Good Morning America weekend co-anchor and ABC News correspondent Eva Pilgrim joins Zibby to discuss her first picture book, Walter Does His Best, which was inspired by her beloved French bulldog. Eva shares how her mom’s lessons about kindness have shaped both her parenting goals and the story she wanted this book to tell. She also reveals the interaction that still stands out from her years of reporting and what she’s most looking forward to with the birth of her first child.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Eva. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Walter Does His Best, your children’s book.

Eva Pilgrim: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I’ve read this now several times to my kids. They are huge fans. Thank you for spicing up our bedtime last night and other nights. I appreciate it. They were over-the-moon excited that Walter was actually your dog, which they did not realize at first.

Eva: Some of the stories in that book are actual real-life Walter stories.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I was like, “You guys, Walter has his own Instagram account.” They’re like, “No way!”

Eva: That’s because my husband was like, “You can’t just keep posting pictures of your dog.” He’s around here somewhere running around. I’m not sure where he is at the moment.

Zibby: I had to cut myself off. I’m like, I can’t post my dog more than once a week or something.

Eva: I have a limit. I’m like, okay, he’s been in the squares. He’s in three of the five. I need to stop.

Zibby: Tell listeners what Walter Does His Best is about. What inspired you to write this children’s book?

Eva: It’s about kindness, ultimately, and about the fact that we’re all imperfect. Oh, there’s Walter.

Zibby: I see him in the back corner.

Eva: He was in his wigwam. He goes there when he’s not getting attention.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, can I take a screenshot of this? Hold on. Smile. One, two, three. Love it. Oh, my god, so cute.

Eva: He expects to have attention right away, and so he’s a little angry that I didn’t cuddle him and rub his belly. He’s very spoiled. Ultimately, the book is about Walter and the joy that I saw that he was giving to people as he was trying to do these — dogs very much are trying to do good things to please people and make them happy. As I was watching him, it was the early stage of the pandemic, I just was amazing at how people responded to him and how they, in turn, responded to me, which was really nice. You live in New York, so you know. When you walk around with no dog, nobody even notices you exist. All of a sudden, you have a dog, and it is this magical thing where you start to have these interactions with people. We were writing down some of the funny things that Walter does. He’s not perfect. He’s a little bit of a hot mess. We have tried to train him. I know it doesn’t seem that way. He has a mind of his own. That was just the whole idea. My husband and I, at the time, were trying to get pregnant. I’m nine months pregnant now.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, yay!

Eva: I’m due at any moment now. Every little movement that happens, I’m like, is this going to be it? We were talking about, okay, what’s most important to us as we start to think about, how do we want to shape the life of our daughter? What lessons do we want to make sure — what are our must-have things? The thing we kept talking about was kindness. You don’t want your kid to be a jerk. That would be the one thing that would really upset us, if we found out she was mean to some other child or to some other person. Walter seemed like this great avenue as a way to talk about kindness with kids. As I was writing down his stories, it just turned into this book. Not all the stories in the book are real-life Walter stories, but several of them actually are.

Zibby: To your point on kindness and wanting your kids to be nice — I have four kids of my own. I have to say, they’ve been through so much stuff, all of them. I have had such emotions that accompany all the good stuff and bad stuff that’s happened to them. However, the time I think I’ve been most upset myself was when one of my kids did something to someone else. That made me want to vomit. I was beside myself. How could I raise a child who would do X, Y, Z, and whatever? It ended up being an aberration, not that you’re worried.

Eva: The thing is, I have vivid memories of my mother. That was the thing she cared about the most. She wanted us to be smart. I have a crazy Korean tiger mom for a mom. She wanted us to do well in school. She also really wanted us to be nice. I remember one time as a child in elementary school, I wasn’t outrightly mean to someone, but I remember I was dismissive of them and kind of ignored them. My mother had this very long conversation with me about how that wasn’t okay and that I needed to go rectify it and make it right and to make sure that person felt included. That was a memory that has stayed with me into my adult life. I remember how bad I felt and the disappointment that my mother had because of how I behaved. Really changed how I interacted with other kids going forward. You just want that message where kids are paying attention to how other kids around them are feeling. Notice this child over here is by themselves. They look lonely. They’re very quiet. Maybe you should go over there and be their friend. That small act of kindness could be huge in that other person’s life. That’s what you want. You want them to be that person.

Zibby: Totally. I know. My husband and I say — I don’t know why we only say this to my daughter. We should say it to all of the kids. Whenever she’s worried about school or anything, we’re just like, okay, today in school, you have to make someone else smile. Come home and tell us how you did it. Make someone else’s day good. I think also just taking them out of themselves — kids worry about so much stuff themselves. There’s so much going on all the time. Focusing on other people’s feelings from the beginning, it just can’t hurt.

Eva: That’s such a good thing. Make someone else smile. I have to remember that.

Zibby: Parenting hacks 101, I could go on. We could have a whole conversation about what to do with this child of yours about to be born. I will say, I also had a dog when I brought home one of later kids. It’s not always the most easy to acclimate the dog and the baby situation. I remember I saw this woman who said, get a doll. We got a doll before we had the kids to get the dog used to having a baby, and baby crying. We got a doll that made these crying sounds, which was so annoying. I’m like, I can’t believe I’m sitting here massively pregnant holding onto a baby doll listening to the baby doll fake cry to train my dog to not attack my child. This is insanity. I’m just going to own it right now.

Eva: We’ve been playing YouTube videos of crying babies trying to get him used to the screaming noise. He doesn’t like it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, yeah, I don’t like it either.

Eva: Why am I subjecting myself to this before I actually have to endure it?

Zibby: It’s so much worse in person, not to scare you. When it’s your own child and your heart is also breaking a little bit and feeling like you’re responsible for the crying, that’s even worse. Anyway, back to the book, sorry. So you have a dog. You want to inculcate this sense of kindness and all of that. When did this become an actual project for you?

Eva: I started working on it, it was March, April 2020 right at the beginning of the pandemic. It was crazy. The world just slowed down, which is how that element of Walter Does His Best folded in because we were all doing our best. It was a little bit of a hot mess for everyone. I had a little bit of time where I wasn’t traveling. I had some time to think. We had talked about doing this shortly before then, but to actually have a moment to breathe, it was this happy place for me. I would sit outside in our little backyard. It was kind of cold. I was under a blanket writing down these ideas and playing with Walter. It was a way for me to escape in the middle of the pandemic as well, so a win-win.

Zibby: A win-win. Walter is now famous for all mankind. What happened between growing up with a tiger mom and now? How did you get onto GMA? How did you decide on this path?

Eva: It was kind of an accident. Anyone with a Korean tiger mom knows that they mostly want you to either go — very stable careers like doctor, lawyer, something with a predictable path. I was supposed to go to med school. I had a background in science and was doing chemistry and nutrition. I started doing websites in college. I was always interested in journalism. I was on my high school newspaper. I was very curious as a child. This felt normal and natural. I like talking to people. Next thing I knew, I was working at a TV station. One of my friends was like, “We have a job. Come work here.” I went and worked in West Virginia. I went from West Virginia to Charlotte to Indianapolis to Philadelphia as a local new reporter and anchor. Then a bunch of women got pregnant all at the same time, and ABC needed a female correspondent. That’s kind of how it started for me. I came up and have been really blessed, have gotten to travel the world and see history as it happens with my own eyes, which I think is so special, to know exactly what was happening in front of me, not someone else’s filter of how it was happening. I’ve traveled all over the place. I’ve done live shots in front of the Eiffel Tower and all over the country from tiny, tiny towns across America. It’s been this really life-changing experience when you get to meet so many different people and see so many places. I’m super, super grateful for it.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What’s a moment in history that felt a little different to you actually being there than we might have seen on TV?

Eva: It’s interesting. It sounds weird to say it this way, but I sort of made my way through the ranks of correspondent covering natural disasters and tragedies. I remember at one point some guy in maybe Virginia, I think it was, after Charlottesville was like, “When I see you show up, you’re like the angel of death.”

Zibby: Oh, no.

Eva: I was like, nobody wants to be that. He was like, “It’s always, something bad happens where they send you.” That wasn’t untrue. I was covering hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, mass tragedies. The thing that was really interesting and has been interesting for me is, you would be amazed at the love that people show each other in these really horrible moments. You see the worst of people, but you also see the very best of them. I’m so grateful that I get to see that and be reminded of that all the time, that we have goodness and kindness in us. Maybe we don’t show it to our neighbors every day, but when we’re all in a really bad situation where people have just lost everything they own in a hurricane, you see people sharing when they have nothing to share. There’s something really special about that. I think that’s something that people never get to see. We try to portray that on television, but to see it and feel it and hug those people, there’s just something amazing about it.

Zibby: Wow, that’s really inspiring. How do you not have PTSD yourself from seeing all this stuff? Maybe you do.

Eva: I think it stays with you a little bit. It’s the good that you see in people that inspires you to want to do more and do better and be grateful every day that today is not your worst day. It puts things into perspective. I think that grounds you in a way that few other things really can.

Zibby: I love what you just said. Be grateful today that today is not your worst day. That’s it. That’s the best way to live through life.

Eva: It could be a lot worse.

Zibby: It could be a lot worse, yes. That’s the flip side, exactly. How did the process work with the book and the illustrator and making it into a finished product? Was that really exciting? Tell me about that.

Eva: It was different than anything I’ve ever done before. I tell stories for a living. Telling Walter’s story, you’re trying to think, how am I going to put this together? The pictures do say and do so much. We started off, it was actually supposed to be more of a sweet story that rhymed. As I was drawing inspiration from the real Walter — I’m not funny at all. He’s very funny. The things he was doing, people were laughing at. We talked about what we wanted those pictures to look like and how we built off of his own humor and natural personality and making sure that shined through. The rhyme went away because it was just taking away from being able to really showcase those things. We had these Zoom calls. Walter’s mad at me right now, so he’s in his wigwam. Walter would show up on the Zoom call. Everyone that’s part of the team that worked on it got to see Walter being really bad. I think that helps. Oh, I know how he would look or what he would do or how his body would move, to inspire as we started to talk about what we wanted the pictures to look like. Jessica Gibson, the illustrator, so fantastic. The pictures of Walter and the chaos, she’s just brilliant. They make the story.

Zibby: Yeah, they’re awesome. Really amazing.

Eva: It looks like him, doesn’t it?

Zibby: It totally looks like him. Poor Walter, he’s this hapless — always wanting to do his best but messing everything up, which I relate to sometimes myself. What is next for you? You’re having a baby. What’s on the horizon? Are you going to step back from work for a while? Do you have big, long-term career goals? You’ve already achieved so much. What are you thinking?

Eva: The baby’s due any day now, allegedly. My due date is coming up next week. I’ll probably be out for a bit doing maternity leave and trying to figure my way, as you do with a new baby. Walter will hopefully like her. That’s what we’re hoping for. Then I’ll come back. The plan is to come back part time and ease my way back into it. I do travel a lot for work. I’m just going to dip my toe back in. I’m very lucky. I work for Disney. We have a great package that they give us to acclimate us for maternity leave and for family bonding to make sure the family unit is important. I’m very grateful for that. I realize not all women get that. I’m planning to fully take advantage of it, so then come back. We’ll see what happens. I still have long-form documentary-style pieces that I have my fingers in that are in the works. Hopefully, none of them have to go to air while I’m gone. I’ve been trying to tie up all the loose ends. Like anyone who’s ever been pregnant and knows that they have to go on leave, it’s trying to do all the projects and finish them up or at least pass them off in the best place. It’s checklist every day of all the things that I want to make sure everyone else knows when I’m not easily accessible.

Zibby: Good luck. At least that’ll bring another book, perhaps. Walter Gets a Baby Sister, or something. Just keep this going. What advice would you have for aspiring authors, particularly of picture books?

Eva: I had high school teacher tell me once, write what you know. I really think that’s the best advice. As I was sitting there thinking, how am I going to tell this story? it dawned on me, write what you — I know my dog. He is funny. He gives me a lot of laughs and joy. I think that’s the thing. When you write what you know, even if it’s not a hundred percent real life but you know that very well, it’s easier. It comes more simply.

Zibby: Got it. Awesome. Amazing. Eva, thank you. Thanks for sharing Walter with us and making me feel very grateful that my current dog happens to be particularly well-behaved. That has not always been the case. I had a bulldog who I had to get a stroller for and would never ever, ever walk. Every time this dog actually walks, I’m thrilled.

Eva: All dogs like to walk. They do not.

Zibby: They do not. No, they do not. I think my old dog had a major anxiety disorder or something. I don’t know. She wouldn’t go anywhere, long time ago. Thank you for this book. Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck with your new baby.

Eva: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on. Thank you for reading the book to your kids.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, it will not be the last time I do that. Thanks. Take care. Buh-bye.

Eva: Bye.



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