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Whoopi Goldberg

The native New Yorker chats about her family and her multifaceted career.

Whoopi GoldbergWhoopi Goldberg

Everyone recognizes her name. The beloved comic actor has won an Oscar and emceed the Oscars; appeared on Broadway and written books; and these days, she's an outspoken hostess on the addictive chatfest The View. But while most folks know all about Goldberg’s career, she’s managed to maintain a fairly low personal profile. Raised in the Big Apple, the 53-year-old star is a mom and grandmother, but she’s been careful to keep the details of her private life—well, private, despite her fame. She's breaking that rule a bit with her new kids’ book, Sugar Plum Ballerinas #2: Toeshoe Trouble, the second installment in her fanciful "Sugar Plum Ballerinas" series published by Hyperion Books for Children. Aimed at kids ages nine to 12 and set—where else?—in NYC, the tome mentions many of her family members, but she insists the characters resemble them in name only. Time Out Kids chatted with Goldberg about the project, her eclectic career and why she loves being "Granny" from afar.

How many “Sugar Plum Ballerinas” books do you think you’ll end up writing?
I’m contracted for six, which is good. You know the days of a lot of great episodic book reading are over. I remember when there were three channels and a hundred Nancy Drew books. I’m going to probably do something for Scholastic when my deal is up with these guys. I like the little-kid audience, because I can be silly with them. I can’t be silly with young adults. I like things like Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners, which is pictures and colors and keep your finger out of your nose. Things to live by.

What inspired you to launch the book series?
Women my age were deprived of being able to pursue careers as prima ballerinas. So now, moms are thrusting their daughters [into it], but the kids aren’t so interested. They don’t mind ballet, but it’s not the big deal that it was when we were young. Girls growing up now want to do basketball and baseball and soccer. The girls in my book are the same way: They have other interests, but together they discover they’re a little crew. I like them for that. They understand their moms’ needs, so they go to ballet, but they also skateboard, you know, they have other options, which I love.

Why didn’t you study ballet as a child growing up in New York City?
There was no place for me to go and do that back then. I could have studied modern dance or African dance, but not classical dance. Who was the last person of color you saw in a ballet company?

Speaking of color, do you feel that there aren’t many books out there geared toward kids of other cultures?
I think there’s a lot of stuff out there [for kids of color], but it’s all sort of heavy and about what culture should be. I was raised to believe that all culture belongs to all of us, so there’s nothing I shouldn’t be interested in, whether it was ballet or acting or magazines. When I create work from my experiences, it’s cultural by its very nature. Does that make sense?

Totally. I know that many of the characters in “Sugar Plum Ballerinas” are named after members of your family. Did they know you were putting them in the books and did they give you any input?
No. The book was already done by the time I let my family know I was doing it. They were surprised! They were like, “You’ve put us in a book?” And I was like, “Yeah, just your names, though, not your personalities.” Every kid is an amalgam of lots of different people I know.

Despite your fame, a lot of folks don’t realize you’re a mom and a grandmother. Did you purposefully keep your family out of the spotlight, or did it just naturally happen that way?
I just don’t think I was very much fun [to put in the tabloids]. I mean when my daughter got pregnant, I think they were interested in her, but she didn’t do anything to “distinguish” herself to them, which was fine with us. Thank God she’s an adult now and her kids are growing up. Now, with the I—what is that? iPlace?

You mean YouTube?
Yes. YouTube and all that. Imagine if I had come along when all that was exploding. My life would have been laid out.

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