Harford writer's book was 'Princess' inspiration

December 11, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Maryland author E.D. Baker recently sampled the delights of chauffeured limousines and red carpets, of photo-ops with film stars and designer desserts. Then she returned to her family's Harford County horse farm and mucked out the stalls.

Baker is the children's novelist whose first book, "The Frog Princess," inspired the Disney animated film, "The Princess and the Frog." Not only is she credited in the film, but the entertainment conglomerate flew her to Los Angeles in late November to attend the premiere.

"Our escort led us past the red carpet to where froggy footprints marked the route to another big building," she writes on her blog, edbakerbooks.com. "They offered to put temporary tattoos on our hands if we wanted them. I got a froggy tattoo - Prince Naveen in the movie."

Mind you, Baker had experienced her share of success before her trip to Hollywood.

Baker began taking writing classes at a local community college when her children were young.

In 2002, Bloomsbury Publishing USA created a division specifically for children's books, and Baker was one of the first three authors chosen for publication. An editor picked a manuscript titled "The Frog Princess," written by an unpublished, unknown author, from a pile of submissions.

Baker's book became a series, with the seventh and final installment scheduled to be published next fall. More than 650,000 copies have been sold, according to Deb Shapiro, director of publicity for Bloomsbury Children's Books.

Baker also has written two novels unrelated to the series. One has been published, and the second comes out in April.

"Elizabeth really has a wonderful talent for capturing a voice that speaks to girls in the middle grades," says Shapiro. "She's very genuine and down-to-earth, and she doesn't talk down to her readers."

Shapiro says Baker was inspired to write her stories with their untraditional fairy princesses based on her experiences as a fifth-grade teacher (she earned her master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University) and as the mother of a boy and two girls, now all adults.

"She saw what girls go through growing up, and she wanted to write stories that would empower them," Shapiro says.

Baker and Disney are careful to point out that the film really bears little resemblance to Baker's book, although the theme of self-actualization runs through both.

Baker's heroine, Emma, is a 14-year-old tomboy who stumbles over her own feet and who has a laugh like a braying donkey, instead of the more princess-appropriate tinkling bell. Emma constantly is escaping from the castle to wade knee-deep through a swamp.

In the book, Emma has green eyes and chestnut hair. In contrast, the film is being billed as the first Disney animated children's film to feature an African-American heroine, and is set in New Orleans during the 1920s. The heroine, Tiana, is a 19-year-old waitress and aspiring chef who dreams of opening her own restaurant some day.

But the film's hook was lifted directly from Baker's book.

"Although it is not my story - they say that my story inspired their story - I could see a few things that were in my book," Baker writes.

"The general basis for the plot is the same. A frog talks a reluctant girl into kissing him, and she herself turns into a frog. They end up in a swamp and seek magical help to turn them back. They learn how to eat like frogs, have trouble with their tongues, and befriend other creatures."

The author's affection for nature and for animals shines through the book. Her days are very much involved in caring for the horses and the other farm critters, which include goats, cats, ducks and a Newfoundland dog that apparently is a world-class shedder of fur.

"Elizabeth has so many things that ground her," Shapiro says. "Her books and her writing are important, but they are just one part of a very full life."

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