It seems only fitting, for Mother’s Day, to profile one of the area’s — and the world’s — most famous mother-daughter duos, Dame Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton.
Since they are both such a part of the fabric of the East End, it’s sometimes hard to remember that those threads extend worldwide.
Andrews holds a special place in the hearts of children — and children at heart — all across the globe; and not only because of her Muppet-centric Netflix series (“Julie’s Greenroom”), her familiar voice performances in cartoons like “Shrek” and “Despicable Me,” and her famous portrayals of the world’s most lovable nannies (that would be Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins, for those who were born yesterday).
Many children hold Andrews so dear because for more than a decade, the best-selling author has partnered with her daughter, award-winning writer and educator Walton Hamilton, to co-author more than 30 whimsical children’s books, which they have loved writing nearly as much as tots and teens have loved reading.
Now, the two will continue to share their passion for literature through “Julie’s Library,” a new weekly podcast produced by American Public Media, featuring Andrews and Walton Hamilton, along with special guests (including kids), reading some of their own favorite children’s books aloud to young listeners and their families.
Although the podcast wasn’t slated to launch until later this year, Andrews and Walton Hamilton released the first six episodes via Apple Podcasts on April 29, in the hopes of providing comfort to those families stuck at home due to the COVID-19 crisis.
As of April 30 — one day after the debut, mind you — the podcast had claimed the number one spot on iTunes under Kids and Family, and was number 15 overall.
The Independent sat down to pick the extremely well-read brains of the “Julie’s Library” twosome.
You are both true and total book-lovers, so how do you pick which books you’ll read on the show?
Julie Andrews: We work very closely with the team at American Public Media in the book selection process. Our goal is to provide as broad a range of stories as possible, addressing diverse themes and topics. We particularly respond to books with heart, humor, and/or a strong social/emotional theme.
Emma Walton Hamilton: The challenge is that we are reading picture books, which tend to be dependent on the illustrations to tell as much of the story as the text does. We have to focus on stories that stand alone and don’t rely on the illustrations to understand any of the action or narrative.
We augment the readings with sound effects and music to convey as much of the action and imagery as possible, and of course, we always recommend that listeners pick up the actual book at their local library or bookstore to enjoy the illustrations. We also feature sample illustrations from each book in our weekly newsletter and on our website.
And the guest hosts, and the children? How do you decide who to bring on?
EWH: The guest readers are also a joint decision with APM. Sometimes we choose a guest reader because the book calls out for specific character voicing. Sometimes we invite the author to read their own book — particularly if it’s rooted in a culture different from ours.
JA: We rely on APM for the children’s voices. Because they produce several other kids’ podcasts, like “Brains On!” and “Smash, Boom, Best,” they have relationships with schools and youth groups around the world and they are able to draw on those relationships to engage and invite kids to contribute ideas, answer questions, and share favorite words for the show.
What are some of the themes of upcoming episodes that families can look forward to?
JA: Some of the themes we’ll be exploring in the books we’ve chosen so far are growing up, overcoming fear, individuality/being oneself, creativity, the night sky, family relationships, and helping others.
EWH: We also have book selections that speak to gender fluidity, being on the autism spectrum, and cultural identity.
You rolled this out early because of COVID-19. How did you pivot, and how has it changed any of the choices you may have made?
JA: We’ve been simply awed by American Public Media’s ability to fast-track the launch of the podcast without compromising any of the integrity or quality of the content, and all within the limitations of the current lockdown.
EWH: Days have been much fuller and busier than they might otherwise have been, given the amount of work to do to bring everything forward — book research, permissions requests, script generation and approval, website design, newsletter design, promotional efforts, sponsorship recruitment, and more — not to mention recording, editing, and creating sound design for each episode, and arranging for guest readers to record as well. One way in which we pivoted was that APM sent recording equipment to our homes, allowing us to continue doing pickups and new recordings while under lockdown.
JA: We both have rather impressive recording set-ups in our closets! We miss being in the studio together, but it gets the job done.
What is the core message in “Julie’s Library” that you want families and children to get right now?
JA: First and foremost, the joy of reading, of course!
EWH: Of course! And the power of good stories as “mirrors, windows, and doors” with which to learn about ourselves and the world. We also hope the podcast encourages togetherness by providing family listening pleasure, and that it inspires listeners to enrich reading experiences with related activities and meaningful conversations.
After all this time working together, what advice do you have for other mothers and daughters who may be thinking of starting a business together? Triumphs and pitfalls?
JA: Three things come to mind, and they apply to any family partnerships. First, identify your individual strengths. Our partnership works well because we’re good at different things. Because we know and respect this about each other, it makes it easy to lean into those strengths and let the other person do what they do best. Second, keep your eye on the big picture — the shared goal. It’s not about whose idea it was, or who gets credit for what. It’s about the end result. We have a mantra whenever we’re brainstorming a solution to a problem: “The best idea wins.”
EWH: And always be respectful of one another. Just because we’re related doesn’t give us license to speak to each other or behave any differently than we would with a non-family-member business partner. Framing any disagreements with respectful language and behavior is essential to the ongoing strength of the partnership.
What keeps you strong right now? How are you holding up through all this?
EWH: We’re hanging in there, hunkering down at home like everyone else! Having creative work that we can still do from home helps a great deal. Even though we live five minutes away from each other, we’re social distancing and doing all our work remotely, but we talk or get online together every day.
Having regular Zoom calls or FaceTimes with family and friends helps too, and we’re grateful to live in this beautiful part of the world and have gardens that we can spend time in for a dose of fresh air and beauty.
JA: We try to balance staying current on the latest news from trusted sources with looking for good news wherever we can. We subscribe to several different “good news” newsletters and such, and it really helps to balance the more frightening stuff each day with a dose of optimism. And we’re following all the guidelines and recommendations and doing our part to stay safe and not put others at risk.
What helps most is focusing on gratitude — for all those who are out there on the frontlines battling this virus, for those who are making it possible for us to stay home by bringing the world to us in various forms, and for the opportunity to continue working and trying to bring some joy to others during these challenging times.
To listen to — or learn more about — “Julie’s Library,” visit www.julieslibraryshow.org.
By Bridget LeRoy and Georgia Warner