In Jamie Lee Curtis’s latest book, My Brave Year of Firsts, a lionhearted heroine takes life head-on. With brilliant illustrations by Laura Cornell, Curtis takes us on a witty and rhythmic tour of the feats that childhood not only entails, but requires. We may or may not remember the first time we put on big girl heels, embarrassed ourselves in public, or got caught in a lie, but the actress’s tenth children’s title is a reminder of the courage it takes to be a kid. We chat with her about the latest addition to her Books to Grow By series, a collection as insightful and charming as Curtis herself. —Laura Carroll
Tell me about the Books to Grow By series.
Early on in my career, somebody told me I was writing self-help books for kids, which was not my intention. I actually had no intention, and basically wrote what popped in my head. But I’m someone who tries to have integrity in everything that I do, and each book that I wrote turned out to have an overarching theme. The series is about self-identity, adoption, self-esteem, loss and letting go, language, competition, motherhood, and lastly, bravery. So we decided to create a banner under which all these books could be sold, and Books to Grow By was the result.
Were your children (Annie and Tom) the inspiration for My Brave Year of Firsts?
This particular book was inspired by a friend of mine who was describing his daughter’s summer of amazing firsts. The story made me think of bravery, and of someone trying something for the first time. You and I both know that nothing you try for the first time, from jumping a rope to tying a shoe to riding a bike, is easy. There’s trial and error, agony and defeat; there’s the thill of victory, but all of that is this painstaking process called life.
My children each invented a couple of books. My daughter was responsible for the birth of When I was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth, when she said something funny to me about her past. She was four at the time, and it made me laugh out loud to think that she had a past. My son, meanwhile, inspired me to write It’s Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel when he was struggling with his own self control.
What led you to children’s book authorship?
I am a highly, highly underachieving student, and the last thing I ever thought I would do was write a book. They came out by accident, and whenever an idea pops into my head, I let it linger and see what comes of it. Twenty years and ten books later, I have obviously found a process.
Have you ever thought about writing a book for moms?
You know, the secret ingredient that makes these books so successful is that they are written for adults as well as children. The best example I can give is in Where Do Balloons Go? (which is now an app!). It asks, “Do they ever catch cold and need somewhere to stay?” and that somewhere to stay is the Bates Motel (of Psycho fame).
But no, I don’t think I would ever write a book for adults. I love children, and I feel very aligned with them. I often find myself getting down on the floor and looking up at a certain environment to see what it looks like through the eyes of the child. And the fact that I can get into the mindset of a child so easily tells me that I’m either incredibly talented or incredibly immature.