Thursdays with Emma Walton Hamilton — (Interview Excerpts) Part TWO

Beth Stilborn and Emma Walton Hamilton Photo copyright Star Black, 2012
Beth Stilborn and Emma Walton Hamilton
Photo copyright Star Black, 2012

On January 8, 2013, I had the privilege of interviewing, for the Children’s Book Hub‘s monthly Expert Interview, Emma Walton Hamilton, founder of the Hub. We had a wonderful time chatting about many things relating to children’s literature and to Emma’s varied career.

Emma has written 27 books for children with her co-author (and mother) Julie Andrews, as well as an excellent resource book for getting kids to read, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. This week, their picture book The Very Fairy Princess Follows Her Heart rose to number TWO on the New York Times bestseller picture book list. Congratulations are certainly due them both.

In this week’s episode of the interview, Emma talks about the books that laid the foundation for her love of children’s literature, the books that were meaningful in her own childhood.

BETH: Can I back up to a little bit to what you were talking about when you said your dad and stepmother read Huckleberry Finn and your mom reading The Little Grey Men? I want to put in a plug for The Little Grey Men. If people haven’t read it they should. I came to it late in life but I just love it. I just wanted to add that plug, but also one of our Hub members asked if we can get more of a glimpse of the childhood Emma so we can understand more of the adult Emma and what you favorite books were as a child, an adolescent, a young adult. What authors inspired you the most?

EMMA: As a very young child I was enamored of Dr. Seuss, as so many of us were. I think I owned and read and re-read every single one of his books. I remember being so enchanted and loving the language and the word play and the wonderfully original but perfect rhyming. The crazy characters and the fantasy world he created. Every story had a valuable take away message that wasn’t preachy and wasn’t hammered over the head, but it made you feel good when you read it. It made you laugh and feel good at the same time. I read him over and over and over again.

Then I moved into chapter books and middle grade books. Probably the number one favorite was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and I think that is a recurring theme in the books I loved – language and playing with words. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to writing, because of my appreciation for language and the power of words and the fun you can have with words. I remember on rainy days loving nothing more than curling up by the fire with The Phantom Tollbooth, and rereading it, and having favorite chapters and sections and things I’d go back to again and again… particularly the section where Milo is in the fair, the town of Dictionopolis has this outdoor market where they sell words and letters and all the words and letters have flavors and aromas and colors, and it’s so great. That’s what made me really fall in love with books even more. I loved, of course, Huckleberry Finn and The Wind in the Willows, the classics. Black Beauty was a great favorite; I was a big horse lover as a little girl. The Black Stallion. As a young teen I loved all the Nancy Drew books and I read those voraciously.

BETH: Oh that sounds so familiar!

EMMA: Those were great, and I loved funny books, too. Like Freaky Friday, Mary Rodgers’ wonderful book where mother and daughter change places; and The Borrowers and Pippi Longstocking. I was a hungry reader as a kid. I loved things that took me to different places in my imagination, and engaging characters and adventure stories, and of course good writing, and good language.

BETH: That’s great; that makes me want to delve back into some of those books myself.

EMMA: It’s interesting – as an adult I find I am drawn these days more in my reading, of course I read a lot of children’s books to stay current and also with my kids, but these days I find I am drawn more to non fiction. That’s interesting to me. I find I love memoirs, for instance. I love history, I love biography. That really wasn’t at play in my youth; it was much more fiction that I was drawn to then. It’s curious; I’m not sure why that would be, but there it is.

BETH: You’re finding a balance or something. Fiction when we are children takes us away. Even if we are happy where we are, we need to explore different things and different and different ways of thinking; it’s all part of our learning process.

EMMA: I think that’s true, and I think it’s also very personal. My son and my daughter are completely different in their reading tastes; my son has preferred non- fiction since he was a little baby – as evidenced by his interest in truck books.

BETH: The first books he encountered were non-fiction and kind of imprinted on him.

EMMA: I guess so. Whereas my daughter is all fantasy. Fairies, princesses, and the like.

BETH: And she is the dancer type and you can really see a kid’s personality by the books that they are touched by.

EMMA: That’s true.


I so enjoyed this glimpse into Emma’s childhood reading. Next week, we’ll hear about Emma’s work in theatre. Stay tuned!


What were the key books in YOUR childhood?

11 thoughts on “Thursdays with Emma Walton Hamilton — (Interview Excerpts) Part TWO”

  1. Great to hear about Emma’s childhood reading loves – so many exactly the same as mine 🙂 Dr. Seuss, Pippi, Nancy Drew, every single horse story ever written 🙂 and I was a huge Anne of Green Gables fan as well. Ah… now I want to read all day… but this is no time for play, there is work to be done 🙂

    1. Yes, this discussion made me want to read and read and read. Particularly I’d like to re-read Black Beauty. (Did you read the Misty of Chincoteague books, too, by any chance, since you mentioned horse stories?) And Anne of Green Gables — that series was my absolute favorite. Thanks, Susanna!

  2. I’ve never heard of The Little Grey Men (everything else, I’d read and loved), so I’ll have to rush out and read it! 🙂

    Thank you, Beth and Emma, for a fun interview! I always enjoy getting a glimpse into the mind of other writers and what shapes their lives and stories.

    1. I hope you’re able to find a copy of The Little Grey Men, Teresa! It’s a book that shaped not only Emma, but her mother before her, and it is a delightful book about the last gnomes in England.

      So glad you enjoyed the interview. There will be many more excerpts from the interview as time goes by. (And not to worry about proofing — you fixed it nicely!)

  3. There’s a bunch of books I didn’t read as a child. Maybe I worked too hard. I had a paper route when I was nine through eleven and then I started babysitting and cleaning house! Also as a youngster I didn’t get the exposure since we immigrated when I was seven and the popular Dr Suess books weren’t part of my childhood but I certainly read them to my own kids.

    Will also look up “Little Grey men” and the “Phantom Tollbooth” as I haven’t read these but want to. Like Susanna, I now want to read the rest of the day. lol

    Can I? Will work wait?

    1. Oh my goodness — you did work hard as a child, Clar! (And although I was born and raised in North America, and was aware of the Dr. Seuss books, I didn’t have any of them as a child, and I’ve still not read The Cat in the Hat!)

      I certainly won’t stop you from reading for the rest of the day! As Jiminy Cricket in the movie Pinocchio would say, though, “Always let your conscience be your guide…” 😉

  4. Enjoy reading the snippets again. You did an excellent job with the interview Beth. Pippi Longstcking is my real memory of reading books on my own. I even dressed as Pippi for Halloween. And sure loved Nancy Drew.

    Beth, how do you buy Litte Grey Men” off the European I would like to read it since it has mentioned repeatedly.

    1. Thank you so much, Pat. I really must read Pippi — so many people are chiming in with how much they liked it.

      I’ve emailed you about ordering from — basically it’s the same as ordering from .

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