Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Texas Library Association Conference Presentation

Good morning everyone. I guess someone thought that if you missed your coffee this morning, that video might help wake you up. It is a pleasure to be here. I’d like to thank Pat Smith, Gretchen Hoffman and everyone from the Texas Library Association for inviting me. Despite the impression you might have received from that montage, I am actually here today to speak to you an as an author of children’s books.

I am well aware that in certain circles I am perceived as a “celebrity author,”…especially in my own country…and I have to admit – this irritates me. I have been writing children’s books for over thirty-five years now and it has been a life-long passion.

As a child performing in the theater, my education was somewhat limited, since I was never in one place long enough to attend school. Eventually a tutor was hired to travel with me and I have to thank that good woman for encouraging my enthusiastic, but clumsy attempts to write. She knew that I loved to create stories and would hold out the promise of allowing me to scribble all I wanted provided I dealt with math and history and geography first. She guided me toward classic books that I devoured every spare second I had.

There was no doubt that my father’s influence also led to my passion for books. He was a teacher and a great lover of nature, and he opened my eyes, my senses, my emotions to all of the miracles of life which surround us and are under our noses every day.

I have been enormously fortunate in my professional career as an actress, to have been chosen to play in roles that took this once young girl from Walton-on-Thames in England to places I could never have dreamed of. The fact that those roles have allowed me the benefit of receiving a certain amount of media attention, and as such the opportunity to channel those paths into advocacy for reading, is a privilege that I do not take lightly.

About 2 years ago, I participated in the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of Laura Bush and the Library of Congress. It warmed my heart to see well over 100,000 participants spending a Sunday at the Mall, listening to authors and educators and providing the opportunity for young people to browse the stalls and shop for books. Media impressions of our advocacy that day allowed us to reach millions of people.

Some time ago I was fortunate to be on the same dais with the extraordinary author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and he said something that has resonated with me ever since… four words that speak volumes. He simply stated, “Words matter, books count.”…It is what brings us together today.

If you think about it, the books I write for children are really an extension of my singing voice…for in both cases, it is all about the words. A beautiful melody is always a thrill….but if the words aren’t there to sell the song, nothing happens. For me it has always been about the words.

My first book , “Mandy,” came about as a sort of happy accident.

I so enjoyed the writing process and when Mandy was complete, I felt somewhat empty…. Not long thereafter, the idea for my second book, leapt at me from the pages of my Websters dictionary. I came across the word “whangdoodle” and said to my husband “what a great word…I would love to write a book called “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.”… the title actually came first. If you look in Webster’s you will see that a whangdoodle is a humorous, mythical creature of fanciful and undefined nature. I thought, perhaps, I might be the one to define him. I decided that illustrations for the book were unnecessary….I hoped that children would use their imaginations to discover the whangdoodle for themselves.

A little thing called life got in the way after that second book and 10 or 12 years passed before I was professionally able to write again….other than a few ideas that I jotted down from time-to-time.

In October 2003 I launched my very own imprint, thanks to the support of my friends at HarperCollins Children’s Books…The Julie Andrews Collection.

My daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, runs the Imprint with me. She is a former actress-turned-theater producer, director, educator and writer. She and her husband, Stephen Hamilton, and their partner, Sybil Christpoher, run a wonderful community theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island. I cannot tell you the joy I feel working with my daughter. How could I ever guess when she was knee high to a grasshopper that we would one day be sitting opposite each other as partners – 2 women….2 adults…laughing… finishing each other’s sentences…drinking endless cups of tea. We not only write together (and individually) but we publish books written by new authors and also properties that may be out of print and worthy of being on your library shelves once again. The very first novel for the collection from an outside source was called “Blue Wolf”… it is beautifully written by a first time author who happens to be a librarian in Long Island, New York.

The mission statement of The Julie Andrews Collection is to provide books for young readers of all ages that nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder.

I happened to ask Emma what subjects made her 3 year old son Sam, my grandson, become truly enthusiastic. If she went to the library to find him the perfect book…what would it be?

She replied, “oh Mum, there is no contest…he’s crazy about trucks….specifically, dump trucks” She went on to say that she was having difficulty finding enough books on the subject . There were plenty of “how to” and practical books…trucks on the construction site, etc., but none that had family themes or a small adventure narrative. So I said “perhaps, we’d better write one.” Thus our first book, “Dumpy the Dump Truck,” began, and the “dumpy” franchise was launched. I am thrilled that our Imprint has flourished and now totals some 22 books.

Our latest effort, which is being released this week, is entitled “The Great American Mousical”…..and I seem to have come full circle, for it is all about the theater.

The idea for the story came to me when I was performing in “Victor/Victoria” on Broadway. A mouse was discovered in our wardrobe department, and I suggested a humane trap and asked if someone kind might release the creature in the suburbs or countryside. Something was said about there being a number of mice in the theater, and suddenly a light-bulb went off in my head…why not write a story about a troupe of performing mice that put on their own shows beneath the boards of Broadway.

Emma and I were delighted to collaborate on a project about the theater since we both felt we could write from a basis of real knowledge.

After the novel was underway, I happened to be taping a PBS documentary “The History of the Broadway Musical” in a grand old New York theatre. I was in the star dressing room and, brazen as you please, a little mouse popped out, wandered around and, finally, ambled out the door heading for the stage. I said to the stage manager, “do you know there is a mouse in here?” And he replied, “I’m not surprised…the theater is riddled with them, particularly in the basement and sub-basement.” I hoped it was a good luck omen for the book… (but was rather glad I wasn’t moving into that dressing room for any length of time!)

We recently have updated and remodled our web site, and if you care to access , you will see that we have included information about all our books (and their respective authors), video games for children, teacher’s guides…and even a song that I managed to record recently called “The Show Must Go On” which hopefully creates added value and fun to “The Great American Mousical.” I’d love for you to check it out.

I hope in time the Collection will become synonymous with 3 words which you can see clearly printed on each of our books. We call them our three W’s…Words, Wisdom, Wonder. There’s no greater gift that we can give our children than a sense of wonder at the miracles that are under our noses everyday (there is my dad’s influence again). The best way I know to access that wonder is through the wisdom of words. Words illuminate – and they lead to wisdom…which must inevitably lead to wonder.

Three years ago I began working with my good friends at Target Stores on their campaign called Ready…Sit…Read … to introduce books to young children, in partnership with pediatricians all over America. Our message to parents and caregivers is to simply take some special time each day to read to the infant child… We believe the campaign has been hugely successful, but it can only thrive when people like you use your power of advocacy to make a difference too. It is a necessary component in our collective pursuit of making sure our youth of today embrace that joy of reading.

In a media world of sound bites, quick visual MTV images…reality shows of daring adventures – or finding a wife for that special bachelor, I worry that broadcast media are delivering a steady stream of “manufactured” slices of life and are spoon feeding our children, so that all they have to do is receive rather than participate in any way. The joy of reading is that it asks us to use our imaginations and therefore we engage…and play an active role in our environment.

I take every opportunity, as I am certain you do, to combat those “manufactured slices of life” and prevent them from corralling our youngsters. It is essential that as librarians, educators, authors, parents and grandparents…we stimulate their ability to think and create both inside and outside the box.

Please don’t misunderstand…I love the world of filmed entertainment and filmed storytelling…but that cannot and should not replace the joy of reading…In the best of all possible worlds, one should enhance the other.

Helen Hayes, one of the great ladies of Broadway once said, “From your parents you learn love and laughter…and how to put one foot in front of the other…..but when books are opened, you discover you have wings. How right she was!…I so applaud the work that you all do and the impact that you have in making a difference in the lives of children – for our youngsters of tomorrow will face more choices and have to make more decisions in their brave new world than you and I have ever known.

You are the ones who are in the trenches….you are the ones to whom parents and children look for guidance.

That’s an awesome responsibility.

Thank you again for asking me to participate in this years TLA Conference….I must thank my dear friends from Harper Collins – Patty Rosati, Dina Sherman, Mimi Kayden ….and most especially, Cindy Tamasi…for their invaluable help enabling me to be here. It has been a real pleasure for me.

Thank you so much….and I do hope you enjoy the rest of your day.