WPC: Author Eric Hill going the Extra, Extra Mile

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.

Spot's Birthday Party 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.

Autographed Spot's Birthday Party book by Eric Hill, 1991 (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Autographed Spot’s Birthday Party book by Eric Hill, 1991
The autograph gives this book extra-special meaning.

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.’

Eric Hill's letterhead.  Though I'd keep the letter private... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Eric Hill’s letterhead.  Receiving his letter and hand-written postcard to my boys was an extra surprise and meant so much to us!

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!”

Eldest Son reading to Aspie D - Another favourite, Curious George.  Extra lighting needed! 1993. (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Eldest Son reading to Aspie D – Another favourite, Curious George. Extra lighting needed! 1993.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

……………………………………………………………..

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!

 

 

 

 

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About Sherri

Sherri began chasing her writing dream in 2011 after losing her job due to office closure while caring for her daughter with Asperger's Syndrome. Having at last discovered her true calling, she is writing her first book (a memoir) while publishing 'slice-of-life' stories, articles, poetry, and flash fiction on her blog, as well as freelancing as a guest author for a variety of websites. She has published work in national UK magazines and a poetry anthology. By sharing her journey through her writing and photography on her blog, Sherri hopes to inspire others that even when life has other plans, it's never too late to change your life for the better and find reason to smile once again.
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69 Responses to WPC: Author Eric Hill going the Extra, Extra Mile

  1. Letizia says:

    What a charming story! I love that he recognized how the story helped bridge the gap between England and California (probably making the move easier somehow for the children, giving them that sense of the familiar).

    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Letizia, and yes, wasn’t that such a lovely thing for him to say? I had expressed in my letter to him how having his books with us in the States really helped make that transition, a little bit of home, and how thrilled I was to know he too lived on the Central Coast of California! It was a lovely moment to discover that :-)

  2. This is a delightful story, Sherri. Eric Hill was indeed generous time out to reach out to another UK family. Makes me smile and warms my heart. <3

  3. Heyjude says:

    We loved Spot too and my youngest boy even had a Spot toy. A very heartfelt story Sherri and one to treasure.
    Jude xx

    • Sherri says:

      Yes, I do believe we had a Spot toy at one time too! I remember watching The Adventures of Spot on TV too, I loved it as much as the kids! Thank you Jude, glad you enjoyed this little story about a lovely man… :-) xx

  4. Oh what a lovely post to commemorate an author who I’m sure has bought great happiness to many households. We certainly loved lifting the flaps in our house.

  5. A lovely tribute to Eric Hill. What a kind and considerate man he must have been. I agree about the happiest times being spent reading story books to the children. Such a great bonding tool. My son’s favourites were the Mr. Men books. :)

    • Sherri says:

      Oh Sylvia, thank you. Eric Hill was so kind to do that wasn’t he? We loved the Mr Men books too! I particularly remember Mr Tickle and how, when it came time at the end for him to let his long arms out I would tickle my son and to this day I can’t get near his ribs!!! He is the most ticklish person I’ve ever known :-)

  6. jennypellett says:

    Oh yes, I remember the Spot books too! How wonderful to have an autographed copy, Sherri and also the postcard. Treasures indeed. Lovely things to keep and eventually pass on – the new generation of family heirlooms!
    Other books I remember loving when M was small – “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” – both of which I’ve kept somewhere, along with all my Roald Dahl’s.

    • Sherri says:

      It was so lovely for him to do that for us wasn’t it? Yes, it is rather nice having a family heirloom like that to pass on :-)
      We loved both those books too Jenny, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar was C’s favourite! Also Rainbow Fish, she loved the way the fish’s scales really shimmered, very clever illustration.
      Lovely that you have your wonderful children’s book collection, and yes, who can forget Roald Dahl, another fav author of ours. Fantastic Mr Fox? Just wonderful :-)

  7. What a great story Sherri. I used to be a children’s librarian so I’m very familiar with the Spot books, but it was wonderful of him to take the time not only to sign the book, but to write the postcard and the letter too – to get such a great response must only have cemented your family’s love of the books.

    • Sherri says:

      What a great job – and obviously not your first one after what we shared last week ;-)
      Thank you Andrea, I’m glad to have been able to share this about Eric Hill and you are so right about that, it was such a kind and thoughtful act and meant a great deal to us so that yes, it really did make us want to read even more books and love them even more :-)

  8. Pat says:

    I remember reading those books in school as a child — Run Spot Run! or Jump Spot Jump! They were some of the first words I read. What a wonderful tribute, Sherri, and to think you came so close to meeting him while being so many miles from home.

    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Pat, I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about the lovely Eric Hill and yes, it was lovely knowing that we lived in the same ‘area’! I wonder, are the books you remember from the Dick and Jane series? If so, then that would be another author but I’m not sure who. The first ‘Spot’ book didn’t come out in the UK until 1980.
      I remember as a child reading Janet and John, the English version of Dick and Jane! :-)

      • Pat says:

        Hi Sherri — Yes, they were from the Dick and Jane series. Guess I didn’t realize they were different authors. Mine go back way before 1980 and I suspect the author of that series is no longer living as well. They both made major contributions to the joy in young people’s imaginations. :-)

      • Sherri says:

        Ahh…well that clears that up! Yes, both amazing authors who impacted many young children from different generations and more to come! What a legacy. Thank you my friend, I hope you are having a lovely day. It’s bedtime for me shortly… :-) <3

      • Pat says:

        Yep, sure clears that up, Sherri, both accomplished authors read by generations of children. Hope you had a nice evening — sweet dreams. :-)

      • Sherri says:

        Thank you Pat, that’s so sweet! Have a wonderful weekend my friend :D <3

      • Pat says:

        You bet. Hope you have a great weekend, too, Sherri. :-)

      • Sherri says:

        Thank you Pat…we did and now here’s to a good week for us both :-) xo

      • Pat says:

        Yep, yep, yep — I agree. Here’s to a good week for us both. :-)

  9. What a beautiful post Sherri! Dreams are to be chased no matter what our age is. :)

  10. Steven says:

    I used to love the Spot books probably just as much, if not more than my brother who I was supposed to be reading them to! They’re marvellous, and though I’ve probably not touched one in well over 20 years, they still crop up in the memory from time to time.

    I did not know of Eric Hill’s death; sad news. What an amazing thing he did for you – a gent, indeed. I’m especially pleased you included the letterhead, for that is fantastic… what a cool mark to be able to put atop a letter!

    A lovely story, which has brought back happy memories of my own. Bravo, Ms. Poppins!

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…so you see? The wonder of all things ‘Spot’! I still remember watching The Adventures of Spot on television and still hum that little song…’Spot, Spot, loveable Spot…!!’ Another one to torment you with all day long, haha ;-)
      Oh, you know, I came across it in the newspaper in a tiny cutting and was sad that they couldn’t have done a bigger article about him. Then I heard it on the radio. So yes, it is sad to hear. Still, I’m glad he lived to a good age. Wasn’t he the true gent? I was so touched by his very kind gesture, we’ve never forgotten it. I loved the letterhead too, and did you notice Spot’s paw-print stamp on the top right of the postcard? It was the same at the bottom of the letter, but I didn’t post the complete letter as you never know in cyber world, I’m a bit paranoid about sharing something that personal and unique. You never know do you … ?
      So glad to share these happy memories with you JG…yay, a good day today :D

      • Steven says:

        How did I miss the paw stamp? That’s amazing!

        Hahaha, oh dear… I seem to have really vague memories of this cartoon – I guess we might have had some on video. We certainly had tons of Thomas the Tank Engine, and indeed I believe they are still at the folks’ place, so there may be some Spot there too. I am not going to look this up, though, because it will get stuck in my head (as the Thomas jingle now is – with the windmill on the opening! – for goodness sake).

      • Sherri says:

        Well I have to say that Thomas the Tank Engine was the other favourite and yes, I am now singing that too and…yep, there’s the windmill and everything! Thanks JG…. ;-)
        We couldn’t take the videos with us to the States as they weren’t compatible so trips back home meant Granny having to rent a whole load of them for my son to watch over and over again, haha! Thomas didn’t make it to the States until Nicky was little, in the early 90′s but I still have all the Thomas books and die-cast metal toys. You know, I keep saying that, maybe I should open a toy shop, haha! I bet your folks have Spot hiding there somewhere… ;-)
        Do do do doo do do.doo do dooooooo….dododooodoooo…..

      • Steven says:

        My brother had all the Thomas toys too! I rather liked Harold the Helicopter. I wonder if mumsey still has them…

        As a show they were so nicely put together though, you really could tell how much effort went into the models.

        Thomas is all CGI now (that’s if they’re even still making them). Shame, really. I pretty much banned my boys from watching the new Thomas when they were little, they only got the 80s/90s ones! ;)

      • Sherri says:

        I didn’t know there was a new Thomas!!! Say it ain’t so…! So glad you stuck to your guns with your boys JG, father knows best, well done :-)
        Ah yes, Harold the Helicopter, how cute. I bet your Mumsey does have them… :D

  11. I have a 20 (?) year old, very dog-earred Spot book on my boojshelf. :)

  12. What a lovely anecdotal tribute you’ve written, Sherri. This was quite enjoyable to read.

  13. What a fascinating post. I’m glad to see the author was a kind gentleman who went above and beyond. It’s funny how our kids become so intrigued by certain characters and funnier still how that times goes by so quickly…

    I love the photo of your son reading to your daughter. I don’t recall it going quite as peacefully in my house :)

    • Sherri says:

      So glad you enjoyed it Lilka, thanks so much! Spot was definitely very popular in our home and yes, always moving into the next phase of life….
      Haha….well, that was one of those quieter moments I have to admit! Get the three of them together and it was quite a different story… ;-)

  14. A wonderful tribute to a great man. I wish his family could read it so that they could see how he had touched so many and went that extra mile. Lovely memories of the time shared with your children also as you read aloud the Spot books.

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…thank you Irene, I would love to let his family know my thoughts. Still, I’m glad to have shared this memory of him here, and I’m glad you got to read it too :-)

  15. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man, Sherri. I’m sure he touched many lives in his 86 years. Taking the time to write a special message to your boys, he was obviously a class act.

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…thank you Jill, I’m so glad to be able to share this precious memory of this wonderful man and yes, you said it perfectly, he really was a ‘class act’ :-) xo

  16. Seyi sandra says:

    Oh my, Sherri! It was emotional reading this post, and Eric Hill was such a gentleman, I wish you had met him but you actually did meet him, through his words and his kindness! I’m sure you’ll cherish that forever!
    Blessings and love to you Sherri.

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh… bless you Seyi, you are such a sweet lady and yes, I will cherish that we got to ‘meet’ him through his kindness. It was just so lovely of him to take the time to do that for us, we will never forget it. Love to you too my friend :-)

  17. thirdhandart says:

    A beautiful tribute Sherri! And, how considerate of Eric Hill to autograph the book and take the time to write a postcard and letter. I’m going to have to rescue a few ‘Spot’ books from the thrift store bookshelves. My grandson is just the right age to enjoy them.
    Thank you for sharing such happy memories :-)

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…thank you Theresa and definitely, your grandson will love the Spot stories, they are wonderful. I hope you find some! It was such a thrill for Eric Hill to do this for us and I’m so glad to be able to share this little story here :-)

  18. What a beautiful tribute and story! I had not heard about his passing until I read this. Such a talented man! How kind he was to write back to you and go the extra mile to acknowledge your children and let you know how appreciative he was. Such humility that you don’t often see. We also enjoyed his books very much. Who knows, you probably crossed paths in a store or theater and didn’t even know it. :) Love the pics of your babies!

    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Maria, and yes, I often wondered that and chances are that we probably did cross paths, especially in San Luis Obispo. I thought it was so sweet of him to take the extra care to write a postcard to my boys (my daughter wasn’t born yet!). I’m glad your family also enjoyed the Spot books… :-)

  19. restlessjo says:

    Fabulous! Fabulous! Fabulous! I see why you’re running behind now Sherri, and I think your behaviour should be good enough to earn that weekend off :)
    We were Spot crazy in our house, too! Thanks for the lovely memories, and a tale beautifully told. What a nice man he sounds.

  20. Oh, I loved this, Sherri! My daughter’s favorite books included WHERE’S SPOT and CURIOUS GEORGE, too! And now I read those same books to my grandchildren, and it’s so sweet and snuggly and giggly to hold them close and re-live the darling responses.
    Treasure those signed copies!

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…thank you Marylin, they are such wonderful stories aren’t they? How blessed you are to be able to read them all over again with your grandchildren, something I look forward to eagerly! I want snuggly and giggly back :D
      Don’t worry, they are safe, family treasures most definitely :-)

  21. Denise says:

    We also had Spot’s Birthday party. Such a simple book but so beautiful and joyous.

    I never realised Eric Hill lived in California.  Spot seemed so British to me, although there’s no reason why he is more British than any other nationality.  Maybe it’s because was such a backbone of all our childhoods, which also happened to be British. 

    • Sherri says:

      Yes, I agree Denise, delightful books, very simple but bringing so much joy to young children…and their parents ;-)
      We brought our Spot books with us when we moved to California so it was a great thrill to find out years later, through this friend of a friend connection that Eric Hill not only lived in California but not far from us! I also found out that he moved there after he gained success in Britain with his Spot books and then went on to gain the same in the States.
      Our early Spot books are British but the ones we bought later on were adapted to the American market. For instance, the word ‘tub’ is used instead of ‘bath’. Which makes me think because none of my kids use the word ‘tub’. Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking now…as you always do!! :-)

  22. What a touching homage to one of the best children’s authors of our time! Spot is such a fun character. My kids loved him too. Meeting real writers and illustrators is always such a great pleasure. When they happen to be neighbors and also fellow citizens, it is more meaningful. He was apparently a great man besides being a talented writer and illustrator. Thank you , Sherri, for sharing the news of his death, which I had missed and makes me sad. He truly knew how to talk to children through little, sweet Spot.

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…thank you Evelyne, I’m sorry you didn’t know but glad you were able to read this story about the lovely Eric Hill. So glad that your kids loved Spot too, he really touched so many hearts, and not just the children’s! He will be greatly missed, no doubt about it, but how wonderful that his stories will live on, as you say, in little, sweet Spot :-)

  23. Imelda says:

    This is a lovely tribute to Mr. Hill. This is the first time that I heard of him and his books (sorry, I am not too updated about children’s books or with anything at all). His gesture showed his good character. I cannot help but feel sorry that you did not cross paths.

  24. Saw a write up in the Tribune about Mr Hill and never realized your connection to him through your children’s love of the Spot books nor did I realize he lived so close by. Loved the photo of big brother reading to his little sister. What wonderful memories for you & yours. He has left us a legacy for the generation of children to come, not to mention for those parents & grandparents who will be reading to little ones on their laps!! <3

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh yes, I thought it might be in the Tribune. Yes, I knew that he lived on the Central Coast and once in Cambria but didn’t realise he was in Templeton too! I remember those happy days so well my friend. Now I hope to be able to read our Spot books to some little ones in the not too distant future… ;-) <3

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