Before Hollywood stardom, actress Julianne Moore was just a little girl with a mane of red hair and a face covered in freckles nicknamed “Freckleface Strawberry” by her playmates.
Since then, she’s turned her childhood memories into a bestselling children’s book series starring the spunky 7-year-old Freckleface Strawberry. In the first book, Freckleface tries desperately to erase her freckles and must learn to accept herself and her appearance. In later books, she learns similarly important life lessons through humorous — and touching — adventures with her friends.
The character’s stories have inspired a musical, as well as two apps (with Moore’s daughter Liv voicing Freckleface): Monster Maker, a mix-and-match game, and the just-released Dreamtime Playtime, an app that not only allows children ages 4 and up to play games, but also practice basic math skills like counting and matching. Moore also signed a five-book deal with Random House Children’s Books, and her Freckleface Strawberry series will enter the publisher’s Step into Reading program, aimed at children starting to read.
Moore talked to EW about Freckleface’s appeal, how her childhood experiences inspire her ideas (hint: dodgeball was a challenge), and how the new app attracts children to math:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the character, Freckleface Strawberry. She’s a 7-year-old, and she’s based on you as a child. That’s adorable.
JULIANNE MOORE: Yeah, I always make jokes, like when I talk about the books, I’m like, “They’re all autobiographies!” [Laughs]
Well, it’s a creative way to put out your autobiography without actually writing one.
I know, right? You know, [Freckleface] was like what I was: She’s short, she loves riding her bike, and the second book is about dodgeball and how she hates dodgeball…. I just really like the character as she develops, and I think it’s apparent too that she’s a real little girl, she’s not a princess, she’s not magical in any way. She’s just a regular kid with regular friends.
With that in mind, how do you usually approach a Freckleface story and get into her head?
Look, I’m not Phillip Roth. It’s not like I’m a novelist, I’m writing children’s books. [Laughs] I keep the character in mind — who she is, how old she is, what her concerns are, you know? I think children’s concerns are different than adult concerns, and they see the world differently. So I try to think about who she is and what’s important to her.
And these stories are all pulled from your childhood?
They’re inspired, yeah. They’re all things that happened to me, but it’s like, you know, you can fictionalize some things. With dodgeball, for example, I hated dodgeball, I didn’t play. I wouldn’t go and hide in the back; I would go out front and get hit by the ball right away to try to get out [laughs] because too many times I would be the last one. For me, dodgeball was torture, so that seemed to be an interesting idea for a story ’cause that’s something that kids will talk about.
You just signed a five-book deal with Random House, and Freckleface will now be used for early readers. Has this affected how you’re approaching the character?
I feel like [early readers] is a great spot for her as a character. That’s who she is, she’s a kid that’s really just learned how to read and is dealing with those kind of concerns. In this picture book market, it’s interesting because you’re writing to children but you’re really in a weird sort of way marketing to adults, because adults buy those books for their kids. But in the early reader category, you’re really writing directly to your audience, ’cause often those books are in the school system too.
Let’s talk about the new app for Freckleface Strawberry. Obviously, I’m not in the right age group for it –
Yeah, you’re not the right demographic. [Laughs]
Yeah, oh well! I’m curious, though: Can you walk me through the thought process that went on behind the idea for this second app?
First of all, I wanted it to be fun and entertaining, and I wanted it to be something that parents felt good about handing to children during dinner. You’re at a restaurant and you want your kid to be occupied by something, but it doesn’t have to be, you know, princesses or fairies or whatever, it could just be an entertaining, educational game. And I don’t think [the games] feel particularly educational, which is great. Everything is sort of funny and fun and dreamlike.
For the parents who already have the first app, the Monster Maker, why should they download this one?
Math. [Laughs] I think that’s the other thing that parents are always looking for — obviously they want to have something that’s going to distract and entertain, but it’s always nice if there’s an educational aspect to it as well. These are very early, very basic math skills that are taught to kids in preschool and first-grade level, so it’s a fun way to reinforce these skills. One thing I love is the sorting friends [game] because I think kids like the other kids too. It might be a simple sorting game, but it’s a lot more interesting to kids to sort friends than to sort groceries or something.
Yeah, it’s definitely more fun when you’ve got characters.
One little girl was saying to me that she wanted to know what all the characters’ names were, which I thought was great, because it gives kids an opportunity to name them if they want. Like, “This is Ashley, this is Mona,” you know?
It’s like making new friends… sort of.
And lastly, just one more thing: Will we ever see Freckleface grow older in the new books?
No, not for a while! [Laughs] She may be seven forever.
The Freckleface Strawberry Dreamtime Playtime app is available on iTunes.