The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Angie Bullaro and Review of Breaking the Ice: The True Story
Live boldly. Laugh loudly. Love deeply
~ Angie Bullaro
Angie Bullaro is an actor, author, producer with dozens of credits to her name in television, films, and commercials. With her husband, Mike Musco, Angie owns the film production company Lazy Kitty Productions and performed in their first feature film The Networker alongside Sean Young and Stephen Baldwin. Lazy Kitty is working on their next feature film Between the Pipes, which Angie has written and will star in. Like Angie’s upcoming picture book, Breaking the Ice, the film is based on the life of Manon Rhéaume – the first and only woman to play a game in the NHL.
Angie has always loved sports stories about underdogs and feels privileged to tell such an important story. She is now a (somewhat) proficient ice hockey goalie and an avid hockey fan.
Today, you’re in for a treat. I get to offer you a sneak peek at her debut nonfiction picture book, Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League, which releases October 20th.
Angie, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and writing.
Thank you for inviting me, Maria! I’m excited to chat with you today!
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
ANGIE: Oh gosh, this is always the trickiest question. Well, I’ve been writing for about as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil. I’ve always been obsessed with stories, whether it was listening or telling them. I grew up in a big Italian family and from a young age I loved sitting around the dinner table and listening to their stories. I realized that stories (and food!) bring people together and thus grew my passion for storytelling in a variety of mediums from the stage to the screen to the page. I’m also very passionate about cooking (it’s in my blood!) Ha!
Stories and food are definitely a great combination. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Hmmm…I’m pretty talkative and difficult to embarrass, so there’s not much I don’t share!
What inspired you to write Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League? How long did it take from the spark of inspiration to the contract?
This all started with the feature film script I wrote called Between the Pipes. My husband and I had recently started our own production company and had just wrapped our first film. Having tested the waters and succeeded, we jumped right in to producing a film I had written and would star in. We both love sports movies and I had remembered years ago hearing about a female goalie in the NHL. I had assumed multiple women had played in the NHL so I thought it would be a great story to write a film about the first woman who had made it to the NHL. Well, it turned out that there was only one woman who had done that – Manon Rhéaume – in 1992.
I was so inspired by her story and what she accomplished. A few weeks later Manon and I met in person and we were stunned at how much we looked alike! Ha! We even had the same jersey number when we played sports – 33, and she now lived about a half hour from where I grew up. It felt like fate.
© Mike Musco
About a year into the development of the movie, the incredible women from my SCBWI critique group convinced me to write a children’s book about her story. I’ve never been a nonfiction writer. I’ve always gravitated to fiction stories with wacky characters and fantastical language so it took me some time to come around to the idea. Now that it’s about to be published I can’t believe I almost didn’t do it because it wasn’t “in my wheelhouse.” It was definitely a leap of faith, but one that worked out beyond my wildest dreams. (Leaps of faith are like that, aren’t they?!)
I'm so glad you took that leap of faith. It's exciting to learn about Manon Rhéaume. Did you play hockey before you started researching or writing Breaking the Ice?
I grew up in Michigan where the winters are cold and the hockey fans are loyal. So, I knew how to skate, but I didn’t play hockey. Actually, when I was a freshman in high school my school started a girls’ ice hockey team. I tried out and made the team (everyone who tried out did!). I bought a pair of used ice skates and a stick and was super pumped about playing. But hockey is a very expensive sport and, though I wanted to play, we just couldn’t afford it. We actually ended up moving that summer and I went to a different high school, so any hopes of playing were squashed twice over. I really didn’t pay much mind to hockey after that until I started researching Manon’s story. I’m learning to play goalie for the film and I watch an extraordinary amount of hockey to learn the game – something my husband is thrilled about!
I can imagine! What was the toughest part of researching Breaking the Ice?
Keeping track of all the leagues and players. Hockey is a very intricate sport with lots of different levels and league names and age ranges. As someone who didn’t grow up with this, it was all very confusing. I still have no idea what age range midget hockey is!
Congrats on sorting most of it out. How different is it to write a nonfiction picture book versus feature films? Why? Which would you say is easier? Which one takes the largest number of revisions?
For me, both were very difficult because they’re based on true stories. I could take more liberties in the script because the film is “based upon” a true story.
For the children’s book, I couldn’t take any liberties because it’s a biography. I had to confirm every quote I used, multiple times, to make sure it was in fact what that person actually said. That was really quite stressful. And like I said, I’ve always been a fiction writer so writing nonfiction felt very constrictive to me. Every word, phrase, and thought had to be completely accurate or it couldn’t get printed. And I had to make the story active and interesting without steering from the truth in any way. It was a struggle and when I finished I swore I’d never write another nonfiction story (at least not for a while). I have a newfound respect and awe for nonfiction writers.
Narrative nonfiction, while complex, can be so much fun. You did a great job. Hope you try it again, one day. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My mom adored books and read to us every night. Most times I didn’t care what she was reading as long as she was reading! I do remember having her read The Runaway Bunny to me on repeat and I read The Black Stallion about a hundred times. I just love books – I always have.
Finally! Someone else loved the Black Stallion Books! Do you have a favorite illustration in Breaking the Ice?
I have two favorites. The first is an illustration of Manon with her dad. She has this look on her face that I swear she still makes today! C. F. Payne, without knowing Manon, somehow was able to capture her spirit and personality. He is amazing!
Text © Angie Bullaro, 2020. Image © C. F. Payne, 2020.
The second is a profile illustration of Manon on the ice at the Tampa Bay Lightning game. Her mask is off so you can see her long hair in a braid (her signature look while playing hockey) and she has on a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. An arena full of fans is behind her. It gives me goose bumps every time I look at it. To see a woman in a professional jersey on the ice is awe-inspiring and Payne was able to bring that incredible accomplishment to life on the page in such a moving way.
Is there something you want your readers to know about Breaking the Ice?
It is so much more than a hockey book! Manon’s story is for anyone with a crazy dream, for anyone who wants to do something that society tells them they can’t do. Her story gives us the courage to chase those impossible dreams and the determination to never, ever give up. So, go chase those dreams!
I love that sentiment! How are you staying creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you are doing to “prime the well”?
It’s been pretty difficult for me to stay creative; I’m not going to lie. These past months have been so nutty and have also been very busy. I’m also director of Team Achilles Kids (a part of the nonprofit Achilles International), which is a running program for kids with disabilities. When the pandemic hit we turned our entire program into a virtual program almost overnight. Between that, producing the film, preparing for the virtual book tour, and auditioning there hasn’t been much time to write. My schedule is just now starting to come back to normal and I’m hoping to get back into my creative flow. It took me awhile to realize that during these unprecedented times I had to let go of all guilt over not writing as much as I normally did or being as creative as I would like. As writers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of chastising ourselves for not writing every day or not completing as many pages as someone else or what not. But it’s really important to remember to be kind to ourselves and to our writing. Just because you don’t write every day doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or not a writer. I have to remind myself of that pretty often!
I agree that we need to be kind to ourselves as we navigate this weird year. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
You can find out more about the film Between the Pipes about Manon’s amazing story at www.betweenthepipesmovie.com.
I'll be sure to check it out. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?
I cannot possibly answer this question - I love them all! Buuuuuut, I have recently discovered sea bunnies and I’m beyond obsessed. Google them – you won’t be disappointed! (Watch this cute little guy move: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/07/150723-sea-slug-nudibranch-sea-bunny-ocean-animals-science/)
Oh my gosh! I have never seen or heard of these sea slugs. How adorable! Thank you, Angie for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Lovely chatting with you! Thanks again for inviting me to join!
To find out more about Angie Bullaro, or get in touch with her:
NOTE: The book launch will be on Tuesday, October 20th at 7pm ET/4pm PT.
It is free to attend.
Manon and Angie will be kicking off the release of the book with a fun, family-friendly event complete with some special giveaways!
You can register for the free book launch here: https://www.vromansbookstore.com/event/angie-bullaro-and-manon-rheaume
Review of Breaking the Ice:
The True Story of the First Woman
to Play in the National Hockey League
Being the first to do anything is exciting. But a woman playing hockey on an NHL professional team? Unheard of. A tiny woman against hulking male players? Dangerous. I'd never happen. But it did.
This is the amazing true story of the woman who refused to give up on her dream to play the sport she loved.
Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League
Author: Angie Bullaro
Illustrator: C.F. Payne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2020)
Hockey, impossible dreams, courage, and determination.
The inspiring true story of Manon Rhéaume, the first and only woman to play a game in the National Hockey League, featuring an afterward from Manon herself. “One day, a woman will play in the National Hockey League. If no one prevents her,” said a twelve-year-old Manon Rhéaume. Manon always dreamed of playing hockey. So, when the team her father coached needed a goalie, five-year-old Manon begged for the chance to play. She didn’t care that she’d be the only girl in the entire league or that hockey was considered a “boys’ sport” in her hometown of Lac-Beauport, Quebec, Canada. All she cared about was the game. After her father gave her that first chance to play, she embarked on a spectacular, groundbreaking career in hockey. At every level of competition, Manon was faced with naysayers, but she continued to play, earning her place on prestigious teams and ultimately becoming the first woman to play a game in the NHL. Including an afterword written by Manon herself, Breaking the Ice is the true story of one girl’s courage, determination, and love for the sport.
Manon’s fingers itched to hold a hockey stick. Her brothers flew across the ice, while Manon stood on the sidelines watching.
Swish. Swoosh. Skates glided from side to side. Shhhwoop. A sudden stop. Whoosh. The stick cut through the air. Ker-chunk. The stick hit the puck, sending it down the ice. Manon imagined blocking the puck.
“I wish I could play on the team too,” Manon said with a sigh.
What I Liked about this book:
Manon Rhéaume's statement at the end of the book captures the essence of the story and her life:
“IT’S NEVER BEEN EASY.
BUT I ALWAYS WANTED TO PLAY HOCKEY.
I LOVE HOCKEY. I’D RATHER PLAY HOCKEY THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
IF YOU HAVE THAT KIND OF DESIRE,
I THINK YOU CAN ACHIEVE WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE."
~ Manon Rhéaume
Before the age of five, Manon dreams of playing hockey like her brothers. On the opening spread, the combination of onomatopoeia, staccato sentences, and amazing illustrations by C. F. Payne immediately ground the reader in both the fast-paced action of a hockey game and Manon's yearning.
So many little touches in the illustrations add to the incredulity of five-year-old Manon's request to help the hockey team her father coached, by playing the goalie position. Dad's shock. Mom's skepticism. And her enthusiastic, "Pleeeease! I can do it.” Even the inclusion of a hockey player's image on the cereal box.
Text © Angie Bullaro, 2020. Image © C. F. Payne, 2020.
Although her father agrees to let Manon play goalie, he makes her put the mask on before going out on the ice saying, "People aren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team. . . But don’t let that stop you. You can do anything you put your mind to." Even though the puck stung "worse than a bee," Manon was hooked. She loved playing goalie more than anything else.
Angie follows Manon as she trains harder than the boys, plays through "bruised arms and pulled muscles," and gets cut "from the best teams simply because she was a girl." Showing how Manon chaneled the skepticism, criticism, and discrimination into playing the game, into proving she could do it.
Text © Angie Bullaro, 2020. Image © C. F. Payne, 2020.
Ultimately, they had to change the rules so she could be the first girl to play in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. And although injured in her first game, Manon's goalie skills enabled her to be the first female to play a game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and to catch the attention of Phil Esposito, general manager the NHL team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The afterward by Manon Rhéaume, timeline, and fun facts extend the story, showing both her determination and amazing successes. While this is definitely a book for hockey fans, it is also a great biography of a pioneering woman and an athlete who refused to take 'no' for an answer. An athlete who followed her 'impossible' dreams to play the sport she loved.
- draw a picture or write a story of you playing a sport you love or maybe one you've always wanted like to try.
- make your own hockey rink and practice being a goalie (https://www.handmadecharlotte.com/diy-tabletop-ice-hockey/)
- try a game of backyard "hockey" with pool noodle "sticks," balloon "pucks," and laundry hamper (or box) goals.
- read The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball
Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick and Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull. How are their struggles in the sports they loved similar and different from Manon's?