Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver are the co-authors of the very popular Hank Zipzer series about a young boy with learning differences who is funny, resourceful, and smart. Henry and Lin have also created a new series for younger kids called Here’s Hank, chronicling Hank’s life as a second grader. In 2019, Henry and Lin launched the first book in a new series, Alien Superstar, a science fiction story that takes a humorous look at what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land (in this scenario, a Hollywood backlot!).
In this exclusive interview, Henry and Lin talk about how they create a safe, fun space for collaboration, being funny ... with a heart, Henry's tough childhood growing up with (undiagnosed) dyslexia, the joy of school visits, why it's so important to really listen to kids, and more.
Watch the interview below to learn more about Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. You can also read short biographies about Henry and Lin, view the interview transcript, and see a selected list of the children's books they have written together.
Biography of Henry Winkler
Henry Winkler is an actor, producer, and director best known for his portrayal of Fonzie on the hit 1970s sitcom Happy Days. He later appeared in movies like Scream (1996) and on numerous TV programs, including The Practice and Arrested Development. In 2018, Winkler began starring alongside Bill Hader in the comedy/drama series Barry. Winkler's role as acting teacher Gene Cousineau won him his first Emmy in 2018 for best supporting actor.
Henry Franklin Winkler was born on October 30, 1945, in Manhattan, New York. His parents, Ilse Anna Maria (Hadra) and Harry Irving Winkler, were German Jewish immigrants who escaped the Holocaust by moving to the US in 1939. His father was the president of an international lumber company while his mother worked alongside his father.
Winkler grew up with "a high level of low self-esteem." Throughout elementary school and high school, he struggled with academics — it wasn't until he was an adult that he was diagnosed with dyslexia. From the time he was a young kid, Winkler loved performing and by the age of 14 he decided to become an actor. He worked hard to get through college (Emerson College) and a stellar audition won him acceptance into Yale University's Drama School, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degreein 1970. After graduation, he moved back to New York to try to make his mark on Broadway. By 1973, Winkler had moved to Los Angeles to take his shot at a career in television.
In addition to his movie and film credits, Winkler is a best-selling author of children's books. He has co-authored more than a dozen chapter books with Lin Oliver. The popular series "Here's Hank" and "Hank Zipzer, the World's Greatest Underachiever" are a funny and real look at life for a kid who struggles with dyslexia. Winkler said, "Hank Zipzer is based on the emotional truth of the stress, the pain, the embarrassment, the humiliation of being dyslexic. AND, what is vital to me, is that the stories are told through humor. The results from the 1000's of letters that Lin Oliver, my writing partner and I receive from all over the country, is that kids, parents, teachers, and librarians all identify."
Winkler has been married since 1978 to Stacey Winkler and is a father to three grown children. In 1990, the Winklers co-founded the Children's Action Network (CAN), which provides free immunization to more than 200,000 children. He served as the producer of All the Kids are Doing It and Strong Kids, Safe Kids. Winkler is also involved with the Annual Cerebral Palsy Telethon, the Epilepsy Foundation of America, the annual Toys for Tots campaign, the National Committee for Arts for the Handicapped, and the Special Olympics.
Winkler hosted the Reading Rockets PBS show, Reading and the Brain, which explores how brain scientists across the country are working to help struggling readers. From a conversation we had with Winkler while prioducing the show, he shared these thoughts on how to support a child with a learning challenge:
A child with a learning challenge is embarrassed by their inability to keep up. They already feel bad. All they need is support, support, a little more support, and then some support. And, ALL of that support must be positive.
If there was one word that I would pass on to all children, it would be tenacity. What your school abilities are, and how you perceive your dreams are two very different things. I was not very good at spelling, math, reading, geography, history — I was, however, great at lunch. That being said, my dream of being an actor never wavered.
Being smart does not necessarily correspond to school work. There is intuitive smart, emotional smart, street smart, knowing-how-the-cosmos-works smart. Those incredible pods of intelligence can create a wonderful life without ever getting a passing grade in geometry.
Biography of Lin Oliver
Oliver is a Valley Girl, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She started making up stories and writing at a very young age; in first grade she won a poetry contest with a four-line rhyming tribute to her dad. She earned an English degree at UC Berkeley, tried teaching for a brief period, and then made the pivot to writing. She started out as an author of educational books for children, where she met fellow writer Steve Mooser. Together they founded the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a network for writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people.
In 2002, Oliver and Henry Winkler published their first book in the Hank Zipzer: World’s Best Underachiever series. Now there are 18 Hank books (and counting) that have sold more four million copies. Oliver says, “I love writing about Hank because I believe we all have challenges in life and what defines us is how we deal with them with courage, honesty and self- acceptance.” Oliver has written other books for young people, including the Daniel Funk series about two miniature-sized twin brothers and the Almost Identical series about identical twin sisters.
Oliver has a whole other professional life – as a television producer. She was a Vice President at Universal Studios for 11 years; she now runs her own production company, Lin Oliver Productions. She wrote and produced Harry and the Hendersons and Corduroy for television.
Oliver raised three sons and lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband Alan and their shaggy dog, Dexter Duncan Baker.