Interview with Emma Walton Hamilton
1. What was the inspiration behind The Very Fairy Princess?
We try to make each of our books as gender-balanced as possible, but a number of our early efforts turned out to have more boy-appeal than girl-appeal. It was time to balance that out a bit! Actually, what we really wanted to do was celebrate individuality. We wanted to write a story that encourages kids to rejoice in their own unique passions and talents – even if they’re different from that of their family or friends. We spend so much of our youth trying to conform to what we think the world “expects” of us… only to find out that we serve the world best by being ourselves. If we could help just one kid realize that authenticity leads to confidence, we’d be thrilled.
2. Geraldine believes she is a fairy princess. Did you think you were a princess or other character as a child?
Like my daughter, I lived a lot of my childhood in fantasy. I had a whole host of imaginary friends, and my step-sister Bridget and I had a number of stock characters we would play with each other. (Among the more memorable were a Native-American prince and princess named Romeo and Juliette Donkey Cloud!) We even created a whole fantasy land, ruled by made-up Gods and Goddesses, where we believed we would one day go. We wrote elaborate stories and drew pictures of our castle there, complete with a fountain that spewed every yummy beverage your heart desired. I still spend a lot of my life in fantasy, I think – it’s just that now I get to share the stories with others!
3. In the book, Geraldine refers to letting her “sparkle” out. What does that “sparkle” represent?
Gerry is convinced she’s a fairy princess because she has “a sparkly feeling of just knowing” inside her heart. Later, she says to her friend Delilah that “You can be whatever you want to be, you just have to let your sparkle out!” It’s about knowing what makes your heart sing, and then having the courage to share that with others. I think of it as inner light… whatever makes us feel most authentically ourselves, and most happy. It’s that thing that we lose track of time while doing!
4. What are some of the ways you “sparkle” now as an adult?
Well, I’m still writing, so that’s definitely one of them! I also love editing. I work as a freelance children’s book editor, and I think I have a knack for seeing the potential in something and helping to bring the best parts forward. (I love renovating old houses for the same reason.) Most of all, being with kids makes me sparkle. My own, especially - but also the ones I work with in the school programs I run. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world to be able to brighten a child’s day, or in some way add to their sense of self-worth. That really makes me sparkle!
5. Would you like to coauthor a book with your own daughter someday?
Absolutely! Or my son, for that matter! I think that would be heaven.
6. What do you believe are the key ingredients of a good picture book?
I’ve been teaching picture book writing for the past couple of years, and recently launched my own online course for aspiring children’s book authors (http://www.justwriteforkids.com). I also work as a freelance children’s book editor, so I’ve given this question considerable thought! My view – and it’s not unique – is that the key ingredients of a good picture book are: an engaging protagonist with whom young readers can identify, a problem to be solved that makes for a compelling plot journey, originality of voice or style, and a point of view that leaves readers with a valuable message or a question to consider – all in a lean 1000 words or less! I also think humor is a hugely valuable asset when it comes to picture books, though of course not every picture book has to be funny – but I so admire the ones that are! The necessary economy of picture book writing makes it so much more challenging that one might imagine. It really is an art form unto itself, and it’s taken my Mom and I many years to even begin to figure out how to do it, let alone do it well!
7. The Very Fairy Princess has an inspirational message. What were you trying to say to children with this book?
Gerry actually says it for us in the book: “You can be whatever you want to be. You just have to let your sparkle out!” She believes so completely in her fairy princess-ness, and lives her version of that truth so fully every day (despite the naysayers), that by the end of the book even her parents refer to Gerry as their “very fairy princess.”
I think what we really wanted to suggest was that doing what makes your heart sing paves the way for miracles to happen. If we are willing to be fully committed to and passionately involved in the pursuit of our dreams, then anything is possible. We wanted to give kids permission to be authentically themselves, and to have the guts to live out their fantasies.
Interestingly enough, this may be as practical as it is inspirational. There’s quite a vibrant discussion taking place among child development specialists about the significance of imaginative play when it comes to cognitive, social and emotional development. It seems that there may be quite a strong connection between the degree to which a child engages in “make-believe,” or pretend play, and their later success in school and in life. All the more reason to let that “sparkle” out!
8. Do you have any other children’s book projects on the horizon?
We’ve actually just completed our second poetry anthology, the sequel to “Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies.” This next book features poems and song that celebrate the holidays and seasons throughout the year. We have also recently completed the last two installments in the “Little Bo” series about a ship’s cat, and are beginning to think about another “Very Fairy Princess” book. There’s really never a time when we don’t have another project on the horizon, or idea in development!