Julianne’s new book was inspired by her experiences of having an immigrant mother.
Julianne Moore, 52, is an award-winning actress known for her roles in The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights and Hannibal, and most recently starred opposite Steve Coogan in What Maisie Knew. She is also the author of four children’s books, including the semi-autobiographical Freckleface Strawberry.
Born in North Carolina, she now lives in New York with her director husband Bart Freundlich and their two children. In 2011, she claimed British citizenship to honour her late mother, Anne Love Smith, to whom she has dedicated her latest book.
What inspired you to write My Mom Is A Foreigner, But Not To Me?
My mother emigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1950, when was ten years old. Upon entry to the States, she was asked if she would like to become a citizen, and she said no, she fully expected to return home to Scotland someday. She was married very young to my father (an American boy she met in high school in New Jersey) and I was born when she was 20. She eventually became an US citizen when she was 27 when my father was applying for jobs that required she not be a foreign national. I remember her coming home crying because they made her renounce her British citizenship. She was also holding a small American flag!
I grew up with a very young mother who had a strong sense of herself as belonging to another culture. She also communicated to her children that we were a part of that culture too. It was obvious in small ways, like her colouring and her accent, but also profoundly, in the way she viewed her world. It was something I noticed intermittently when I was a child – when my friends would ask why my mother “talked funny” or why I had a kilt – but to me, everything about my mother was completely normal and familiar to me, even her own sense of being foreign. She was, simply, my mother, the mother that I wanted, the one that did everything for me and that I loved more than I can articulate. This book is for her.
What do you hope people take away from their reading of your new picture book?
I hope they recognise their own families, their own mothers and grandmothers, and that it gives them pleasure! Also, this is not an unusual story – many of us in the United States, or many other countries, for that matter, have a parent or parents who emigrated.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What’s your first reading memory?
I loved to read as a child. We moved a lot and reading was something I could always take with me. The first sentence I ever read was in a kid’s science book that I read with my mother, and the sentence was, “Mother, Mother,” said Bob, “I see a robin.”
What writers have influenced you?
In terms of children’s books, I love William Steig, Mo Willems, Kevin Henke, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Louisa May Alcott, books that don’t condescend to the child and acknowledge their sense of humour. There really are so many great writers – Maurice Sendak, Theodore Geisel, Margaret Wise Brown, and on and on and on.
What drew you to Meilo So’s art for this book?
I was so struck by the quality of Meilo’s people in her art work – she works with watercolor, in a very impressionistic way – but the people seemed very distinct to me, and very real. I wanted to feel the character of the moms, their ethnicity, and their physicality, their emotion, and for them to look like all the moms that I had known and continue to know, in life. And Meilo’s art captures all of those aspects so beautifully. The crazy coincidence is that she is also a foreign mom, and lives in Scotland, where my Mom was from!
My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me is your fourth picture book. What have you enjoyed most about being an author?
Oh my gosh, I am a huge lover of literature and books have always played a central role in my life. So the opportunity to participate in a world that holds so much meaning for me has just been tremendous. I love going to bookstores and schools and reading to kids, I love talking to readers about what they connected to in my stories, and I particularly love it when I feel that a story has resonated for children.
What is your favorite childhood memory of your mother?
Picking one memory is impossible, especially now that she is gone. I am flooded with thoughts and memories of my mother daily – and I have so many of her mannerisms and habits. One habit she had was humming while she was working around the house – I didn’t know that I did it too until my husband pointed it out. And I have very clear memories of her so very patiently teaching me to read, and teaching me how to tell time, while we folded sheets.
>> READ THE BOOK: My Mom Is A Foreigner, But Not To Me by Julianne Moore and Illustrated by Meilo So (Chronicle Books)