By Margaret O’Hair
Je ne se quoi. . .the elusive sparkly stuff that is hard to come by. Sofia Sanchez has got it.
That something! It beckoned me forward into absolutely having to write her life’s journey for the world to read.
BE YOU TIFUL, LOVE SOFIA is the children’s picture book of Sofia’s true life story from abandoned orphan to finding a family to call her own. Full color photographs from Sofia’s life illustrate the rhyming text.
Within the pages, Sofia shows how there are ever so many ways to shine and be beautiful, through everything: the good times, the times you’re a little lost, the times you rejoice, the times you’re quiet, the times that are challenging, and the times you never forget.
But there is someone with Sofia, holding her hand as she lives her journey. And that is her mom, Jennifer Sanchez.
I’d like to let you eavesdrop on a conversation I had with Jennifer as we worked on the book, BE YOU TIFUL, LOVE SOFIA.
Margaret: What made you want to adopt an orphan with Down syndrome from Eastern Europe?
Jennifer: I never imagined myself adopting, but after the birth of my son, Joaquin, who has Down syndrome, it opened my eyes to the orphan crisis in Eastern Europe for children born with a disability. And I found myself mesmerized by the photo of one little girl in particular. Before I knew it, I had my heart set on bringing her home.
Margaret: How did you feel the first time you walked through your front door with Sofia in your arms?
Jennifer: I felt excited and of course nervous to introduce Sofia to her instant family, complete with three brothers. My husband, Hector, and I were prepared to make her life to be everything that it could be.
Margaret: Kids grow up fast, way too fast! What has been Sofia’s greatest challenge?
Jennifer: Her greatest challenge was that with adoption, you have to build a relationship. She was sixteen months old. I had to make up for sixteen lost months and create a mother-daughter bond. We had to learn everything about each other.
Margaret: Conversely, what has been Sofia’s greatest triumph?
Jennifer: With adoption, you are choosing a child you don’t know anything about. As Hector and I discovered who she was, we discovered how much she had to share with the world. Sofia is a GIFT to this world and she has a purpose!
Margaret: Sofia is the only girl in a family with three boys. How did the boys feel about getting a sister?
Sofia: They were so excited! They embraced her completely from Day One.
Margaret: Video is a fabulous medium to showcase Sofia’s fierce and joyous personality. “Down syndrome isn’t scary!” she tells us in one of her videos. That particular video has been seen all over the world and has helped put a beaming face to the definition of Down syndrome.
What are some of the reactions you receive to Sofia’s online personality?
Jennifer: We received messages from around the world, from Iceland, to Africa, even Ukraine where she was born. It was all overwhelmingly positive. It’s so crystal clear that the Sofia’s message is one the world needs to hear.
Margaret: What is Sofia’s message?
Jennifer: That her disability does not define her. She is more than the label of Down syndrome. She has hopes, dreams and aspirations like everyone else. She speaks not only for herself but for all people with disabilities that want to be seen, heard, and valued.
Margaret: Down syndrome certainly doesn’t define her. And yet, I know that there are people in the world who look at having Down syndrome as a definition for her having limits. What would you say to that?
Jennifer: I would say Sofia’s life speaks for itself.
Margaret: I thought it was amazing Sofia learned to surf this summer in Santa Cruz with the non-profit surfing organization, A Walk On Water. She completely owned that whole experience. How does that bright and shiny confidence help her in school?
Jennifer: Sofia is fiercely independent and it drives every interaction she has. From in the classroom with her backpack, to walking down the street and saying hello to everyone. Sofia sees people without labels like we all should. She has an “I Can Do It” attitude. Her teachers and peers learn as much from her as she learns from them.
Margaret: Even though she is only in third grade, she’s already building an amazing career as a model, actress and advocate. You two have to fly across the country for casting calls in New York, and then drive to Los Angeles for the ones down there. Is it hard to juggle that schedule and make it all happen?
Jennifer: It’s challenging, but I have the most supportive family and friends who understand how important it is for her to have these opportunities. I’m grateful for my husband, my parents and my VILLAGE who step up and help make it possible.
Margaret: Her cat! The little marmalade kitten, Indy! He seems to be her favorite thing on earth. Can you remind me again what makes him so special and how that connects to Sofia being special?
Jennifer: We adopted Indy from the SPCA. He is a polydactyl cat, a congenital physical anomaly that causes him to have extra toes on his paws. We think his special genetics fit perfectly into our unique family. He’s beautiful!
Margaret: We’re donating some of the proceeds from this book to Changing The Face Of Beauty. How do you see Sofia changing the face of beauty as she lives her life?
Jennifer: Seeing Sofia’s face on Target commercials and in marketing campaigns…a person with a disability being included, without any hoopla or big announcement that she has Down syndrome, shows her for the beauty that she is just by being herself. Diversity at it’s finest. It sends such a powerful message!
Who is Margaret O’Hair? She’s a wife, mom, teacher, and an multi-award-winning writer who lives is Rocklin. When she is not writing, she can be found with her Portuguese Water Dogs, Sailor and Surfer, somewhere on a beach with her husband, Mark.
She has 5 traditionally published books for children. TWIN TO TWIN, published by Simon and Schuster, which is a picture book about twins in it’s 15th printing. Other picture books include MY PUP, MY KITTEN, STAR BABY, AND SWEET BABY FEET.
Her latest project is the MALIBU WAVE TRILOGY- 3 adult contemporary novels called MALIBU WISH, to be released around Christmas time, MALIBU DREAM and MALIBU FOREVER, to be released around Valentine’s Day. These novels are about a group of friends from the 1980’s to now- a mix of St. Elmo’s Fire meeting The Big Chill, with the kids that happen in between.
Margaret O’Hair believes that love for others is what brings true contentment in life. That is why she teaches Transitional Kindergarten. Because kids are the hope for the world!
BE YOU TIFUL, LOVE SOFIA, is in rhyme like Margaret’s other picture books. It is inspired by the true story of the real Sofia Sanchez, who started out as an orphan and is now living the life of the All American Girl, with glitter thrown on top. Part of the proceeds from BE YOU TIFUL, LOVE SOFIA, will be given to the charity, Changing The Face Of Beauty.
Please follow Margaret on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And check out her blog at her website, www.margaretohair.com.