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‘Are you man enough to be a princess?’: Channing Tatum certainly is with new kid’s book ‘Sparkella’

Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY
·6 min read
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"The One and Only Sparkella," by Channing Tatum; art by Kim Barnes.
"The One and Only Sparkella," by Channing Tatum; art by Kim Barnes.

Think of Channing Tatum, the star of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street,” and a lot of things come to mind: killer dance moves, goofball laughs, a tireless work ethic and ab muscles so ripped they could grate cheese, for instance.

But children’s book author? And not just any children’s book, but one filled with glitter and tutus entitled “The One and Only Sparkella” (Feiwel & Friends, on sale May 4)?

It’s a leap, even for Tatum. But a fun one.

“I definitely never ever planned on being an author, much less a kid’s book author,” Tatum says. “I think people, knowing my history and the movies that I’ve made – I don’t think kid's books come to mind when you think of me at all.”

That changed when, after his split from ex-wife Jenna Dewan, he found himself a single father to their now 7-year-old daughter, Everly (or Evie).

In “Sparkella,” beautifully illustrated by Kim Barnes, a colorful little girl named Ella finds her self-esteem waning when she starts at a new school. Suddenly, she’s not so sure about her orange tutu, glittery hair ribbons and bejeweled backpack. Will the other kids appreciate her sparkle – or make fun of it? And can a supportive dad in a pink feather boa give her the confidence to be herself anyway?

Tatum spoke with USA TODAY about his latest surprising creative endeavor, the joys of being a girl dad and how fatherhood has boosted his creativity:

Question: Why a children’s book?

Channing Tatum: I had a lot of fear about being a single dad, and that’s kind of where it started. It started with me simply going, “OK, how am I going to do this now?” I have no idea what it’s like to be a girl. I’ve been a kid, but I had a totally different upbringing than Evie is going to have. I grew up in Mississippi and Florida, running in the woods outside my house… I was just terrified. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I didn’t know what I was not going to be able to relate to her with. So ultimately, I just started to go into her world.

Q: Were you nervous about being a girl dad?

Tatum: When I learned I was going to have a girl, I definitely had a panic. I was like, “I don’t know how to do any of that. I don’t have hair, I don’t know how to braid hair.” I literally went to YouTube immediately and learned how to braid hair.

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Q: The story is about a little girl who becomes self-conscious and afraid to show her true self to the world. Where did that inspiration come from?

Tatum: My daughter would wear all kinds of crazy things. There was this one, it was kind of like a poncho, but if you held your arms straight out, you were like a slice of watermelon, but when you put them down you were just wearing a sort of cool cape-poncho thing. And she loved it… and I remember she just reflexively put it on because it was one of her favorite things. We were about to go school and I said, “Let’s go, babe,” and I saw her get panicked for the first time. She was like, “No, no, I don’t want to wear this! I don’t want to get made fun of, I don’t want people to laugh at me.”

And I saw for the very first time my daughter become self-conscious. She wasn’t the little free spirit she usually was. It was the very first moment she was really thinking about people were going to see her, what they were going to think of it, were they going to laugh at her, were they going to make fun of her. I had never seen that happen before, ever, and it was really an arresting feeling because I was just like, “Oh man, it’s happening, she’s growing up,” and this was the first moment I got to witness.

Q: The dad in the book encourages his daughter to be her authentic self, wearing tutus and sparkles to give her confidence. Could you relate to that personally?

Tatum: I would watch some of the dads at school, and even some of the moms for that matter, not be able to play. They didn’t seem to be free to play and connect with their children as much. I just noticed that’s how I was connecting to Evie, was through stories and playing make-believe. When we read the books I put on funny voices and be kind of wild and not care – wear makeup, let her paint your nails. Just go into her world and see where she takes you… Are you man enough to be a princess and put on the dress and do the thing?

Channing Tatum speaks during a media call on Dec. 3, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia.
Channing Tatum speaks during a media call on Dec. 3, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia.

Q: Has being a father made you more creative?

Tatum: I’ve done my best creative work with my daughter than I have in any of my actual endeavors movie-wise or anything creatively that I’ve done. It’s a different kind of creativity – it’s exhausting because you have to be there and present with them. Going to work and just having lines and things like that, that’s almost like a vacation because it’s constructive, you have take two, you have take three, you can go, “Oh, I didn’t like how I did this, let’s do it different.” With a kid, you don’t get take two.

Q: Are there any celebrity dads you find particularly inspiring?

Tatum: I watch Ryan Reynolds and Jason Momoa and Chris (Hemsworth) – they’re all my contemporaries and buddies, we’re all making movies and we all have kids around the same age. Jason has these two wild children, they’re always outside and rock climbing and doing all this really cool stuff. I’m watching Chris basically do the same thing, he’s just bringing them into his world and he’s going into theirs. He’s not afraid to wear the tutu. I’m fans of those guys. I’m fans of their work, but also they’re just big-hearted guys. I admire that. They’re really people who are who they seem to be. They’re not putting this image forward and then behind the scenes this other person. They’re really living truthfully.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Channing Tatum, girl dad and children's book author, talks 'Sparkella'