The actress and children’s author took our cheeky book quiz to celebrate the publication of Freckleface Strawberry: Backpacks!
The book I remember most from school
My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Jeness, read A Wrinkle in Time to us over the course of a couple of weeks. The book is a pretty emotional read for an 11-year-old, even more so when it is read to you. It was the most profound experience I ever had in a classroom.
The book that cemented me as a writer
I wouldn’t really call myself a writer! I’m an actor who writes children’s books. It’s not like I’m Philip Roth. But it was the experience of reading that made me an actor—the feeling of being so enmeshed in a narrative, of feeling like you were inside a book. That is still what I crave when I am looking for a script.
The novel I’ve read over and over
Little Women. After my mother introduced me to the book, I couldn’t stop reading it. I read my copy until it was in tatters. I couldn’t believe that I was experiencing the lives of these four very different sisters in such a different time and found it so relatable. I would reread the passages that made me cry, because I loved that a book could elicit such an emotional response in me. Of course, when I grew older I was struck by how much the book was about personal responsibility, morality, and self-determinism, all ideas that young people are in the throes of trying to understand.
A classic I’ve never read
Middlemarch. And believe me, I have tried.
A book I’ve pretended to have read
For years I pretended to have read To Kill A Mockingbird, because it seemed that everyone had been assigned to read it in school, and somehow I never had and had never gotten around to reading it and I was embarrassed. But when my son was assigned the book in the 6th grade I read it along with him.
The books I read to my children
So many—Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny, Patricia Marx and Roz Chast’s Meet My Staff, Kevin Henkes’ Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner’s Brundibar. Mo Willems’ books. All of Dr. Seuss. All of Eric Carle.
The movie adaptation I starred in that I liked best
When a novel is great, the fear is that a movie adaptation can only fall short of what everyone has experienced in their imagination. But I do feel that Stephen Daldry and Neil Jordan both perfectly expressed the essence of the books in their adaptations of The Hours and The End of the Affair. And I really loved playing those parts!
An illicit book I had to read in secret as a kid
Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. I took it out of my mother’s closet where she had hidden it from me, because she knew I would try to read it. I read everything she was reading.
The book people might be surprised to learn I love
The last book that made me laugh, and the last one that made me cry
Absolutely everything David Sedaris has written makes me laugh uncontrollably—particularly the story where his dad eats the hat. In Paris. Because he thinks it’s a cookie. And I was reading Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves on a crowded JetBlue flight next to my daughter and her friend and burst into tears at the very end. It was embarrassing to the people around me. Nobody likes it when a mom starts to cry.
Have you ever bought your own book in a bookstore?
No, but I have bought them online. I like to give them to kids and I have run out of my copies, so I have to buy them online!
A recent book I wish I’d written
Zadie Smith’s NW. What a beautiful book; I love how distinct the voices of the characters are, how clearly you can hear them. It is a tremendously complicated and dense book about class, friendship, race, adulthood—so much feeling and thought, and a beautiful and inevitable conclusion.
What I’m reading now
Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, John Lahr’s biography of Tennessee Williams, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
A condensed version of this story originally appeared in the September 11, 2015 issue of Entertainment Weekly.