Photo: Vera Anderson/WireImage.com
As a kid in West Virginia, I had a very rich imaginary world. And my dream was to grow up to be a librarian, because I had a librarian named Mrs. McCann who I thought was the most magical woman on the planet. She used to publish little versions of my stories, typing them on manila folders and illustrating them with pictures of me and my teddy bear: T-Bear Goes to Mars and T-Bear's Trip to the Moon. She was my first mentor—the first person who really took an interest in me for me, which when you're a kid is a major deal. I've had other mentors, and those relationships were based on reading. They gave me a sense of who I was.
My mom grew up in poverty in dust bowl Oklahoma, and the thing that got her out was education. She had three daughters, and she did all the housekeeping, all the cooking, all the driving—just like moms do—and was also a teacher. But somehow, at night, she was in my room and we read to each other. I would read a page and she would read a page. And I felt like a different person because of that. Once I had kids, I looked at my baby and thought, "What am I supposed to do with you?" Nobody tells you how you need to play with them to help their brains develop. Mothers all over the country want what's best for their kids, but they might not have had a mom or dad like mine who took a keen interest in the way their minds worked. Yet they don't love their kids any less than I love mine. That's what made me become a Save the Children ambassador, and it's why I'm so passionate about early education in particular. I know that it was reading that helped me define myself.
—As told to M Healey