"Reading was so difficult for me that I did not really read a novel until I was 40 for pleasure," he said.
Lo Bosworth, Henry Winkler, Emily Osment and Bill Nye the Science Guy showed off their reading chops yesterday at downtown's Los Angeles Public Library, as they engaged local preschoolers with Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Those stars aligned in honor of Jumpstart's Read for the Record Day, in partnership with the Pearson Foundation, which set out to break a record of having more than 1 million children read the same book on the same day. That's up from nearly 700,000 last year. (They're still in the process of counting, but I'll update as soon as I hear.)
I was lucky enough to watch as kids from Trinity Unlimited and West Side Children's Centers listened (and made shout-outs!) as "Mr. Henry" and the gang read that favorite snack-filled story.
Between the readings, I also got the chance to chat with Henry, Emily and Bill. (You can read my previous interview with Lo here.)
Overcoming dyslexia to learn how to read, Henry Winkler has written 17 children's novels (for ages 7 1/2 - 12) with Lin Oliver -- all centered on dyslexic main character Hank Zipzer.
The best-selling novels are the story of Henry's life as a dyslexic, and Hank, Henry said, is "a funny guy."
"I always thought that I couldn't do it, that it was too overwhelming," he added. "Now, of course, I have a great time reading."
He's also a fan of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar": "I read that to my own children. Remember, it's been around for quite a while. So, it was part of our library, and I'm having my first grandchild --my wife and I, my oldest son -- at the end of October, and it's now part of their child's library."
We chatted more about our kids, CC included of course. "There are no words," he said, referring to the miracle of life. And I have to agree. There really are no words to describe the wonder of it all.
Henry also gave me some insight into his writing process with Lin: "Wherever my dyslexia bumps up against the world, we put it into Hank. And he's very resourceful, and he's very funny.
"He believes that his imagination has great personality, so on Halloween, most kids, when I ask children, 'What did you go as for Halloween?' they all say, 'The Grim Reaper. A nurse. An astronaut.' He goes as a table in an Italian restaurant. And it doesn't work out very well. He can't get through the door."
Before she had to go on stage, Emily Osment ("Hannah Montana") talked to me about her favorite children's books.
She said her English teacher mom had a lot to do with her reading. "She just always, from a very young age, gave me a lot of books."
"I'd read all the books she told me not to read," Emily added. "She was like, 'You can't read this book until ... like wait a year until you can read this book. And, of course, that would always intrigue me, and I'd read the books I was too young to read."
So was that a savvy parenting technique on her mom's part to encourage reading?
"I think I was just sneaky," she said. "We always did this thing when I was little, when 'Harry Potter' first came out. We'd read one chapter a night, which can be like an hour, and I'd always sneak and read a couple more pages. So she'd be like, 'Emily, what do you think is going to happen?' and I'd totally know because I'd read it."
It also helped to have an older brother who liked reading. "My brother (actor Haley Joel Osment) was always reading a really interesting book when I was little. He's four years older than me, so I was always interested in what he was reading because it always seemed better than what I was reading."
Emily's also happy to be reading to kids through Jumpstart's program. "They put books in the hands of kids from such a very young age, especially the kids that don't have the opportunity to have books or have books available."
My last chat of the day was with Bill Nye the Science Guy. And what a fun speaker. He looked like he was having the greatest time up there.
Bill was eager to tell me about the novel that really solidified his life as a science guy -- "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch," by Jean Lee Latham -- and which he just adapted into a screenplay.
It's the story of seafarer Nathaniel Bowditch, who lived in 1700s Salem, Mass., and found a new way to compute longitude.
"The thing is the guy was poor, and he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. And he did this with science and math. And it changed my life. This book absolutely, completely changed my life."
Bill also taught me some interesting phrases that I'll have to work into general conversation:
- "Sail by the ash breeze" -- a long boat pulling in a ship (Oars were made from ash trees.)
- "Work a lunar" -- to use the moon to help you find your longitude
- "Get by by your own get up and get" -- Probably self-explanatory
But the most important thing to teach kids about education, according to Bill: "If you can read, you can change the world."
And, yes, the first book CC and I read together before she fell asleep last night involved a certain caterpillar and how it changed into a ... well, I don't want to give it away.
(Photo: L to R, Emily Osment, Henry Winkler, Lo Bosworth)