythm Rescue,” released in August 2020, reached Amazon’s bestselling list. The book features a superhero girl. Activating her powers requires clapping in the right rhythm.
Weber said she likes to incorporate experiences from the classroom into her books, which are designed to both be enjoyed and used by music teachers as part of lessons.
Oftentimes, students are afraid to even try to be creative because they’re afraid they’ll get it wrong, she said.
“That’s the thing with music. There are no wrong answers,” Weber said. “That’s something I faced in the classroom all the time. So many kids who want to get it right the first time … but with something creative you have to kind of let go and make mistakes. It’s messy. There are some kids who won’t even start, who are too terrified of being judged by themselves or their peers. They’re afraid of not being good enough.
“Every story has a component of something real that real kids struggle with and overcome.”
Weber has a list of book ideas, many popping into her head in the middle of the night.
Along with music-related books, she’s working on a follow-up to her book, “Taíno Tales: The Secret of the Hummingbird.”
Centering around the Taíno culture, the books retell indigenous folklore. Much of American language and culture comes from the indigenous people in Puerto Rico and Columbia during the time of Christopher Columbus, she said.
“I wrote the book to kind of retell their legends because I think that’s really cool, and there aren’t books out there that tell that folklore in picture book form,” she said.
She initially planned to one day return to the classroom, but with the success of her books and the birth of her now 7-month-old daughter Eliana, she’s not sure that will happen anytime soon.
“I kind of like being home, and I like that I’m still educating children,” she said. “It’s just through a different means.”