Nikkolas Smith, a concept artist with Disney Imagineering, went to high school with the brothers of gymnastics phenom Simone Biles.
“I had been talking to them prior to the Olympics about making some fun and inspiring art during the Olympics,” says Smith. “So I created one quick Simone painting when she first won a gold medal. At the request of the interwebs, that quickly turned into a two-Simone painting, which turned into an 11-girl gold medal painting—all within two days.”
The artwork went viral, and within days, Skyhorse Publishing/Sky Pony Press tapped Smith for a children’s book, The Golden Girls of Rio—which publishes November 15—celebrating the achievements of America’s female Olympians at the summer Olympics in Brazil. (Disney is not affiliated with the book.)
“They found the art on Facebook when [New York Daily News writer] Shaun King posted it and it was going viral,” says Smith. “They basically said, ‘We love this. This should be the book cover. Can you make a book out of it—in two weeks?’”
“Shaun’s post was what helped lead to the book deal. Once he saw my first art pieces, he encouraged me to make a book ASAP. I just felt like, ‘How will I ever get a book published?’ But then it happened so fast, after he posted it the next day.
“I just really wanted to reflect the diversity and talent of our American athletes, which is something that proves this country is already great,” adds Smith. “I also want boys and girls to read this book and feel inspired to be able to reach their gold, whatever that may be.”