Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Emma Walton Hamilton. The transcript is divided into the following clips:
- Meet Emma Walton Hamilton
- From reader to writer, and back again
- Writing for theatre
- Extending a story through theatre and music
- Nurturing imagination and curiosity
- Raising a bookworm
- Finding the joy
- Connecting books with life
- The Great American Mousical
- Like writing haiku
- Poems, songs, and lullabies
- Reaching reluctant readers
- Listening to books
- Helping your child choose books
- Writing with Julie Andrews
- Excerpt from The Great American Mousical
Meet Emma Walton Hamilton
Hi. I'm Emma Walton Hamilton and I'm a children's book author and an editor and an arts educator. With my mother, Julie Andrews Edwards, I've authored such children's books as the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Dragon: Hound of Honor, The Great American Mousical, Simeon's Gift and Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother and Child.
Recently, I wrote a book called Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, and my mother and I will soon be coming out with a poetry anthology called Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies.
From reader to writer, and back again
I think writing and reading are completely synergistic; not necessarily in that one has to be a good reader to be a good writer or vice versa, but that they so inform each other. I mean, reading obviously so enriches our vocabulary, broadens our perspective, gives us ideas, awakens our mind and our compassion and our awareness and so forth, all of which I think informs our writing, for those of us who are writers.
I think I personally, as a writer, read differently knowing how tough it is to write, knowing how challenging it is to articulate it, to express clearly and economically and with focus and with purpose. I become so much more of an admirer and a fan of other people's writing when it really works and sings. I think that children who read are better writers, and children who tell stories appreciate books.
Reading and hearing stories, those two things are completely intertwined. In fact, statistically we know that children who do read and read well and read as a preferred activity, which is different than just know how to read, are much more likely to be better writers, be more successful academically at school, and also engage in other creative pursuits such as participate in the performing arts, attend cultural events later in life. Reading has a direct impact on the degree to which children and then the adults they grow into become engaged citizens.
Writing for theatre
I think the collaborative nature of theatre serves to strengthen writing skills considerably because it forces the writer to think multi-dimensionally. You have to ask questions about the material that you don't necessarily have to ask if you're writing just straight fiction.
You have to figure out will a designer be able to You don't have to solve the problem for the designer, but you have to be able to open your mind to the question of what challenges will this pose for a scenic designer, for a lighting designer, for a sound designer, for a production designer? Those kinds of questions, the writer has to be wrestling with while they're writing.
There's also the element of suspension of disbelief that is unique to theatre. When you go into a film, when you go and see a movie, for example, everything is pretty much fed to you, spoon fed to you. It's all there on the screen, and the student who's watching a film is just receiving, in a sense, not necessarily being asked to actively participate other than to receive and to listen and to absorb and integrate the story.
The theatre — you have to, by nature, walk into the space and say, "I surrender my disbelief. I am willing to sit here in the dark with these people to the right and to the left of me and believe that that one wall that is the backdrop of the set is actually extending all the way around. And this is a real room where this scene is unfolding or, in fact, we're not indoors, we're outdoors or we're in space or wherever we may be and that that sound effect is, in fact, a helicopter or whatever it might be."
There is a real level of participation with the imagination that an audience member is required to do in the theatre. I think the writer writing for theatre needs to always keep that in mind, needs to write with the audience in mind and the audience's journey in mind in a way that is different than other writing disciplines.
Extending a story through theatre and music
Whether you're telling a story orally or on the page or on the stage, you're still dealing with a beginning and a middle and an end. You're still overcoming a conflict of some sort or solving problems. You're still exploring relationships and ideas and themes and messages and so forth. They are completely related to each other. I like to think of them as wonderful complements to each other.
One of the things that excites me and my mother when we write together is thinking creatively about how each of those disciplines can support each other with a particular idea. For example, can this book be adapted for the stage? Might there then be another opportunity for a young person to experience the ideas in this book or in this story from a different perspective?
We had this experience recently with one of our books, Simeon's Gift, which is a picture book that we wrote together. It happens to be a book about music or about a musician, a minstrel who goes on a journey in search of his craft and his muse in order to win the love of his lady and I should say the approval of her father. The love isn't a problem, it's whether they are allowed to be married.
We had the extraordinary experience of adapting that original story and book into a play for a stage and then a musical, I should say, with songs that were inspired by the story and by the characters and so forth. Then taking that one step further, we were asked to develop the piece for a symphony. Those songs and that score were then extended that much further for an 82-piece orchestra. And we developed it for symphony.
At the same time, we also explored creating a Web game around the journey that this young musician takes in the book where children can go online and make their own mini symphonies from the sounds of nature which is essentially what Simeon does in the story. All of these pieces were wonderfully synergistic with the book itself.
Our fantasy and our dream was that the young person who read the book might then come to the theatre or to the symphony and have different senses and different ideas awakened and then go back to the book with that new perspective and new awareness and then perhaps log on and experiment with creating their own symphony online. It would be a real sort of multi-dimensional, multi-creative experience that starts with the book and ends with the book but goes all over the place in between.
Nurturing imagination and curiosity
Children are innately gifted play actors, storytellers, dramatic performers. Most children, we can all remember being kids ourselves and losing ourselves in the world of pretend and imagining that we were a vet or a cowboy or an astronaut or whatever it may be.
There's a natural instinct and a gift in children to be open to that kind of creative play and creative stimulation. Unfortunately, all too soon for many kids, that sort of gets squeezed out and in favor of more serious pursuits and learning and assessment and responsibilities and pressure and so forth and homework and all of those things.
I think that if we've done our job well as parents and as caregivers and as educators and as writers that we've got to continue to keep that sense of imagination and playfulness alive. The ways that we can do that are so simple. I mean, it's as simple as reading aloud with our children as often as possible for as long as possible.
Taking that opportunity to demonstrate not only storytelling, but dramatic play. There's nothing more wonderful than a great read aloud that comes to life because the characters have voices that are specific to themselves. I'm not saying that we have to all be hams or be actors when we're reading aloud to kids, but to the extent that we can enliven the read aloud experience for them a little bit with that kind of creativity I think really makes a huge difference.
Then looking for ways to support the literary experiences that they are having with other creative opportunities and experiences. For example, if a child is reading or enjoying a particular book, is there a related play or art exhibit or piece of music or a recipe that you can explore together as an extension of that experience to just broaden it that little bit further and enrich it that little bit more.
I think that something sometimes we don't think about enough. We think that it begins and ends with the reading experience. But if we are really thinking creatively, we can enrich the reading experience so much by bringing that kind of playfulness and inquisitiveness to it through drama, through art, through music through other ways to support the reading experience.
Raising a bookworm
I wrote the book Raising Bookworms because I was finding that whenever I went on public speaking appearances, author tours, book signings, into classrooms, into libraries, what I was hearing the most often, the single most consistently asked question that both my mother and I would often, when we traveled together and appeared together were hearing was, "How to I get my child reading again? How do I get my child reading to begin with or how do I get my child reading again? He or she used to be a wonderful reader, but I've lost them to the Internet or I've lost them to the Game Boy or whatever it may be. And how do I get my kid to turn off the Game Boy and pick up a book?"
We were hearing this question with such frequency and urgency that I began to think, "Boy, this is really becoming a serious issue in our society and in our community." As a parent, I could relate because I have two kids. I have a son who is twelve and daughter who's five. Certainly, the digital world is a big part of our life.
I'm fortunate in that both my kids love to read and are terrific readers. But I didn't want one thing to replace to the other. I wanted that to continue, that joy of reading in our life. I thought let me see if my experience as an author and as particularly an arts educator, if I can do some research and see if I can address this question in a way that may be more accessible to parents and to people who are short of ideas as to how to bring that back to life.
Finding the joy
To me, the single most important element in Raising Bookworms, in raising a bookworm or several bookworms is keeping the joy alive in reading. This is the whole focus of the book. It's the whole premise of the book. If we ask ourselves only one question as parents in relationship to this idea, I think it should be am I serving the joy with this activity or am I serving something else? Am I killing the joy?
It's an interesting dilemma because children when they're babies and they're toddlers, we tend to read to them much more, I hope. The ideal situation when we're babies and toddlers, we are read to, we are snuggling and cuddling and being loved with our family members.
Maybe we have a snack or we're nursing or we have a bottle, and reading is equated with all things wonderful and warm and fuzzy. Reading equals love. Then we go to school and we begin to learn to read for ourselves and sometimes it's a struggle. Often it's a hard thing to do to learn how to read.
There's a certain amount of pressure and expectation from teachers and perhaps from parents as well. Maybe the material isn't as scintillating as the favorite story at home that's being read to us by our beloved family members. Little by little, we begin to associate reading with pressure and with responsibility and with chore and with duty and with frustration or with boredom.
Around that same time that this is happening, what we tend to do as parents is back off of reading to our kids so much, thinking I need to promote independent reading skills, and I need to let the child go and do their own reading rather than reading to them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the time when we need to read more to keep the joy alive because if we back off of reading and all they're doing is experiencing the frustrations of learning to read and the pressures of learning to read, then reading is no longer associated with joy; it's now associated with struggle and chore.
The book's premise is let's bring back the joy. Let's look for ways — and I call them stealth mode activities because I think kids have a wonderful way of knowing when we have an ulterior motive and just because they think it's an ulterior motive, pushing back against it.
I think one of the challenges for us as parents is to be a little bit subtle about our approach and crafty and find stealth mode techniques to keep the joy alive. For example, with the youngest readers, it's as simple as making sure that the reading environment is inviting, making sure that the lighting is good to read by, making sure that it's cozy, that there aren't too many distractions of sound or visual distractions.
Having the TV on in the other room can be very distracting to a child who is reading or being read to. The basic environmental support, creating a reading nook, a place to go and read together and establishing reading rituals and those kinds of things for younger children are very important. Reading everywhere and anywhere, whenever possible. I'm a great believer in reading at the dinner table, reading in the bath, reading in the car, reading when you're waiting in line.
Connecting books to life
For older children, it starts with keeping books available everywhere: in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bathroom is a great reading place, in the car. Just having reading material available, surrounding kids with books as much as possible. Trips, regular trips to bookstores and to libraries are hugely important in terms of exposing kids to the tactile pleasures of books and reading and all the opportunities that they provide. Then looking for these wonderful, creative opportunities to build on reading experiences.
If a child is reading The Little Engine That Could, for example, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if it's an older child or Harry Potter, looking for, perhaps, a train exhibit to take them to or train music or train art or going to see the Harry Potter films or exploring other books by Roald Dahl or other books in the same genre or cooking a recipe from a book together or creating a crafts project that might be inspired out of a story or a particular experience in a book.
Those kinds of activities are just wonderful ways to play and keep the spirit of joy alive around the reading experience. It's also very important, I think, to demonstrate for kids how reading contributes to life skills. Things like reading recipes together, reading manuals as we build things together or models or household products that need to be assembled or whatever it may be, reading ingredients when we're shopping on the backs of boxes.
Those are all wonderful ways to support reading skills without pressure in a way that is showing a child how important reading is to our lives and that makes them feel involved and included and gives them a good sense of the degree to which reading skills play a role. Taking our kids with us to vote those kinds of little activities send powerful messages to our kids about the value of reading in our lives and the need to have that as a part of our life skill base.
The Great American Mousical
The Great American Mousical is very dear to my mother's and my hearts. It's obviously written from a place of great affection for the theatre which is both of our backgrounds are in the theatre. It's really a valentine and a little bit of a tongue in cheek, affectionate look at what it is to be in the theatre.
What we wanted to do was we wanted to give young readers a sense of all the wonders that theatre provides and also all that goes into creating theatre in a way that felt accessible to them and interesting to them. We came up with a notion of using mice — a troupe of theatre mice who live and perform in a great, venerable Broadway theatre — as the way to tell the story.
Within this troupe of theatre role are all the classic characters of any theatre whether human or mouse, such as the director and the difficult leading lady and the young intern and the weary producer and the slightly hysterical hairdresser and so forth. Some of them are terrible stereotypes and done with great affection and love.
The idea for the book came about because my mother was performing on Broadway at the time, and there was a mouse in her dressing room. She said to her — I think it was her dresser — "Oh, could you make sure that if someone puts down traps or takes the mouse away that they're the humane kind? Could you see that they go take it out to Brooklyn and release it there?" Why Brooklyn, I don't know, but somehow the idea was let's put it somewhere where it will be happier and free and not kill it and not be cruel. think everybody sort of snickered and heaven knows what happened to the mouse.
Everybody was amused by the fact that my mom wanted it to be such a humane experience. What is the truth of theaters is that all theaters are riddled with mice. You know mice are just a part of the theater, and once we realize that and once my mom said, "Of course, I imagine there's not just one mouse here. There's probably hundreds, perhaps even thousands of mice under here."
A light bulb went off and she suddenly thought, "I wonder if they're putting on their own shows downstairs for their own audience," and from there, the idea was born. The more we talked about it the more excited we became by the idea because we thought, "Boy, what a wonderful way to bring the magic and the wonder of theater down to a kind of a manageable scale for a young reader." We could have lots of fun and be very irreverent without being too obvious or on the nose.
We had just such a good time writing it, modeling all of these mouse characters after people we know and love and have worked with in the past and bringing all of our theater experiences and stories and backgrounds to bear in creating this particular story while at the same time hopefully giving kids the not so subtle message that theater matters and is still very important and valuable and to be seen and appreciated and savored and enjoyed.
That's really the underlying agenda for us was to be able to help kids discover or really understand the wonders of theater. Then we included things like a glossary of theatrical terms to help them understand better some of the expressions and some theater etiquette and a few little bits and pieces to take it even beyond just the story itself. It's very tongue in cheek. There's the whole idea is that the theater is being threatened with demolition and is actually gonna be taken over by a television station.
It's a not so subtle message there.The mice save the day and the theater is saved. I won't give away how, but the theater is saved from the wrecking ball thanks to the mice which for us was very important in terms of conveying the message that no matter how small one is one can always make a contribution and you never know what you can actually achieve even in spite of your size or your age.
Like writing haiku
Picture books are a wonderful, unique challenge. They're almost more difficult than writing novels, I think. They demand an economy of language and of story telling that doesn't exist to the same degree. It certainly exists, but not to the same degree in chapter books and novels. You have to convey your ideas, your relationships, your story in just so many sentences per page and keep moving along as quickly as possible and in thirty-two pages or less. Current trends in picture books are actually demanding that the amount of words or sentences per page are getting less and less and less.
It becomes almost like a haiku exercise. You have to really streamline when you're writing. The other thing about picture books is that one doesn't want to write what the illustrations will show. Ideally, one wants the art and the text to compliment each other. Not just to reflect each other and mirror each other, but to compliment each other so that the child that's reading or listening is receiving new and different information from each of those things and putting them together. That is a unique challenge, as well.
I mean, we really find that when we write it's more about the editing and the trimming after the writing than it is about the writing to begin with when it comes to picture books because we're combing through it and going, "We don't need to see that. The art will show that. We don't need to say that, the art will show that. Can we say that in just two words less so that we can get to the next page that little bit sooner? Can we jump into the action without the exposition quite so much at the beginning?" I mean, there are all kinds of interesting challenges to picture books, I think, that are unique to that particular genre.
Poems, songs, and lullabies
Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies is an anthology to be published by Little Brown in the fall of 2009, and it is a collection of poems, songs and lullabies, not only our favorites from my childhood, from my mother's childhood, from just our years of being lovers of poetry and appreciators or song lyrics, but also there are some selections in it that we've both written and a few that my father wrote and one that my mother's father wrote, and even her grandfather. There are a few family contributions.
There are obviously many familiar favorites that I'm sure many people will know and recognize. Hopefully a few new ones and one or two never before published. It's a very eclectic mix, and it's divided into eleven sections with themes like nature or childhood or bedtime — familiar themes. Some perhaps not so familiar themes like optimism is one of our categories and the world at large and the sea, and it's a fairly broad range of styles and ideas and different types of poetry and poems and lyrics.
It's stunningly illustrated by James McMullan, the wonder artist, James McMullan who is probably best known for his work with his wife Kate on the I Stink and I'm Mighty and those wonderful books, but who is also an extraordinarily gifted theater poster artist. He's the exclusive artist for the theater posters at Lincoln Center Theater and is prolific in his work and his paintings and has just an extraordinary body of work behind him.
For this anthology, he's done close to 200 original paintings. At least one a page, sometimes more, and all across the map in terms of approaches and styles and whether they are literal or suggestive or figurative or landscape — they're just extraordinary. It's truly a work of art form that point of view. James' illustrations alone I think they're just breathtaking.
We are very fortunate to be including with the anthology a CD recording of my mother and I reading some of our favorite selections from the book, and there are a few of her reading alone and a few of me and then a few of us reading together. Hopefully once again, it's a multi-disciplinary approach. We've been fortunate to have some original background music composed for the readings to support them and to be sort of an interstitial tissue between them.
Hopefully it's giving kids not just great poems and great lyrics to think about and to read and to enjoy, but also wonderful art and a little bit of music and oral pleasure as well. Our hope is that it will be a shared family treasure. That's really the goal is that it would be something that parents and grandparents will read with their children and will enjoy as much as their children do, and that those children will then grow up and perhaps share with their next generation of children.
Reaching reluctant readers
I get asked a lot about, "What about reluctant readers?" A lot of parents are concerned that my kid is a reluctant reader. No matter my best efforts, what can I do? I think there are many ways to help reluctant readers to bring them along to reading and to rediscovering the joy of reading. It only takes one book to hook them in.
It only takes one really successful, thrilling, joyful, wonderful, losing oneself in the magic reading experience to captivate that child's imagination and then if we're smart to take that moment and that opportunity and parlay it into other wonderful reading experiences. So it's not about a relentless journey. It's about finding that one thing that will help that reluctant reader spark their imagination and be the portal into opening their curiosity to other reading experiences.
There are some very practical ways that we can encourage reluctant readers. Anything from reasoning with them. Quite simply saying, "Look, I understand this is something that you feel that you're not particularly interested in at this time. This is hugely important to us. This is a value we hold as a family. Let's just for one week, let me read you this story, and if at the end of the week you're miserable and you don't want to read it anymore, that's fine. I've done my part."
Chances are if you pick the story right, by the end of one week the child will be begging for more. That's one way. Another way is to suggest, to use a little bit of incentive. You can stay awake a little bit longer, you can as long as you're reading in bed you can stay up until such and such a time tonight, using reading as a motivation. Giving books as gifts is a great way to associate reading with receiving a gift and love and pleasure for any age reader.
The reluctant reader oftentimes resists the read aloud experience because they think they're too old for it or they've outgrown it or what have you. Bringing in altruism — asking them to perhaps read to a younger sibling or read in a Big Brother/Big Sister Program. Read if they're babysitters or their mother's helpers or so forth to their younger charges can be a great way to get them involved in the story without their realizing that they're actually becoming involved and thinking that they're doing it for other reasons.
I think we have to be very careful not to use reading as a weapon or as something that we hold over their heads. For example, we have to be very careful not to say, "If you don't stop that behavior, no bedtime story tonight. If you don't do such and such and such, no reading tonight." That then is creating a negative association with reading.
That's then building the connection between reading and pressure or reading and punishment or reading and something negative, and though it might seem like a logical consequence, there are plenty of other logical consequences that I think we can choose that aren't intentionally eroding that connection between reading and joy for a young person which is so important to keep feeding and nurturing and to keep alive.
Listening to books
There are a number of different ways to read that aren't just limited to books on paper. My son, for instance, is an avid lover of audio books. There's a bit of an argument about whether audio books is really reading. I say absolutely, it's really reading. You are absorbing story and idea and character and all the things that reading entails. Just because you aren't actually doing it with your eyes, one wouldn't say reading brail isn't really reading. Why is reading audio books not — why is that any different?
Audio books can be a wonderful tool for a reluctant reader. For my son, he has some vision issues. Reading is fatiguing for him. Audio books are a wonderful solution for him. Audio books are also a terrific way for the older child to experience the value of read aloud without necessarily feeling like they're being read to by their parent or what have you.
All of the additional support in terms of comprehension and absorbing the story and meaning and nuance are all being gained subtly in that stealth mode I was talking about before by hearing the story told to them by somebody who is modeling tone and wonderful reading skills and so forth in a way that the child might not necessarily be able to do in reading it for themselves.
The other important piece is that we know that until about eighth grade, our listening skills and our reading skills haven't converged, so it's terribly important to keep reading to older kids because we can still absorb much more from hearing a story than we can from decoding it ourselves on the paper. Audio books are a wonderful way to continue to help kids do that, and they will always gain so much more from hearing it or being told a story or listening to the story than from fighting through reading it themselves.
Helping your child choose books
My advice for parents in helping kids select material is to first and foremost know your child. We all know that if we have more than one child, we know how individual each child is. If we were part of a family with more than one child. we know how unique we are from our siblings. What one book worked for this child won't necessarily work for that child. What one book we may have loved as children won't necessarily work for our kids. It's about knowing our children and helping to fuel and to feed their individual passions.
There are clues from our kids as to how we can support that. For example, what posters are on your kids' walls in their bedrooms? Who are his or her heroes? What are his hobbies? What does she most love to do in her spare time? Those activities, those heroes are clues to what they're drawn to. My son is a baseball fan and a musician, and he loves baseball memoir. He also loves books about science and nature and so forth. My daughter is all fantasy, and if I were to give her a science story or a sports story, she would be bored to tears.
But give her something with princesses and fairies, she asks for more and more and more. It's really about knowing our kids. It's interesting, every year Scholastic does a wonderful survey, Kids and Family Reading Report, in which they assess some of the reading climate, and one of the things that came out of the most recent report is that something like 82% or 85% of kids say one of the reasons they don't read more is they have trouble finding books they like.
We assume, particularly with older kids, that they know how to choose books for themselves, that a child should be able to go into a library or a bookstore and find something that interests them based on its cover or based on what they might read on the jacket flap. That's not necessarily true. I think kids really need support and guidance in finding out what books work for them and what authors inspire them and what styles and what genres they respond to. A case in point is when my son had this free read experience that he was given the chance in school to have this free read and he was so relieved to be able to choose something he wanted.
He then was paralyzed with, "What do I choose? Anything, the whole world of books is now available to me. Which one?" I could see that he was struggling so I said, "Well, tell me what would you ideally like it to be and then throw out some adjective or some ideas or some words so that I can get a sense. What kind of book are you thinking you'd like it to be."
He said well, "I'd like it to be funny." So, "Okay," he said. "And I'd like it to be real, like realistic. Doesn't have to be non-fiction but it'd be nice if it were sort of realish, memoirish. And I'd like it to have something to do with nature." Then I had to put my thinking cap on and help him figure out something that had all of those components, and we settled on Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals because it's funny and it's a memoir and it's full of stories about animals and it was just the right choice for him. It was wonderful.
But by himself, I don't think he ever would have come to that choice or that decision. Now, we the parents don't have to be the person to do that. There are librarians. There are teachers. There are wonderful resources of people out there to help us find those perfect books for our kids if we can understand what they respond to.
If we see that our child loves ballet, we can ask the librarian, "Do you have any great books about ballet and stories about ballets, backstage ballet stories?" Or if we know that our child loves baseball, "Do you have any great baseball memoirs?" And we can ask the librarian to ask our child pointed questions, leading questions to help figure out what might turn them on as well. There are a number of ways that we can help lead kids to books they love. I think the task is that we have to remember that they need us to do that and that we can't expect them to just know what they love right off the bat.
Writing with Julie Andrews
I've the great good fortune of writing much of what I write with my mother. My co-author is my mother, and in fact, we've written together now seventeen books and with several more in the pipeline. And it's interesting. When we first started writing together, we weren't sure how it would work. We weren't sure if we would be compatible writing together. We're both fairly opinionated, bossy women. Fairly strong women I should say, is a better word, and we thought we might clash a little bit. We weren't sure.
The happy discovery has been that we seem to have very complementary strengths, and we are very good at knowing when to defer to one another. Mom tends to be very much more the kind of big ideas, big picture, visual person. I tend to be more about the structure and the details. And so those strengths are greatly complementary. The process is quite wonderful and it's become much easier as the years have gone by. When we first started writing together, it was a little bit more labored.
We felt we always had to be in the same room together and we would do everything longhand on yellow legal pads with pencils and endless cups of tea and so forth. Now we've actually started incorporating technology quite a bit into our work, and since we live in separate states, we actually live on separate coasts most of the time, we do most of our work together via webcam.
The webcam has revolutionized how we work together because the fact that we can actually see each other as well as hear each other means that we are able to work with a kind of shorthand that somehow the phone didn't provide. There's a great deal of sign language. "It's more like this than like that." There's a great deal of body language that comes into play. She's in her home office in Los Angeles and I'm in mine in Sag Harbor, and we agree to log on at a certain time and we get to work.
It's very funny because the first time we did it, the first time we started working on the webcam she said, mom said she put on perfume before logging on and then suddenly realized what a ridiculous thing it was that she had just done. "Oh, I must just put on some perfume before I get to work with Emma." We haven't come that far yet with our technology! But the process is essentially what we do is once we have a sense of the idea of what we'd like to try to write about.
For example, if we use The Great American Mousical as an example, we knew we wanted to tell a story about theater mice in which the theater would be in jeopardy and mice would save the day. Once we have our outline that we're working from, then it literally becomes a process of finishing each other's sentences. At that point, we go very organic, and one of us will just jump in and start free associating and the other one will say, "That's so close, but it's not quite the right word. It's more of a blue word or a red word."
It becomes this incredible sort of very fluid give and take process of writing and finishing each other's sentences. Meanwhile, I'm typing furiously. Once we've transcribed whatever we've done for the day, then there's a great deal that goes on in the editing process and it's back and forth and changing this word and that word and typing sentences and realizing what's missing and so forth. A huge amount of our work is done in the aftermath of the writing.
It's become a very organic process, and both of us feel now that when we try to write alone, we miss each other. It's funny because people, solitary writers, solo writers, often say, "How do you write with a writing partner? I can't imagine writing with someone else." We're at the point now where it's sort of like how do you write by yourself? How do you write without that person to bounce ideas off of, without that sounding board, without that give and take of ideas? We've become very attached to writing together, and hopefully we'll continue to do it for a long time.
The other thing I should add is that one of the wonderful discoveries, a lot of times people will say to me, "I can't imagine writing with my mother. What is that like?" Or, "With my daughter, what is that like?" The happy surprise for both of us is that it has actually strengthened our relationship, and I think it's because before we were working together and writing together, time spent together or phone calls and so forth were often weighted with news of the day, discussions about family issues, politics, health concerns, problems whatever they may be, the normal things that one discusses and deals with and grapples with in families.
Now a huge portion of our time, in fact most of our time together because we don't have a great deal of time together so we have to work very concentrated, is creative, and we're in this wonderful world of children's literature where it's all interesting characters and fun ideas. It's like being in a sandbox and playing when we get together now. It just feels like we get together and play and throw ideas around and have a great time instead of talking about arthritis or some of the other things that might come up in a conversation with one's parent or one's child — adult child.
Excerpt from The Great American Mousical
Hello. I'm Emma Walton Hamilton, and I'm gonna be reading an excerpt from a book that I co-wrote with my mother, Julie Andrews Edwards. The book is called The Great American Mousical and it's a story about theater mice who live and work and perform below the boards of a great Broadway theater and put on their own shows in their own miniature version of the theater downstairs.
Just before this section that I'm about to read to you from, the mice troop have been in rehearsal for a great benefit — their annual gala to help mice in need. It's called Broadway Airs, and they've been rehearsing, but something strange has been happening to the theater and they're not sure what it means. There's been sounds and shaking and debris falling, and they're a little bit concerned about what the ramifications of that might be. So let me begin
Suddenly, inexplicably, the stage began to shake. A low, menacing rumble came from above and the hanging lamps in the rafters rattled and swung together, their colored lenses breaking into shards. Members of the company screamed and ducked as plaster and glass rained down on stage like a shower. Parents and stage hands ran on to the set and carried children out of harm's way. Just as suddenly the shaking stopped.
Enoch, the stage manager, rushed out. "Is everyone all right? Anyone hurt?" No one was. Adelaide, the leading lady, said heatedly, "Can anyone explain what that was?" No one could. Emile, the director, called, "I suggest that we go and find out " but he never finished the sentence for the shaking began again, worse this time. One end of the hanging painted drop broke free and fell at an angle skewering onto the stage, narrowly missing Adelaide. She looked up indignant. "Hey," she called out to no one in particular. Splinters of wood, dust and debris hurtled into the wings where Wendy was standing.
Curly launched himself in front of her pushing her out of danger in the nick of time. She gasped and looked at him wide-eyes. "Curly, thank you so much. What on earth is happening?" By now, most of the mice were dashing for the stairs leading to the human theater. They streamed down the main corridor where the rumbling noise was even louder and spilled on to the pavement outside the big stage door, tumbling and falling over one another as they skidded to a halt. Maneuvering back and forth in an attempt to park next to the curb was a monster of a machine.
Electric yellow with giant crawler tracks instead of wheels. A cab and a vast crane formed the super structure. Hanging from the crane was a thick chain with a huge, black, concrete ball at the end of it. "What is it? What is it?" The mice children asked, gazing up in awe. Everyone had a question. "What does it do? What is it there for? What can it mean?" Pops, the stage door man held up a paw for silence. "Listen up, folks. Perhaps I can explain." He told them that as he was leaving the previous evening, he had heard human voices in the main corridor upstairs — a father and his son.
Their conversation didn't make much sense to him. The father was saying odd things such as, "We own the theater now," and they talked about a television studio and big bucks. Pops continued, "They used words like demolition and new construction." Pippin, the apprentice gasped as he remembered the phrase he had heard last night. "They'll be scurrying soon." He raised an arm for attention and told the mice of his own experience with the people.
"It must mean that the Sovereign is gonna be torn down to make way for a new building," he said with horror. "I guess that's what this huge machine is for." They all began to speak at once. What would happen to their beautiful, little theater? Would there be enough time to produce the big benefit? Would they all be out of work? What could they possibly do?