My Mother Is a Foreigner But Not to Me: A Q&A with Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore recently joined First Book at Round the Clock Nursery in Harlem to read her newest children’s book ‘My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me.’ After the event, she spoke with us about her love of reading and how she came to write children’s books.

Q: Have you always been an avid reader?

Julianne Moore: I have always loved reading – my mother brought us to the library once a week and encouraged us to check out as many books as we thought we could read until they were due back!

: How has reading affected your life as an adult?

Julianne Moore: Reading as a child has ABSOLUTELY affected my life as an adult – it determined that course of my career.  Acting, for me, has always been about being in a narrative- as a child I wanted to crawl into the book, literally be IN THE STORY.  When I started acting, I realized this was as close as I could get!

Q: Growing up in a military family, you moved around a lot. What was your schooling like? Did you observe differences in the various communities?

Julianne Moore: The unfortunate truth of our public education system is that we do not all receive an equal education. 

The availability of books and educational materials in schools is directly related to the tax rolls of the county in which you live.  This became apparent to me a very young age – I might be attending a great school in one state and then move to another that was in a slightly different tax bracket, and therefore did not have the same kind of resources.  What I experienced was minor, as I lived in mostly well populated and well-financed public school districts.  But I am stunned when I think of the lack of equality in the US school system.

Q: You have devoted a great deal of time and energy to inspiring young readers and leveling the educational playing field for kids in need. Why do you feel this is important?

Julianne Moore: We will not be serving our children and the population at large if we do not educate everyone equally.  Our country was founded on the idea of equal opportunity for all, and the only way to insure that opportunity is through education.  And literacy is its linchpin.  When I speak to children, I always say, if you read, you can learn about anything – and you learn you can BE anything.

Q: How do you recommend people get involved?

Julianne Moore: There are so many literacy groups nationwide – many of which get books from First Book. You can volunteer at your local library, or public school, or community center. Or donate to First Book!: What inspired you to write your latest children’s book?

Julianne Moore: My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me was inspired by my mother Anne, who came to the United States from Scotland when she was ten years old.  When she was asked upon entry to the US if she wanted to become a citizen, she said, no – she would be going home!  She didn’t. She married my father and had three children before she was 25, and became a citizen at  27.

I remember her coming home from the swearing in ceremony, carrying a little American flag, and crying because they had made her renounce her British citizenship.  My mother’s culture was essential to her, and it was important to her that the three of us knew that we were a part of that culture as well.  We would tease her about being “foreign”, and she would retort by saying that we were half foreign as well!

As I grew up, I have met many 1st generation Americans, and I noticed similarities  – different ways of dressing, accents, sayings, etc – all so personal and idiosyncratic to that particular family – but so alike in sensation.  This book is so important to me because ultimately it is about how no matter how different or even alien a person’s culture is to the rest of the world, or even the child themselves – if that person is their MOTHER then they are also the LEAST foreign person in the world to them.  I lost my mother four years ago, and would give anything to have her back, and give her this book.

Q: How do we keep kids engaged in reading?

Julianne Moore: Once the child has started reading the trick is to keep them reading . . . and engaged.  I really don’t care what it is that a child likes to read, as long as they are engaged by it. I honestly feel like if a kid is losing interest in reading it is the material that is not interesting them, so you just have to keep casting about to find the thing they care about.   And I think you just have to keep on doing it!