Zibby spoke to actor Diane Kruger (star of “National Treasure!”) about her new children’s book A Name From the Sky, illustrated by Christa Unzner. (Did you know “Diane” was actually a rare name in Diane’s childhood town in Germany?) The two discussed unique names, writing — and reading — children’s books, the power of discovering your voice, and even Diane’s father’s alcoholism.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Diane. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your beautiful children’s book, A Name from the Sky.

Diane Kruger: Hi. I’m so glad to be here.

Zibby: Would you mind telling everybody about this children’s book? Why did you decide to write a children’s book in the first place?

Diane: I’m not really a writer or an author. Just before the pandemic, I was in Los Angeles working. My mother had come from Germany to help with my daughter, who was about one at the time. The world shut down. Weeks turned into months. I found myself spending so much time with my mom that I hadn’t since I left home at sixteen. We started talking about my childhood and things I’d forgotten and new stories. She reminded me of this story that really changed my life in a completely different direction, which is the day she told me about the meaning of my name. Diane, even though it seems incredible, is a very unusual name in Germany. I’m from a very small rural town in Germany. People and kids would always make fun of me. I was also kind of an odd kid. I would walk to school with a pet bunny, a live bunny, on a leash. He would sit in my lap during class. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I preferred to read. Truly, the characters in those books were my best friends, and my bunny. I’d just become a new mom. I remember how intensely we thought about Nova’s name, Nova Tennessee. I just started writing things down. I had the time to do so. I thought, if I felt like I was an outsider with a name like Diane, I’m sure there’s tons of kids that must feel the same way. I found an editor. They thought the idea was good. Here we are. It took two years. It’s really been a long time in the making.

Zibby: Wow. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful too. You must have been so happy with them.

Diane: Yeah. It’s a whole new process. I didn’t really know how much work goes into making a picture book. Once we had the text and it was in the eight hundred to one thousand letters, which I also didn’t know a children’s book has to have, which was panic-inducing — since, obviously, it’s a very personal story, they asked me how I imagined myself and the book and the illustrations. I said, “If I could have a German illustrator, that would really bring me back to my childhood. It would just be a 360 for me.” Christa Unzner, who is the illustrator of my book, I must have driven her crazy because a lot is truly inspired, what I wore. The cover is from a picture of me in that age. I loved Pippi Longstocking. When I was a kid, I dressed like her. I wanted to be different. I loved the outcome. She brought so much to the book, more than I could’ve ever imagined.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What’s so great about the book, too, is a lot of children’s books that tackle a moment in someone’s life in the childhood stay in the childhood, but you take us all the way to now, which is so interesting, and how you basically found your voice and came into your own identity through acting, through the ballet, and how it all comes full circle. Tell me about the moment when you went to London, which you write about in this book, when you leave your town. You see all the people, and you realize your name is not that unique. You go to the ballet for the first time and everything. Talk about all of that and the impact that had on your life.

Diane: I tried to tackle a few things in the book. What I remember most about that moment is — I’d seen movies. I knew people were actors. What moved me so much when I went to the theater for the first time was the reaction on the audience, the emotion that was collectively felt by a performance that was unfolding. As I was watching and looking around me and I saw people laugh and have this feeling of very intense emotion, it truly was, for me, like lightning struck me. I was like, wow, I want to make people feel that way. This would be amazing. You could tell stories. You act them out. I was doing that anyway in my head. Maybe these are going to be my special powers. That’s how it happened for me, even though, obviously, it took many years to get to becoming an actor. I also wanted to tackle the power that parents hold. The two moments in the book, one, taking a child, exposing a child to a different environment and different experiences — then also, there’s the book when I tell my mom that, “I think I’ve found my powers. This is what I want to do.” Instead of saying, “You’re too young. That’s not a job,” she said, “Okay, I’m going to trust you. You can do that. You should go and spread your wings.”

That’s, in the book, a little bit of a metaphor for when I was fifteen and a half. I started modeling. I was missing a lot of class because I got jobs in Paris and New York and all these places. The principal of my school kicked me out. He basically said, “You have to either come back and finish school or you need to leave.” I remember that as so unjust because I was working from afar. I was doing all my exams. I was passing. Not an A+ student, but I was doing it. I really wanted to finish school. It really felt like he was telling me or asking me to either not follow my dreams and just to fit in his perfect little box that he’d created for people — I remember when I told my mom that, she said, “Okay, I’m going to trust you. You can go. You can go for a year to Paris.” This is in a time where there was no computer, no cell phones. I didn’t speak a word of French. “I’m going to trust you. You can go live on your own at fifteen. If I hear anything, you have to come back and finish school, but I’ll trust you.” To this day, that moment is the one single moment that defined my life. If she had said no, I don’t know, maybe I would’ve never done anything in my life. I wanted, with this book, to encourage or show parents that I think we need to trust our children. We need to give them wings rather than try to clip them off. Let them explore, even if they fail. That is kind of the idea.

Zibby: Now I feel terrible. I have fifteen-year-old twins. If they told me they were dropping out of school to go to Paris, I would be like, no, you’re not. Maybe they could’ve become you, but I’m totally clamping their wings together. Oh, well. Too bad for my kids.

Diane: Oh, well.

Zibby: Oh, well. Next time. I had a question, by the way, about your Paris moment, speaking of Paris. Wait, let me find this picture. Were you actually a mime in Paris?

Diane: No, not really, but I went to drama school in Paris. I was up on stage in Paris. We would have performances there, of course. Obviously, a mime doesn’t speak, also, so I was — .

Zibby: I was just making sure. I was like, is that really how she got her start, as a mime?

Diane: No.

Zibby: Just clarifying. My other question, too — you explain in the book how powerful the name Diane is. Why did your parents pick Diane to begin with? Obviously, it’s powerful. Did they debate other names? Did you ask her about that? What was the second choice?

Diane: I think the second choice would’ve been Christine or something. I don’t know. It was definitely not as powerful as that name. My mom said she had heard that name through a friend and that she looked up what it meant. She’d never heard the name because it was so unusual. I’m the firstborn. It was a very difficult pregnancy. I was three weeks late. She just felt that I was the strong — I was a really big baby. I had this power when I was born. Also, I remember, because my family situation was a little unstable growing up, there was a lot of embarrassment from my side. I couldn’t really bring kids home to my house. I always felt awkward. People always looked at me like I was awkward. When she told me the meaning about that, I felt seen for the first time. I felt like she spent all this time thinking about that. If she thought that I was special, maybe I am. Maybe there is a possibility for me to do different things. Maybe I could become this powerful woman one day.

Zibby: What was going on that you didn’t want people coming to your house?

Diane: My dad, he was an alcoholic. It’s not a very fun part. It wasn’t an idyllic childhood in that sense.

Zibby: I think very few people really have idyllic childhoods. Everybody has a story. As someone who grew up with an odd name — my name is Zibby. It’s only now that it’s actually been useful because people remember who I am.

Diane: What is that coming from?

Zibby: It’s for Elizabeth.

Diane: It’s just a nickname, Zibby?

Zibby: It’s just a nickname, but still. When you feel like you stick out in some ways as a kid when all you’re trying to do is fit in, it’s . I relate to that. What advice do you have for people who are feeling like you felt, which is hard to believe now when you so obviously have come into your element, but people who are feeling awkward or something about them, whether it’s their name or their home life or something is just making them feel so isolated? How do you get through that moment? How do you maintain the confidence that you will get through that moment?

Diane: I just think most children feel that way, no matter how privileged they grow up or how poor they grow up. We all have different challenges in life. Being a mom myself, I truly believe that each child is born perfect. Everybody has their special powers, whether you’re going to turn out to be a physician or you’re going to sell ice cream in Washington Square Park. You are unique and perfect. Trust that you are enough in whatever you think you’re going to go. I love the idea of us as parents allowing each child to just be that. That’s enough.

Zibby: The more kids I have, the more I realize that parenting has so little to do with anything. They’re just born the way they are. We just have to not mess them up. In terms of becoming an actress or an actor and being able to be in this position to give back and look back on your own life and all of that, do you still have time to read? Do you still pull forward some of those stories from when you were little? Do you include books in your day-to-day life? Do you read on set when you get a break? Where does reading fit into your work life now?

Diane: I read all the time. I will say I read less fiction because I read scripts. I read ten to fifteen scripts a week. I read all the time. Then I read to my daughter every night. We have this tradition. I’m a little regretful because — like I said, I grew up in a small town. I would go to the library. You took great pride. You had your book. You had to really take good care of it. You get that stamp. You had to return it at a certain time. I didn’t have the money to overextend. I was reading and taking care of books. I loved that. I loved going through and feeling like, I have the responsibility to take care of this book. She grows up in New York. We don’t really go to a library here, but every Sunday, we go to a library. It’s very interesting for me, because she can’t read yet, to see what illustrations and books she gravitates to. We read three to four books in the store. Then I let her pick one or two we can get home. It’s our favorite time. We get into bed together, if I’m not working, and read books. She has a huge library everywhere we go. It is one of those things — I don’t know about you. Obviously, she watches TV. She watches her tablet. It’s part of the life we live. It gives me such joy to see her imagination. Contrary to a movie, when you read a book, the way you interpret it or how you see it is such a personal thing. I can see her mind wander. Then the next day when we play and she makes play-believe, make-believe, characters from the book take place in that play. It just gives me such joy to see her expand her imagination. That’s so much better than just watching a movie and being force-fed or told what to feel and what to believe.

Zibby: It’s so true. Do you have a go-to that you read every night? I used to do Goodnight Moon every single night with my kids.

Diane: Aw, that’s a good one. We’ve read that a lot. Right now, she’s four. Frank and Bert is a favorite. I don’t know if you have read that. She used to love Pete the Cat, but I think she’s getting a little old.

Zibby: We had that stage.

Diane: She loves this book called Nowhere. It’s about a boy who doesn’t want to be told anymore by his parents, what to do and what not to do, so he runs away from home. Now he finds himself nowhere. He wants to be somewhere.

Zibby: I like that. Interesting. Yet despite having your own name be unique in the context in which you grew up, you decided to name Nova, Nova, which is a beautiful, absolutely beautiful name. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’re preparing her for life with a name that is not traditional?

Diane: In Latin, nova means new beginnings. I tell her about her name all the time, especially now since I’ve written a book. I’ve read it to her many times. I’m trying to make her understand that her uniqueness is what makes her her. I’m trying to tell her how much we thought about her before she was born. Nova’s new beginnings. That was very special to her dad and I because I had her later in life. He already had a kid with someone else. It really was a new departure for us. We were in Tennessee on a motorcycle trip. Like in the book, we were sitting outside in a camp. We were looking in the stars. Obviously, nova is the name of a star. The nova star, if you’ve ever seen one in a picture, it truly has the colors of the rainbow. There’s all colors. It’s always changing. I love the idea of a nova star, of Nova being able to chase the darkness that life can hold every day. There’s the promise of a new beginning that each day holds. She will be able to start fresh. Then her dad and I met on a movie called Sky. It just felt like was all happening.

Zibby: Good thing it wasn’t Armageddon or something.

Diane: I know, right? Can you imagine?

Zibby: She’d have not such the best name. What is coming next for you? You have this children’s book out. What’s on the horizon?

Diane: I’m back in my day job, so this whole year has been very busy. We’ve lived in different countries all year. We were in Poland for two months. Then we’re living in France as a family for a year because I was working there for four months. Nova went to school in France. We’re still there. She’s going back there. We’re going to Marrakesh next month for ten days for a film festival. She’s going to be able to come. It’s been a very, very, very busy year. I’m looking forward to slow down after November. We’re going to be in Europe for a year.

Zibby: That’s exciting. My last question is, what do you think your life would be like if you had stayed in your village? What if your mom had said no, like me, the terrible mother? What would life be? Where do you think you’d be?

Diane: I don’t know. I think I’d be miserable, not because I didn’t like the village, just because I felt lost. I don’t know what I would be doing. Honestly, I’d probably work in a supermarket. I don’t know. Not that that’s a bad thing, but you know what I’m saying? I think I would’ve probably been working in a local store always thinking, what if?

Zibby: Thank you for taking us along with you while we see how your life ended up going this way. Thanks for this beautiful, beautiful book. This is such a great new-baby gift, by the way. For every parent now who’s having a new kid, this is going to be on my go-to gift list.

Diane: Thank you. That makes me so happy.

Zibby: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

Diane: Thank you so much too. Bye. Have a nice day.

Zibby: Take care. You too. Buh-bye.

A NAME FROM THE SKY by Diane Kruger

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