Parker, you might recall, hijacked the Internet last year after a stranger photographed her staring up at Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Ellen DeGeneres had Parker on her show. The former first lady invited her over to dance.
A star was born.
Now with the help of her mother, Jessica Curry, Parker is for the first time giving a behind-the-scenes account of the seminal moment in her very short life by penning — or crayoning — “Parker Looks Up,” an illustrated children’s book released Tuesday by a Simon & Schuster imprint.
Parker agreed to a sit-down interview in exchange for a croissant.
“I didn’t just write it,” she said. “I wrote it.”
How long did it take?
“It was a few months,” she guessed.
What was the hardest part?
“Writing it,” she said.
Why is her story so important?
“It inspired everybody,” she said.
Indeed, it did.
As the image went viral, viewers marveled at the wonder on Parker’s face as the pint-size girl gazed at the first African American first lady in U.S. history. “This is what America is all about,” someone tweeted. “This young girl can now dream about being someone like Michelle Obama.”
“Parker Looks Up” reveals just how happenstance the moment was. That early-March day had been dreary and rainy. Parker, then 2, skipped dance class to visit the museum with her even littler sister, Ava. There, they met up with Parker’s best friend, Gia.
“Once inside,” Parker and her mom write, “the friends hurried down a long hall, looking at the paintings all around them.”
Prancing horses. Bushy mustaches. Native Americans.
Of course, they found the play room.
“After Gia stuck purple hair onto the easel and Parker added a pirate hat and sunglasses, it was time to go home,” the book says.
On the way out, the girls spotted a portrait of dancers in tutus. Tutus! They raced to see them. Then, Parker saw Obama.
“She froze in her tracks, spellbound,” the book says.
And she still is.
“Michelle Obama inspired me,” Parker said in her interview, as a group of non-author children gathered for story time. “And now I’m inspiring the world.”
Then the interview veered off course.
Parker: “Guess what I’m gonna be for Halloween?”
This reporter: “A doughnut?”
Parker: “No! I’m gonna be a cheeeeeerleader!”
The author had another question.
“When are we doing our interview?” she said.
Reporter and mom laugh.
This reporter: “Okay, let’s start it right now.”
This reporter: “What do you normally do every day? What’s your life like?”
Parker: “I got a mermaid costume.”
Her favorite book? “Parker Looks Up,” of course. Her second favorite: “Mouse Loves Fall.” But also, “Mouse Loves Spring.”
“That is my favorite book,” Parker says. “It’s Simon & Schuster, too.”
Then someone handed her “Mouse Loves Fall.”
“I told you it’s real,” Parker said. “Now can I have my croissant?”
Not yet. Parker sighed.
Then she strolled away for a bit, allowing her mother, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom who blogs about parenthood from the family’s home near the library, to tell the backstory to the backstory book.
After the photo went viral, Parker got a manager and a literary agent. Karen Nagel, a longtime children’s editor with Simon & Schuster, got in touch. The picture touched her deeply. A children’s book would be perfect to not only inspire children but to also preserve the moment for Parker and provide some money for the future.
“I just don’t think we listen to children enough for their perception, their wisdom and their truth,” Nagel said. “This experience speaks to Parker’s truth and literally to the first time she saw herself. There is just a profound awareness that transcends the everyday. You take the personal and make it universal. And I hope that’s what this book does.”
Simon & Schuster is expecting strong demand for the book, with a first printing of more than 70,000 copies.
Parker, who attends a pre-K where she is learning Chinese, returned to the table with a “Fancy Nancy” book. She had another question for this reporter: “Do you know how to read?”
This reporter: “You know, I’m just learning.”
Parker: “Would you read it to me?”
At this point, Parker plopped down in this reporter’s lap. He reads the book, of course. They get to the word “boutique” as Nancy continues on in one of her fancy adventures.
This reporter: “Do you like fancy stores?”
Parker: “One day, I went to Las Vegas and guess what? I passed a Coco Chanel store. Then I told my mommy, and I went in. I couldn’t resist.”
This reporter: “Coco Chanel is hard to resist.”
Parker: “They gave me a bag and a sticker.”
This reporter: “No way!”
Parker: “Yes way!”
With nap time looming, Parker had time for just a couple more questions — such as what she’s going to be when she grows up.
“I’m gonna be president, and everybody’s gonna put my photo up,” she said.
“Guess what?” she asked.
The night before she had an amazing dream.
“I was in the Michelle Obama portrait.”
Parker paused for reflection.
“Now can I eat my croissant?”