I attended an author talk Monday night with Julie Andrews (aka Mary Poppins) and Emma Walton Hamilton, technically on the topic of how to get kids to love reading, but there were plenty of Broadway and Disney-related questions as well, which wasn’t surprising. Because Mary Poppins was on the stage. (Yes, I am aware of her many other stage and screen credits. And I am going with Mary Poppins anyway. Chim chim cheree.)
I’m going to be a bad reader here and admit I’ve never read the P.L. Travers books, though I hope to get to them at some point. It’s funny how the movie version of a book can take on a life of its own, isn’t it?
Amusing note: Julie said P.L. called her while she was in the hospital, recovering from giving birth to Emma, to say she was too pretty for the role, but that her nose was perfect. Also, Julie said “Saving Mr. Banks” wasn’t totally accurate; P.L. was even more crotchety in real life (not the word she used, I believe).
At any rate, the mother-daughter duo, who are both utterly charming, gave some good advice — start reading to kids early, slow down as you read the words, use different voices for different characters, talk to the child about what they’re reading, make the experience interactive. Though I have to say, I’m always astounded when parents need to be told to read to their kids. Isn’t that something you just do? Change their diapers, give them tummy time, read to them.
After I gave birth to my son, as soon as I was clear to drive a car again, I drove myself to the bookstore and stocked up on picture books. Lots of Dr. Seuss, plus “Where the Wild Things Are.” I made sure to get the books I’d loved when I was a kid, so my son would love them too. Spoiler alert: It worked, maybe too well, since it’s hard to get him away from a book to do … oh, anything else. But I can relate. I’d rather be reading too.
Which is exactly the thing all we writers and writers-in-training have in common, isn’t it? We all love reading, or else we wouldn’t want to create reading material for others. So you could say Julie and Emma didn’t need to sugar up the medicine where I was concerned, though judging from the wild applause, I wasn’t the only one.
My daughter loves Julie and Emma, although she doesn’t entirely know it yet, because of the “Very Fairy Princess” books. She adores these books. She puts her tutu on over her jeans and tells me, “I’m the Very Fairy Princess!” Well, of course you are, sweetie.
I like the books because Gerry — the princess in question — is the total opposite of the stereotypically super-girly princess-loving girl; her leggings are ripped at the knee, she has dirty fingernails, she sings a little too loudly, she likes to take charge. How she sees herself is at odds with how she actually is, and that disconnect is consistently funny (and adorable).
So my daughter will be happy with me in a couple weeks when she graduates from preschool, because a signed copy of Julie and Emma’s latest, “The Very Fairy Princess: Graduation Girl,” will be waiting for her. Talk about perfect timing.