There is no “lights, camera, action” to speak of in Hollywood right now amid the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. Instead of filming, most Hollywood actors are walking the lines with signs—but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely out of the public view.
Thanks to more circumstance than anything—the publishing cycle is way longer than the SAG-AFTRA negotiating cycle—many actors are publishing children’s books this fall, including A-listers like Bob Odenkirk, Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey.
From middle grade tomes to picture books, the works appeal to parents who know who the actors are (and their kids probably don’t).
Odenkirk’s Delightful Rhymes
In a welcome twist, publishing a book also means they can appear on programs to promote a non-struck work, without worries of scabbing.
Odenkirk has promoted dozens of things during his decades in show business. But his recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was different, and not because it was the first time the late-night program had been on the air for months or because it was his first time promoting a book (he’s written others).
It was because this book, of poems for middle grade readers, includes illustrations done by his daughter, Erin. She was backstage during his Late Show appearance.
“I have promoted so many things in my life—movies, television shows,” says the actor known to many as Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. “This is the most fun, easygoing, rewarding promotional journey.”
He credits that entirely to his collaboration with Erin. Working and doing promotions with his daughter has shown him a new side of her. “You think you know your kids, and then they do this thing where they grow up, and they go way past anything you pictured,” he said of his daughter, a recent graduate of Pratt Institute.
“I’ve been with my dad before backstage when he’s promoting things,” said Erin. “But to watch him talk about the book, and to do some interviews with him, it’s so much more impressive than it ever has been to me before.”
The book, Zilot & Other Important Rhymes, is rooted in an activity Odenkirk did with his kids growing up. He would read to Erin and her brother, Nate, before bed, and he challenged them to develop their own rhymes and stories, helping them build their creative muscles.
He compiled their efforts into a small book, and he put it on the bookshelf alongside other works of fiction and nonfiction. Odenkirk revisited the book during the early days of the pandemic, and he enlisted Erin to draw illustrations to accompany the rhymes. Many in the book are originals from his collaborations with his kids. Others build upon those early ideas, and others are entirely new.
Other Books By Actors Lining Bookshelves
Odenkirk may have the most charming journey to his children’s book publication. But plenty of other actors are joining him in Barnes & Noble
McConaughey’s picture book debut this fall, Just Because, focuses on imparting life lessons in the lyrical, laid-back style the actor is known for. Reese Witherspoon’s picture book Busy Betty & the Circus Surprise is the second in a series and illustrated by Xindi Yan. In this one, out earlier this month, Betty throws her mom a surprise party.
Max Greenfield (Schmidt on New Girl) penned a picture book about three things that, he says on Instagram, defined his own early education: “Reading isn’t easy for everyone; People learn in different ways; Reading aloud is TERRIFYING.” The book came out last month.
In a follow-up to the picture book My Little Brave Girl, My Little Sweet Boy, actress Hilary Duff shares her hopes for her son. It comes out next month.
Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) published the picture book Message in the Moon last month, about the moon’s reassuring messages for kids.
And Phillipa Soo’s new picture book is, like Odenkirk’s, a family affair, though it’s not publishing till next year. The actress best known for Hamilton penned her first kids’ book with her sister-in-law, Maris Pasquale Doran. It also draws on Soo’s own experience as a child.
It follows a Chinese-American girl who has stage fright but loves singing. Piper Chen Sings will publish in April.