One of my greatest pleasures in life was reading stories to each of my three children. Those times of cuddling up together, giggling and being silly, or waiting wide-eyed to turn the page to find out where the adventure took us next, were some of my happiest.
As a little boy in the early 1980’s, my eldest son’s favourite book was ‘Where’s Spot?‘ by British author Eric Hill. Written for pre-schoolers, the book was innovative, as it was the first of its kind to have interactive cardboard flaps as part of the illustrations.
My son loved it when I read out the words while he got to lift up the flaps, only to find a surprise character hiding behind it! It could be a bear hiding behind a door, a crocodile hiding underneath a table-cloth or even Spot’s mother, Sally hiding under a cosy blanket.
Whoever it was, we always had great fun reading the stories together.
We bought every Spot book as soon as it was published and when we moved to California, I was delighted to find that Spot was just as popular in America as in the UK.
In 1990, we attended a special event held at a library in nearby San Luis Obispo to celebrate ten years of Spot books. Not only did we come away with a handful of goodies, but also a copy of Spot’s Birthday Party for our collection.
Then one day I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mind who told me that his son was good friends with Eric Hill’s son, Chris. I have no memory of how this line of conversation came up, but it turned out that Eric Hill had moved from England to the central coast of California in the early 1980’s. I was thrilled to discover that we were practically neighbours!
The next thing I knew, my friend offered to pass on our copy of Spot’s Birthday Party to Chris so that his dad could autograph it for us.
So it was that in 1991, I wrote a letter to Eric Hill which I sent along with our book via his son. A little while later, my friend returned not only the freshly autographed book, but a hand-written and signed postcard for my boys and a neatly typewritten letter addressed to me on formal ‘Spot’ letterhead.
To my boys and on the postcard he wrote:
“I’m glad you both like Spot and it’s nice to know you have seen him on both sides of the Atlantic!”.
He expressed how much he appreciated my letter and in his letter to me, said:
‘As another ‘Brit’ I can understand that you sometimes get homesick for England and so it makes me feel happy that my books help somewhat to bridge the gap between here and England’.
I was very touched to then read this:
‘…your kind letter and many others that arrive from both the UK and the States give me a wonderful boost whilst I am currently working on the next Spot title.’
The letter was hand-signed ‘Eric Hill and Spot’.
So I was sad to hear of Eric Hill’s death at the age of 86 on 6th June at his home, which, according to this Huffington Post article, was in Templeton, California. He lived even closer that I thought, a mere five miles from where we had lived in Paso Robles for ten years.
He would have been in his late fifties when he found success with his Spot books and then moved to California. He went on to sell more than 60 million copies of his books.
Of course our paths never crossed, although we came close, but I would have loved to have bumped into him and told him that this late-bloomer Brit who once lived in the same ‘neighbourhood’ as him is now chasing the writing dream!
I’m pretty sure that he would have smiled and said, “Well done, and don’t give up!”
This post is written in honour of Eric Hill and ties in with this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme which is ‘Extra, Extra’. Eric Hill, best-selling author, went the extra mile for me and my children by taking the time out of his busy life to not only autograph our book but to write a personal letter to this once homesick ‘Brit’ and her boys. What a thrill it was.
All extras from a real gentleman who left a wonderful legacy for young children and their families for generations to come. Reading to our children is vitally importance and is something I passionately believe in. Every author of children’s books is special in my eyes, but Eric Hill holds an extra-special place in my heart.
My condolences go out to his family and I thank Eric Hill for bringing so much joy to my family and millions of others through his delightful Spot books. Ours are safely packed away waiting to be read to a new generation of little ones!