Kids Can Now Listen to Julie Andrews Reading Children's Books in Her New Podcast
News that’s practically perfect in every way: We now have Mary Poppins to pitch in for bedtime stories. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Julie Andrews and her daughter, literacy expert Emma Walton Hamilton, were hard at work on Julie’s Library, a kids’ reading podcast produced by American Public Media. In each 20 minute episode, the pair read one or two picture books published within the last five to ten years, on a broad range of topics and themes. The first episode features Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen. Later episodes include Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches by Julie Fulton, and the pair’s own book, The Very Fairy Princess. The podcast also includes activities, games, and opportunities for kids to share their favorite stories or favorite words.
With families across America sheltering at home, the pair moved up the podcast launch date—originally planned for July—to give kids and parents a much-needed break. (Nothing soothes the soul quite like Julie Andrew’s speaking voice!) The first episode is released today, April 29, and you can look forward to a new reading every Wednesday through June 3. A second wave will follow later in the summer, with plans to produce 20 episodes in all.
Parents Editor-In-Chief Julia Edelstein interviewed the mother-daughter team, who have written more than 30 children’s books together, about their new project and why storytime is more important now than ever.
Parents: What gave you the idea to launch a children’s book podcast?
Walton Hamilton: We both have been passionate readers our entire lives. We’re passionate about literacy and we’re also passionate about children. And I’m very much an avid podcast listener myself. The family audience is still a growing part of podcasting, so it occurred to us that we could share our love of books and reach out to kids directly through that medium.
Andrews: If we can connect and convey and help bring attention to the written word for kids, it’s so important. We wanted to find books that are available to buy or that children can pick up at the library.
Walton Hamilton: And happily, what we have at our fingertips with podcasting is sound. We can create a lot of color and imagery in the imagination of our listeners through the use of sound effects and of course, character voicing. We’re both hams, so we’ve had a lot of fun bringing color to it that way as well.
Parents: What role have picture books played in your lives as parents and, Julie, as a grandmother?
Andrews: Reading a book with a child on your lap, tracing the words with your finger. It doesn’t take very long to get a child absolutely hooked into loving that particular quiet time, especially if the child is sitting on your lap or snuggled in a chair beside you or on a bed. As often as I possibly could, especially when Emma was very young, I did that, and I did it with my grandkids too.
Is that the secret to raising a reader?
Walton-Hamilton: I teach kids in middle and high schools and I’ve also written a book, Raising Bookworms, about getting kids reading and keeping kids reading…
Andrews: Which is the hardest part.
Walton-Hamilton: And to me, the main value of reading aloud comes from creating an association between reading and love. Because if you’re sitting with a loved one and you’re snuggling, turning the pages together, you’re feeling warm and fuzzy while you’re taking this creative adventure and tickling the imagination. If done well, it can set a child up for a lifelong love of reading.
Andrews: I have ten grandkids. Two of them are not at the moment seemingly the kind of kids that are avid to read. But I sat one of them on my lap recently and we just picked up a magazine. I literally would turn pages and remark, “Wow, that’s fun isn’t it?” or “Let’s see what color we can find here…” or “Would you like something like that one day?” Almost immediately, they were hooked and the next time they came over, they said: “Can we read a book together or even a magazine on the coffee table?” It was a wonderful affirmation of what storytime can do for togetherness.
Parents: I love the simplicity of the podcast, and of your Netflix series, Julie’s Greenroom. Both are engaging and fun but not overstimulating. Do you have a certain philosophy about how you deliver entertainment to kids?
Walton Hamilton: Our philosophy is not speaking down to children, but inviting them to stretch up—to respect their intelligence and curiosity. To us, there is nothing wrong with an occasional word that may be outside kids’ immediate vocabulary. It invites a conversation with the adults they are reading or listening with, to say, “What does that mean?”
Andrews: I think that children are longing to be treated as beloved equals. The logo on every one of our books is “words, wisdom, wonder.” Words lead to wisdom, which leads to wonder. And also: You never know what will capture a child’s attention. ‘Help them to be curious’ is probably one of our mantras too.
Walton Hamilton: Yes, helping them to cultivate a sense of wonder at all the amazing things in the world.
Andrews: In spite of what a mess we think we’re in at times, we can always go back to the wonder of the fact that we’re here–and there’s so much around us to be offered if we’re curious. One thing I’m thinking about: When Emma was little, when she would go on a journey, I would always put together a little bag of, not surprises, but activities, like an empty powder case or an empty lipstick or pennies in a purse, keys, a little book to read, and crayons. The minute we would get in the car Emma couldn’t wait to open up her little bag of goodies and it actually helped keep the child quiet for the longest.
Walton Hamilton: (laughing) What does that have to do with storytelling?
Andrews: Well in a way it does: It’s providing some kind of thing that makes you, again, curious.
PARENTS: Yes—and is this podcast a bit like that little bag of goodies?
Andrews: Yes, that’s exactly right. [Laughs] Thank you.