Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview with Emma Walton Hamilton, author of Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment

Author: Emma Walton Hamilton
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Beech Tree Books; 1st edition (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 098158330X

Hello Dear Friends!

Today I'm interviewing the best-selling children's book author, Emma Walton Hamilton. She has written 17 books, including the award winning, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. Ms. Hamilton is also the daughter of the beloved actress, Julie Andrews.

As many of you know, I'm a huge bookworm myself, and love to introduce books to others, especially children, so when I came across this special book, I just had to do an interview with the author!

So let us begin......

1.Tell us a little about yourself and your writing career.

I think of myself as an author, editor, arts educator and arts and literacy advocate. I’ve been fortunate over the past 12 years to co-author seventeen children’s books with my mother, Julie Andrews, including the recent anthology JULIE ANDREWS’ COLLECTION OF POEMS, SONGS AND LULLABIES, illustrated by James McMullan, the DUMPY THE DUMP TRUCK series of picture books, board books and Early Readers (illustrated by my father, Tony Walton), the original fable SIMEON’S GIFT, the medieval novel DRAGON: HOUND OF HONOR and the New York Times best-sellers THE GREAT AMERICAN MOUSICAL and THANKS TO YOU – Wisdom from Mother and Child. My own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, which I wrote for parents, educators and caregivers, was written in response to my concern about the decrease in reading amongst young people in recent years. I’m proud to say that it premiered as a #1 best-seller on in the literacy category and won two silver medals from the Living Now and IPPY Book Awards, respectively, in the parenting category. It also received Honorable Mention from ForeWord Magazine’s Best Book of the Year. In addition to writing, I serve as the Editorial Director for The Julie Andrews Collection, (formerly with Harper Collins, now with Little Brown Books for Young Readers), which is a publishing program dedicated to quality books for young readers that nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder. I also function as the Co-Director of Stony Brook University’s Annual Southampton Playwriting Conference, as well as being the Executive Director of “YAWP” (The Young American Writers Project), an inter-disciplinary writing program for middle and high school students on Long Island, both of which are sponsored by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA Program in Writing and Literature. I also teach children’s picture book writing through Stony Brook Southampton and independently, as well as maintaining a private practice as a freelance editor of children’s books.Before becoming a writer, I worked as an actress in theater, film and television for ten years, then turned my attention towards directing, producing, educating and writing. I was a faculty member at the Ensemble Studio Theater Institute, then left New York City to become one of the founders of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York. I served as Bay Street Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director for thirteen years, at which point I chose to focus my energies on the Theatre’s educational and young audiences programs. Until 2008, my role there encompassed bringing theater to young people on Long Island and in New York City as Director of Education and Programming for Young Audiences.In addition to writing and editing children’s books, I also write articles for magazines, newspapers, e-zines and periodicals, and speak to groups about the value of, and synergy between, the arts and literacy.

2. What led you to write this book?

Whether I’m on a book tour with my Mom, at speaking engagements in schools, libraries and other public arenas, or in casual conversation, the one question that surfaces again and again, with increasing urgency, from parents, grandparents, educators, librarians and caregivers across the country, is “How can I get my child to turn off the electronics and pick up a book?!” As the Mom of a 12 year old son and a six year old daughter, I can relate, and as a passionate advocate for reading as one of the most important life skills, I understand the urgency behind the question. So I decided to do some research and see if I could answer it myself – and help to promote the joy of reading in the process.

3. What was your reading experience like as a child?

I was an avid reader as a kid – I still am. Books were my companions, my entertainment, my teachers, my inspiration. I was lucky enough to grow up in two families – my parents divorced and remarried when I was very young – who were both passionate about reading, so I was always surrounded by books, hearing conversations about books and being read to. I can remember many nights when I would beg for “Just one more chapter!” or stay up way past my bedtime to finish a particularly great book.

4. What is the first book you remember reading?

My maternal grandfather taught me to read around the age of three. I remember reading a picture book version of “Pinocchio” with him, and suddenly the printed words began to materialize and become understandable to me. It was thrilling.

5. Which children’s book had the greatest impact on your life?

The book that I loved the most as a kid was Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” That was my rainy-day book, the one I came back to over and over again. It was so unusual and irreverent, it really captured my imagination. I think the whole idea of words and letters having flavor and being delicious delicacies that were sold at market really influenced my love of language. Now, as an adult and a children’s book author myself, there are so many books and authors whom I admire... but my favorite is probably Phillip Pullman. His “Dark Materials” trilogy just blows me away in terms of its scope, its imagination, its intelligence and its extraordinary imagery. Pullmans’s books never talk down to the reader – and can be received and interpreted differently, depending on one’s age and level of understanding.

6. If you could become a character from one of your favorite books, who would it be?

What an interesting question! My first instinct was to pick someone with magical powers, who could time travel or read the future, like Lyra in “The Golden Compass.” But then, that always comes with so much baggage... and at the end of the day, I think I really yearn for a simple life. So I guess I’d have to say Winnie the Pooh. He seems so comfortable in who he is, and lives a life of such simple pleasures.

7. I read that you have written 17 children’s books. Which one is your favorite?

That’s a question we get asked a lot, and it really is impossible to answer. It’s like trying to say which is your favorite of your children. You love them ALL. I guess one of the one’s I’m most proud of is “Dragon: Hound of Honor” since it took such a great deal of research to write. But truly, they’re all very close to my heart.

8. Where do you find the inspiration for your books?

Our ideas come from all kinds of places – but usually from something that we’ve experienced or stumbled upon, and/or from my kids. “Dragon” came about from an entry in a Readers Encyclopedia that my mother happened upon, just a few sentences about a French medieval legend involving a dog avenging his master’s death. It piqued our interest and we decided to try to find out more and write about it. The “Dumpy the Dump Truck” series was inspired by my son, Sam, who was truck mad for many years... And the characters and places in the books are loosely based on places and people we know and love. The one about the firefighters was inspired by a fire that took place in our village about 15 years ago. Our forthcoming book, “The Very Fairy Princess,” was inspired by my daughter Hope, and her love of all things princess and fairy, plus her absolute conviction that these are her people.

9. If you could suggest only one children’s book, which would it be?

What an impossible question! It would depend on what age the child was... But I guess if I had to pick ONLY one, it would be one that spans several generations and delights all ages: Winnie the Pooh. (Are you detecting a pattern here?!) The characters, ideas and stories are so original, and yet so timeless, and kid-friendly. A.A. Milne was such an astonishingly gifted writer and Ernest Shepard’s art is just classic. The humor, originality and gentle themes of tolerance, community, courage and friendship put at the top of my list.

10. I see that you and your mother, Julie Andrews, have a new book in print. I'm sure my readers would love to hear a bit about it and how the idea came about.

Our new book is a treasury entitled “Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies.” Poetry has always been very important to our family – we are all lovers of poetry, and also dabble in writing it as gifts for one another on special occasions. When our new publishers at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers asked us to consider putting together a poetry anthology we jumped at the chance. We were so excited to cull our family favorites together in one place, and also to be able to include song lyrics which are poetry in and of themselves. We even dared to include a few of our own, as well as a few written by our fathers and grandfathers... So it really is a collection of our “favorite things,” so to speak! As I wrote in a recent blog post, my Mom and I have always believed that poems, songs, and lullabies have the power to transform into family treasures. Poetry, in particular, is really the perfect shared family experience – and it can be one of the best ways to introduce young people to the joys of reading. Great poems make children want to read – they give us a vision of beauty and joy in the world, and an awareness of the richness and power of language. Poetry is a breath of fresh air in the midst of our multi-media, mad-frantic world. It soothes the soul. As one of the poems in the book by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers says: “Keep a poem in your pocket… and you’ll never feel lonely.”

What wonderful insights we have gathered here from Ms. Hamilton today. I wish to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. I have read Raising Bookworms and highly recommend it to mothers, grandmothers, teachers, and friends of children. Thanks also to the author for my review copy.


Linda said...

I love to read and write and have made my home conducive to that (my huband and I are always reading, writing and talking about it), but haven't successfully inspired our son to feel the same way. He's fifteen now. I'm interested in what I can do at this age, so I'll have to read the book and get some ideas. I hope that deep down there is a lover of reading in there somewhere--and that he'll soon discover it.

Barbara said...

Linda- I wonder if my other readers have children who share their passion for reading?

scb said...

What a wonderful interview! I am a great admirer of Emma and her work as an advocate for children's reading. Thank you so much for this post!

I, like Emma, spent many nights after bedtime begging for "just one more chapter" -- in fact, I've often joked that should be my middle name.

My mother taught me to love poetry, and now that she is in a nursing home, I've enjoyed reading poetry to her from Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies. It's truly a book for all ages.

Thanks again for this excellent post!

Rupa said...

Thanks for this great interview, Barbara. I have a 3 year old daughter and we've been reading together since she was a few days old. I realized that often, when I describe this activity, I say 'read with her" or "we read" and not "I read to her" and I guess that says a lot about what a beautiful, shared experience reading is for us. For me, it is probably one of the most joyful activities to do with her.
One important lesson I took away from Raising Bookworms is that you shouldn't stop reading to your child even after she becomes an independent reader. That's something I hadn't really thought about much.
I like your blog and hope to share many more thoughts with you.

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