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?