What better subject to capture a child’s imagination than the famous Queen Mary’s Dollhouse in England’s Windsor Castle?
That was alumna Gigi’s inspiration for her new children’s book, which features a character named Henry Whiskers who lives inside the famous exhibit. We caught up with her to learn more about the book, her passion for working with children, and her recollections of Lesley.
Q: What do you remember about Lesley?
A: I vividly recall a class on how to integrate live animals into the classroom. Our professor brought different animals each week and had us engage with them—learning and modeling a calm approach - even when it was a boa constrictor wrapping itself around your arm until your hand turned purple. I also loved children’s literature.
Q: What was unique about the approach to education?
A: Even though I’d been a terrible math student all my life, when I studied math at Lesley, using manipulatives like blocks and strings, I became an A-student in math. I’d just needed a more visual approach to learning abstract ideas.
Q: What have been your career pursuits?
A: I love engaging a young child’s imagination and finding ways to inspire them to become actively engaged in their own discovery process. That resulted in my founding the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Connecticut 17 years ago, and now, the children’s book. Parenting, consulting as a philanthropic advisor, and life in general have filled the gaps in between. I think of my life as a patchwork quilt sometimes.
Q: How did you come up with the story of Henry Whiskers?
A: The inspiration came while living abroad with my family, in walking distance to Windsor Castle one of its extraordinary exhibits called Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, which was never meant for dolls, by the way. It has running water, electricity, working elevators, wine in the cellar, toilets that flush and everything the royal family would have in a country home, just on a miniature scale. I thought it was the perfect place for a mouse to call home.
Q: Can you describe the book?
A: It’s a story for middle-grade readers about a young book-loving mouse who lives in the dollhouse - safely out of sight, of course. When the dollhouse undergoes unexpected repairs and Henry Whiskers’ little sister suddenly disappears, he teams up with his best friend on a high-speed adventure through the halls, walls and tunnels of Windsor Castle to save her.
Q: What were your favorite books as a child?
A: I loved the books I read when I was young, or that my mother read to me, like My Father’s Dragon, Stuart Little, and Charlotte’s Web. I loved reading those same stories and so many others like them to my children, like Avi’s Poppy series, Tor Seidler’s A Rat’s Tale and Wainscott Weasel.
Q: Advice to aspiring writers?
A: Write, write, write every day if you can. Be patient and read a ton. I truly believe that the reading is as important as anything. Read everything or anything because a single word can trigger ideas, inspire you and help you become a better writer.
Q: Why do you like creating things for children–whether it’s a museum or a book?
A: I believe that every child is born with infinite gifts and that given the right circumstances, those gifts will emerge. Now that I think about it, a children’s museum and a children’s book aren’t too different from one another. Each invites a child to enter on their terms and engage in their unique way and at their own pace. It’s hugely rewarding to help foster that – to provide a positive place that nurtures imagination, self-confidence and self-discovery. My mother believed that we are all here for a purpose. I think our journey is in finding and fulfilling that purpose. Studying early childhood education gave me a platform for discovering mine.
Q: Why did you choose Lesley?
A: To be honest, I didn’t want to go to college—at least not because I was supposed to. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I punched a cash register for a while until I decided I wanted to go back to school, but I wanted to know what I wanted to do before jumping in. I went to four other schools before I decided to pursue a degree in early childhood education. I’d always loved small children, I loved Boston and knew that Lesley had a strong reputation, so I applied.
Q: What are your fondest memories of your time in Cambridge?
A: Since I was a few years ahead of my classmates and was living off campus, I can only say that Cambridge offered a ton of great eateries and a student-friendly vibe. It also offered too few parking spaces, so I became all too familiar with “the Boston boot,” which is one of those God-awful clamps they put on the wheel of your car when you haven’t paid your parking tickets. Yup! That’s a familiar Cambridge memory.